What It Takes to Be a Leader in Food Service

In an industry that is certainly close to the top of the list of those profoundly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders were already challenged by the need to, “adapt our food systems to sustainably feed almost 10 billion people by 2050 in a world with shifting climate and environmental pressures,” says Dr. Jennifer van de Ligt, writing on the Food Safety Tech website. She also points to enormous food-production waste (more than 30 percent), as well regulatory and production challenges.

Pre-pandemic, back in 2017, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted food-service occupations would grow 7 percent over the next seven years, and food-service management jobs would see 5 percent growth.

Just before anyone imagined that a virus would hold the world in its grip for more than a year, the food-service industry enjoyed stable growth in consumer spending, growing at a rate of about 4 percent annually, reports columnist Jim Sullivan. On March 15, 2020, Sullivan notes, the pandemic “effectively transformed the US foodservice industry forever.” A report from McKinsey speculates that four years may be needed for the US food-service industry to recover from the pandemic. “I’ve never seen such a pervasive, perverse, devastating and invisible enemy with such murky beginnings and no definable end,” Sullivan writes.

Food-service instructor Allison Moore defines food service as encompassing “all of the activities, services, and business functions involved in preparing and serving food to people eating away from home.” The food and beverage/restaurant sector is considered a subset of food service, although the hospitality industry also sometimes claims that sector. Sample job titles at the upper levels of the field include food consultant, food and beverage director, executive vice president, chief food and beverage officer, general manager, president, CEO, CFO, and COO.

The restaurant segment of food service has the most diverse workforce in the US, reports Nicole Duncan, but “that diversity rarely reaches management and C-suite positions.” Minorities comprise only 8 percent of corporate executives, Duncan says, though they make up half of hourly employees. Duncan cites Gerry Fernandez, founder and president of the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance (MFHA), who believes the reason for this underrepresentation at the highest levels is “poor talent acquisition and retention.” Because so few diverse candidates are hired and retained in the first place, a Catch-22 situation is created in which minorities have few role models.

Similarly, women outnumber men in the rank and file of the food-service industry but represent only 18 percent of C-suite positions in the segment, Julie Littman reports, citing the Women’s Foodservice Forum.  As of Littman’s 2019 article, the industry was going backward in its elevation of women, given that women comprised 23 percent of the C-suite in 2017.


Preferred Background

Just over a third of food-service directors and just over half of food-and-beverage directors hold bachelor’s degrees. Master’s-degree holders in both areas comprise less than 10 percent. Certificate programs are available in the sector, including an undergraduate Food, Beverage and Goods Leadership Certificate and at a much higher level, a Certified Food and Beverage Executive designation.

Zippia, which publishes guides to various career paths, notes that director-level food and beverage executives often bring backgrounds as general managers or food and beverage managers.


Desirable Characteristics

Success factors for leaders in food service are changing. Restaurant industry recruiter Joan Ray states, “You can’t just be a specialist in the c-suite anymore.” Ray asserts that food-industry leaders need a big-picture grasp of business. “You can’t have somebody leading a function,” Ray says, “who doesn’t have a bigger strategic understanding of their role, how it affects the customer, how it impacts the P&L.” Jennifer van de Ligt adds that food-service leaders must be able to “navigate the complexities of the global food system.” She refers to a need for “food systems thinking,” including “understanding the interdependencies throughout the food system.” Additional leadership characteristics recommended for aspiring food service leaders include the following:



Leadership Styles in the Food Service Field

The apparently small amount of research conducted in this field focuses on the food-and-beverage sector of food service. Noting that “highly effective leadership is the primary determiner of restaurant success,” Alan Someck writes about the transformational style as an antidote to the high failure rate in the restaurant business. Co-authors Godwin-Charles Ogbeide and Robert J. Harrington studied the participative style, concluding that when restaurant firms promote high levels of participation in decision-making and plan execution, they have greater financial success and are better able to implement action plans.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in food service:

What It Takes to Be a Leader in Financial Services

Financial services is a sector that values leadership. A survey that asked UK workers whether strong leadership was a reason to stay in their jobs saw more positive responses in financial services than in other industries, reports Ruth Jacobs, managing director of Randstad Business Solutions.

Though leaders in the sector may be valued, they are also challenged – with skills gaps, customer demands, regulation, the need for digital transformation and artificial intelligence, the mandate for diversity, and of course, the ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The arrival of the pandemic found the financial-services industry underprepared in some respects yet well-positioned to “to support the nation’s economic recovery through lending and other means,” says Tracee Jones of PWC. Just 10 percent of financial services companies had the technology infrastructure to support remote working as the pandemic began, reports a study by ServiceNow/ESI ThoughtLab. Yet, the industry pivoted rapidly to the where “financial-services companies are now considered leaders in business agility,” the survey says. This pivot was not without leadership obstacles, however, with the study noting, “more than half of executives [surveyed] cited a lack of leadership in developing agility plans.”

