Jennifer Wilson

Ensure Your Up-And-Comers Are Ready to Lead

Five easy strategies for developing your successors.

October 24, 2011
by Jennifer Wilson

"… start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers."
Ralph Nader

It’s no surprise that succession planning is among the top challenges practitioners face according to the 2011 AICPA PCPS Top Issues Survey. With over76 million baby boomers set to retire over the next 12-plus years, the need to develop successors looms.

Here are five easy strategies for developing yours.

  1. Talk to them. Share your thoughts on your up-and-comer’s strengths and areas in which they can grow and improve openly. Find out what each up-and-comer wants most from their career and discuss ideas you have for how their career might develop. Then, collaborate to direct their education and work assignments to align with their goals and your firm’s needs.
  2. Be transparent with them. Invite your up-and-comers to your shareholder or leadership team meetings. Begin sharing important strategy decisions and difficult challenges openly, inviting their insights and comments. Encourage them to take part in management discussions. Share financial information with them. Teach them your firm’s practice economics, expose them to benchmarking studies and invite their observations for ways that you can improve financial performance. Don’t be afraid to allow your up-and-comers to understand the average earnings per partner and if it isn’t high enough, ask for their support in instituting changes to increase it. If average earnings per partner is higher than you’re comfortable admitting, share it anyway as this may be the puzzle piece that allows your rising stars to see why the role of shareholder is worth earning.
  3. Send them away. Invest in an up-and-coming leadership development program designed for potential successors. Ideally, have them attend a program in which they will meet up-and-comers from other firms so they can begin developing their network of connections on whom to rely for best practices and information exchange. Encourage them to stay in touch with those they meet. Have them make specific commitments for new behaviors or changes they’ll make as a result of the training. Check in with them regularly to gauge their progress in these new areas.
  4. Make them your shadow. Invite your staff to come along on prospect-and-referral source meetings, attend networking functions as your “wing person,” sit in on staff development discussions and ride along to higher level client meetings to learn your approach to these important leadership activities. Encourage them to ask questions after the meetings and ask them questions as well, to ensure they’re engaged and applying the lessons they have observed.
  5. Delegate to them. Delegate plum assignments, transition key clients and engagements and relinquish important internal tasks to honor your up-and-comers. There is no higher compliment that you can give your younger staff than trusting them with important work and no faster way to develop them than to challenge them with work that will stretch their skills. If you have many reasons for holding on to your work, read my CPA Insider™ article to find some delegation inspiration.


Bright up-and-comers need to be challenged to feel fulfilled and be retained. Prepare them to succeed you or others in the firm and invest in their development today.

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Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that specializes in helping CPA and IT firms achieve success.