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Firm Management

Secure Your Firm’s Future with Leadership Development

Leadership is the cornerstone of your firm’s future. A question all firm owners should be asking is: how is your firm’s foundation for ensuring long-term success and growth?


Leadership is the cornerstone of your firm’s future. A question all firm owners should be asking is: how is your firm’s foundation for ensuring long-term success and growth?

Today’s leadership must be responsive to a changing work environment. The pandemic of 2020 has forced unprecedented workplace change and evolution. Is your leadership in-tune, agile, and willing to adapt and evolve with business perturbations? How about an established succession plan? Research conducted by the AICPA Private Companies Practice Section shows that while 60 percent of CPA firms have owners between the ages of 55 and 62, over 81 percent of firms have no documented succession plans. These are just a few of the many challenges to finding the next generation of leaders.

So, what can be done to assist firms in developing the next generation of leaders that will be able to weather the business world storms? Well, fortunately, there are CPA leadership development programs available. These programs vary widely from targeted to comprehensive content, experiences, and duration. It’s important you find the right match for your current and future leaders.

Here are some key points to consider when choosing a leadership development program.

1. Breadth of curriculum

How far-reaching is the curriculum? Leadership is more than just managing a practice. As well as practice management, the program you choose should encompass other aspects of leadership, such as personal development (how to lead and manage self), team development (how to effectively lead and manage teams), and practice development (how to sustainably grow a profitable firm).

2. Depth of curriculum

How deep of a dive does the curriculum take? The most effective courses have instructors with diverse backgrounds, experience, and abilities. They should have real-world CPA practice experience, preferably in areas you are seeking to strengthen. It is also helpful if they bring different ideas of leadership styles and techniques to the learning experience.

3. Collaboration possibilities with curriculum

Ideal programs provide opportunities for collaboration and support with the firm. Involving firm leadership in the training program provides a mechanism for insight from both the firm and the training provider, making the learning experience more salient to the firm’s culture and area of practice. Longer duration programs offer greater leadership development opportunities, so it’s important they offer on-going contact to ensure the participant’s training is on-track.

4. Ease of use

Is this experience immersive, virtual, or hybrid? In the times of COVID, many learning experiences have moved to virtual or offer a virtual option. However, until now, top programs have been a hybrid experience, with a combination of live events and virtual activities. While there is a synergy from like minds gathering in person, the virtual activities provide flexibility for the participant to continue working and perform some of the learning activities at a time most convenient for them.

5. Duration

How long does it take to complete the learning program? While a highly targeted program may only take a few days or weeks, a comprehensive program will likely require several years to complete.

6. Program resources

What does the program provide for on-going support and for more in-depth questions? A comprehensive program should provide continuous feedback for its duration. Top programs should offer program facilitators for follow-on questions and support, or perhaps even some one-on-one coaching. Additionally, it’s beneficial if programs offer live or archived webinars, webcasts, and other learning material for participants who want to explore topics in more depth. It’s always a plus when programs include access to archived reference materials after completion of the program.

7. Cost

How much have you earmarked for investment in leadership training? Program costs can range from hundreds to five figures and are typically commiserate with the duration and breadth of the program. A comprehensive program may cost more in total, but it may offer a larger return on investment.

8. Proven results

The measure of the value of a program is its results. Established programs should have testimonials from previous participants which provide an idea of how effective the program was for them. But, beyond testimonials, there should be appropriate and meaningful metrics for both the individual and for the firm. For example, personal assessments can be administered periodically throughout the program to shine a light on areas of individual improvement and where more focus might still be helpful. Additional metrics used to measure success of a leadership program might be firm based, such as net income per partner or profitability.

Defining your needs and expectations considering these eight elements should help you determine what leadership course would best suit your current and future leaders’ needs.

Leadership is the cornerstone of your firm’s future. A question all firm owners should be asking is: how is your firm’s foundation for ensuring long-term success and growth?


Jeffrey Pawlow is the Founder of and Managing Director at The Growth Partnership, where he leads a dynamic team of professionals who are dedicated to helping their clients succeed as business owners. He is a four-time recipient of Accounting Today’s “Top 100 Most Influential” designation. The Growth Partnership offers the accounting profession’s premier partner development program: The Partner Institute. If you have any questions about choosing a leadership development program right for you or would like to learn more about how The Partner Institute can support your firm’s current and future leaders, Jeffrey may be contacted through his website.