Still, Tom Snoxell and Adam Stringer credit the financial-services sector with “protect workforces, and leverage resilience arrangements and capital reserves while ensuring customers can access the products, services and the advice they need.” Jones predicts a climate of “increased expectations for financial services leaders to add value beyond strong shareholder returns.” (Jones interestingly observes the public’s tendency to compare the pandemic with the 2008 financial crisis, though they are very different, with COVID-19 affecting “virtually all aspects of the economy and put nearly all stakeholders under stress,” while the 2008 crisis primarily affected financial markets.)

Jones notes that the pandemic has “magnified inequalities across income, race and gender.” Perhaps that’s why leadership diversity, especially regarding women, has gained significant attention in the financial-services field, with at least three major reports on the subject published in 2020 alone. One such report, from Catalyst, noted that women comprise nearly or just over half of financial-services employees in many countries, but the higher up the leadership ladder, the fewer women are found. One piece of good news is the report’s finding that “compared to other industries, the financial services industry had the highest number of women CFOs (18) in 2019 in the Fortune 500 and S&P combined.” The bad news is that “current growth projections of 31 percent by 2030 are still far from parity,” along with the persistent pay gap for women across all US financial occupations. A report from Deloitte, Diversifying the path to CEO in financial services, notes that “women tend to have far higher representation in leadership roles that, historically, have not led to promotion to CEO.”


Preferred Background

A bachelor’s degree in finance, economics, or a related field is recommended for aspiring financial-services leaders. About 40 percent also have master’s degrees. Roles that are springboards to higher leadership include finance analyst, senior finance analyst, and finance manager.


Desirable Characteristics

Financial services leaders need to adapt and develop competencies to confront what Marc Dellaert and Kathryn Kernick described, pre-pandemic, as “a period of unprecedented disruption” influenced by competition, regulation, digital transformation, cyber-security demands, and more. Leadership characteristics recommended for aspiring financial services leaders include the following:


Leadership Styles in the Financial Services Field

Research on leadership styles in this field is scant. UK recruiting director Geoff Fawcett cites a paradigm shift in financial-services leadership. “The classic image of the ‘leader-hero,’ a visionary and charismatic individual capable of single-handedly turning round an entire organization,” he writes, “is being replaced by that of a more collaborative, flexible and open team-player.” Kristen Lampert, also involved in the talent-acquisition field, points to the pandemic’s influence on leadership in the field. Like many experts quoted in this leadership series, Lampert supports a mix of leadership styles, adapted to various situations as needed. She emphatically, however, does not support one style – the authoritarian command-and-control style. “Though historically seen as effective during routine emergencies,” Lampert writes, “the command-and-control leadership style is by far the most damaging to employee engagement and productivity in a COVID-19 world.” Both authors cite emotional intelligence as a growing influence in financial-services leadership.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in financial services:

What It Takes to Be a Leader in Warehousing

From the minute the great toilet-paper shortage that kicked off the COVID-19 pandemic in the US became known, warehousing has been in the spotlight (along with the entire supply chain). E-commerce channels at distribution centers have grown by 60 percent or more since the pandemic began, Roberto Michel reported in November 2020. The net effect has been to accelerate change, especially in the area of automation and its contribution to social distancing. “Just when it seemed that the pace of change for warehouses and distribution centers (DCs) couldn’t get any faster than it has been over the past few years,” Michel noted, “COVID-19 came along to show us just how fast that pace of change can be.” Change, of course, requires strong leadership.


Warehousing is a subset of logistics, which is, in turn a subset of supply chain. The three terms are sometimes used interchangeably, with “logistics” and “supply chain” especially referred to by some as the same field.


By far, the largest field employing warehousing leaders is supply chain and logistics (including the warehousing field), but retail firms also hire them, as do companies in IT, construction, automotive, food and beverage, consumer goods, oil and energy, and transportation. Top companies employing warehouse leaders include DHL, PepsiCo, Amazon, Tesco PLC, Kuehne + Nagel, Coca-Cola, CEVA Logistics, IBM, and Procter & Gamble. With US businesses adding an average of 1,000 warehouses and distribution centers yearly since 2008 (reports blogger Christine Hanks), the field continues to expand.


In 2016, less than a third of warehouse workers were women, suggesting that the proportion of warehousing leadership that comprises women is also small. Under the larger supply-chain category, 17 percent of top executives were women in 2020.


