Date posted: 20/08/2018

The future leader’s toolkit: Five habits you need to succeed

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Over the years, Australian finance leaders Anna Harper and David Cohen have been incrementally adding to their personal toolkits of skills and experience, helping them get to where they are today.

Anna began her career as a Graduate Auditor and very quickly became Senior Auditor at Crowe Horwath, before progressing through a number of roles at different companies to become a two-time Chief Financial Officer - first for marketplace lender SocietyOne, and today for cloud-based marketplace banking platform Clearmatch.

After humble beginnings as a Graduate Accountant, David went onto become a Senior Accountant for PwC. He then transitioned into the finance department at RooArt Records and held various finance and business management roles at Network Ten prior to joining Football Federation Australia, where he is now their Chief Financial Officer.

At the height of their careers to date, David and Anna share their tips and advice for aspiring leaders to help you on your own personal journey to success.

1. Start your day the right way

Many of the most well-known and successful entrepreneurs stand by the importance of establishing a strong morning routine1. For Anna, looking at her emails for any urgent enquiries as soon as she wakes up is her way of getting ready.

"I love the mission and the vision that we're pursuing and what we're doing with our business, so for me waking up and making sure that I'm on top of everything for my business every day, is actually a very important, enjoyable part of my day," Anna says.

Similarly, David utilises his morning commute to catch up on all the latest headlines and overnight emails. Once he is up-to-date, he takes the rest of his ride to work to relax ahead of a usually jam-packed, high-intensity day at the office.

"I'm getting more and more into podcasts of late," David says, giving a shoutout to one of his current favourites - the sports podcast The Howie Games2.

Going for a run or hitting the gym - another important element of Anna's morning routine - are activities that can contribute to improved mental performance and decreasing stress levels3. Anna's busy days are filled with meetings with external stakeholders, so it is crucial that she maintains her morning routine to stay focused.

"Do something that makes you happy every morning. For me it's running in the early morning and watching the sunrise," she says.

Journaling is another great habit that can help business leaders plan out their days, and also remember the things for which they are grateful4. For example, before he leaves the office each evening David creates a list of goals that he would like to achieve the next day. This daily ritual helps him to organise his task list in order of priority.

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2. Trust and transparency

One of the most important personality traits for an accountant to have is trustworthiness. Good leaders can practice trust-building habits5 in their daily interactions as they cultivate relationships with stakeholders and team members.

"Accountants are generally seen as trusted advisors to businesses or individuals, so being a leader in the accounting industry for me personally and being a CFO, is about being a change agent," Anna explains. "It's about changing something for the better for a more positive outcome."

Living your everyday life as a reliable and honest person can be instrumental to earning and maintaining your customers, clients, and eventually, the trust of your employees.

"Communication, I think, will always be critical in terms of conveying your message, whether it's written or verbal," David says. Trustworthiness can be indicated by something as simple as learning to communicate with others effectively and clearly6 .

3. Embrace challenges

Tackling each challenge you encounter head on mightn't be easy, but it can be a great way to build character and develop resilience. Many great leaders have a courageous spirit, which motivates them to take on challenges and learn from them7. "It's important to have the courage to speak your mind, and to respectfully challenge with an inquisitive and open mind," David says.

Understanding that there are certain changes in life that we cannot control is crucial to our personal development, both in and outside of the office8. Learning how to cope with challenging circumstances without giving up can change the way we treat others, as well as ourselves. For instance, Anna admits to being critical when she was first starting out and having to change her approach.

"In my career, I've come across many, many people that had high IQs and nearly no emotional intelligence, and therefore were very difficult to deal with or report to or be around," Anna says. "If I had my time again, I would tell myself to recognise much earlier in my career and life that everyone is different."

4. Seek opportunities for growth

If you haven't yet discovered the gift of professional development, it's time to start seeking out opportunities to further your learning. Conferences and short courses can be wonderful for the career progression of a young accountant, and you can start while you're still studying.

The CA Program, for instance, is an opportunity you can seek out of your own accord and use to build on your existing knowledge. 'I'm a huge advocate of the CA program," Anna says. "It really refines and challenges your technical capability."

As David points out, workplaces sometimes provide their employees with opportunities to learn and grow. His own workplace, the Football Federation of Australia, "recently launched an online portal that provides a wide spread range of personal and professional development courses, so people can pick and choose what's relevant to them." Be sure to check out what's available to you at every stage in your career.

5. Your future is in your hands

Doing as much as you actively can to motivate and inspire yourself to move forward, can help you to clear your mind and focus on achieving your goals9.

"I'm a believer that everyone is responsible for their own career journey, and it needs to be driven from within," Anna says. You can start by making even small changes for the better, such as tidying the physical clutter around you and organising your daily schedule to meet your priorities.

David agrees, reinforcing the importance of forward-planning and good decision-making, and challenging all the future leaders out there to make their own journey.

"Make time to plan and manage your career," he says. "Find a good mentor, and make every move count."