Preferred Background

Several years of experience are required for a warehousing professional to get into leadership. “Most warehouse managers with a high school diploma have worked their way up through the ranks,” notes Nicole Pontius in a comprehensive article on the background needed for warehouse leadership, “starting their careers in lower warehouse positions and gradually earning promotions to supervisor roles, eventually to the role of warehouse manager.”


Those whose leadership journey in the warehousing field begins in the warehouse-manager role typically hold at least a high-school diploma, and more than half have bachelor’s degrees, majoring in such areas as supply-chain management, logistics, business, or administration. About 4 percent of these high-school grads those also hold a certificate beyond the undergraduate degree, such as Certified Professional in Distribution and Warehousing (CPDW) or Certified Warehouse Logistics Professional (CWLP).


Other suggestions for those aspiring to warehouse leadership are to join industry organizations and monitor trends in the field.


A typical career path from entry-level warehouse worker to the executive level starts with individual contributor roles (such as warehouse associate, logistics coordinator, or material handler), and progresses through Warehouse Manager, Warehouse Lead, VP of Warehouse Operations, and finally a C-Suite position such as Chief Supply Chain Officer, Chief Logistics Officer, Chief Operations Officer, or Head of Warehouse Operations.


Desirable Characteristics

“The process of being organized in a [warehouse] leadership position requires a special skill set,” writes Lance Brandow, “combined with detailed knowledge.” Included in this skill set, Brandow of Brandow Consulting states, are the ability to set priorities for employees and ensure a safe warehouse environment. Ken Ackerman summarizes the special skillset required of warehouse leaders as the ability “to identify and remove barriers to productivity.” Additional leadership characteristics recommended for aspiring warehousing leaders include the following:


Leadership Styles in the Warehousing Field

In the overarching category of supply chain, which encompasses warehousing, one study of leadership style asserts that “no standard supply chain leadership model exists.” In the research study, Supply Chain Leadership Report: Many Styles Generate Success, the Supply Chain Council (APICS) identified and examined three leadership styles – Directing/Executing, Conducting (likened in the study to conducting an orchestra), and Counseling. While proclaiming “no single supply chain leadership style is optimal in every situation,” the report favors the Counseling style.


An argument for Servant Leadership emerges from supply-chain company LEGACY, which views this leadership approach as key to improving company culture, particularly because of the values-driven nature of Servant Leadership.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in warehousing:

What It Takes to Be a Leader in General Science

While life sciences have taken center stage during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Dr. Anthony Fauci taking on almost mythic leadership status, general-science leadership has shared the spotlight and has called attention to what Lund University associate professor Sverre Spoelstra calls “the dichotomy between leaders and bureaucrats that underpins popular leadership notions, such as visionary leadership, transformational leadership and authentic leadership.”


Steven Dewhurst points out that science leadership is less individually focused than it was in the days of “brilliant iconoclasts,” like Copernicus and Marie Curie, and instead, much more team-driven, as well as more interdisciplinary. “Major opportunities for discovery increasingly lie at the intersection of different fields,” Dewhurst says. Team leadership affords the opportunity for science leaders to coax the best out of team members. “A less effective scientific leader,” notes Jason Erk, “may unknowingly squander [team member] potential that might have flourished under different circumstances.”


The people-leadership skills that enable scientists to guide effective teams, however, are often deficient in science leaders. “When comparing skills in non-STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) employees and STEM employees, those from a STEM background are perceived to lack interpersonal skills and time management,” write Rowan Brookes and co-authors write in Scientific American. Experts note that soft skills, such as people management, are typically not included in scientific training.


Women are underrepresented in science leadership. The higher the notch in the hierarchy, the less likely we are to find female science leaders, asserts GenderInSITE’s report, Pathways to Success:  Bringing a Gender Lens to the Scientific Leadership of Global Challenges. Causal factors include lack of challenging assignments for women; overvaluation of male opinions and ideas, accompanied by undervaluation of women’s intellectual contributions; an expectation that women must worker harder for less money; work environments that are “dismissive” at best and hostile at worst. Women, note Marla Parker and Eric Welch in an academic paper, “are more likely to be in discipline leadership positions and less likely to be a leader of a research center or have an administrative university leadership position.”


Preferred Background

Scientists typically hold doctoral degrees and serve in postdoctoral positions as researchers for two to three years. Those who’ve been trained as a scientist, writes David G. Jensen, usually begin at the research scientist level. Jensen discusses the “dual ladder” concept in which a scientist can reach a high-level role in the hierarchy, such as principal scientist (roughly equivalent to the vice-president level) without having to take on administrative and management functions. Of course, some scientists may prefer a path with those functions, such as those Jensen lays out – business development, regulatory affairs, sales and marketing, operations, or project management.


Desirable Characteristics

Additional leadership characteristics recommended for aspiring general science leaders include the following:

See also a nice list of skills at various levels detailing resources about those skills.


Leadership Styles in the General Science Field

As in many fields, scientists are often encouraged to adapt their leadership style to what is needed at any given time, thus a flexible or situational leadership style. Writing for Forbes, George Bradt characterizes “scientific leadership” as a style unto itself. “Scientific leaders guide and inspire by influencing knowledge with their thinking and ideas,” Bradt writes.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in general science:


What It Takes to Be a Leader in Engineering

Engineering leadership has a bit of an identity crisis. Much of this crisis stems from the fact that engineers have a highly technical focus that may not include traditional leadership skills, such as interpersonal communication and people-management.


“For individuals whose love of engineering comes from their technical problem solving,” Cindy Rottmann and co-authors write in the academic journal Leadership, “the sudden shift to resolving ‘people problems’ can feel both uncomfortable and un-engineer-like.” The article quotes one study participant who suggests that the word “leadership” is “antithetical to the engineering mind-set.” The authors point to a mismatch between the identities of engineers and traditional notions of leadership. Engineers’ identities, the authors note, tend toward applied scientist, service professional, team player, technical problem solver, task-oriented doer, and process optimizer, while traditional leadership identities tend to be charismatic visionaries, influential dwellers at the top of the hierarchy, change agents, delegators, and solvers of people problems.


Another mismatch occurs between engineering leadership and business expectations. Siva Kumar cites a study that showed that 33 percent of engineering-project failures are the result of insufficient direct oversight by executive leadership, noting that a well-defined engineering strategy is the only way to overcome this mismatch.


Perhaps reflecting engineering leadership’s quest for identity, researchers in the field are eager to define engineering leadership. One of several such proposed definitions comes from Robyn Paul, Arindom Sen, and Emily Wyatt, writing in 2018 for American Society for Engineering Education:

“Engineering leadership is an approach that influences others to effectively collaborate and solve problems. Engineering leadership requires technical expertise, authenticity, personal effectiveness, and the ability to synthesize diverse expertise and skillsets. Through engineering leadership, individuals and groups implement transformative change and innovation to positively influence technologies, organizations, communities, society, and the world at large.”


Statistics on women in engineering are elusive, but given that just 13 percent of engineers were women as of 2019, the female share of leadership roles is even smaller. Barriers to women’s leadership in engineering include a lack of role models. Incremental change is on the horizon, thanks to the major push in recent years to encourage women to pursue STEM careers.


Preferred Background

Engineering leadership in project- or process-management roles is typically preceded by 5-10 years of technical work, note Rottmann and co-authors. The disconnect between engineering and leadership would seem to be the motivation for the emergence of engineering-leadership education in which “the focus is placed on interpersonal communication (vs. organizational communication) and understanding of motivation and behaviors of self and with respect to interactions with others,” says mechanical engineering professor David Bayliss.


One educational option for aspiring engineering leaders is the Master of Engineering Management degree. Another is an MBA, which leadership expert Tanveer Nasseer says enables engineers to “easily move into management.”


A typical career path to engineering leadership starts with engineer and progresses through engineer II, senior engineer, staff engineer, to principal engineer. Among roles at the executive level are director of engineering, vice president of engineering, chief engineer, and senior vice president of engineering. A blog called The Magnet offers a helpful list of types of engineering and engineering roles at all levels.


Desirable Characteristics

Rottman and co-authors note three possible orientations to engineering leadership: technical mastery, collaborative optimization, or organizational innovation. Those oriented toward innovation need leadership skills, but Ohio University notes that traditional engineering education has emphasized management over leadership. The university also suggests development of such soft skills as communication and people skills. Additional leadership characteristics recommended for aspiring engineering leaders include the following:


Leadership Styles in the Engineering Field

Little is written about leadership styles in engineering. Brendon Davis of Davis Companies proposes engineers fall into four leadership styles – Envisioners, Analyzers, Feelers, and Doers. Kettering University identifies the coaching, transformational, and servant leadership styles as most appropriate for engineers. A study of 70 lead engineers across a variety of industries and project types by research and consulting firm Independent Project Analysis found that “engineers exhibiting a supportive leadership style tend to place importance on people management skills and spend more time communicating.”


Jack Kora, VP of engineering at dscout, shares an interesting first-person case study about changing his leadership style, describing how, when he started a new position, he failed to first build trust with his team and started making changes his team didn’t always understand. When an employee-satisfaction survey showed negative attitudes toward Kora, he began to research leadership styles and determined his was the wrong approach at this new company. While he never identifies his former or subsequent leadership styles, he cites a Fast Company article on six leadership styles – pacesetting, authoritative, affiliative, coaching, coercive, and democratic – as his inspiration for developing a more appropriate style.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in engineering:

What It Takes to Be a Leader in Consulting

In April 2020, London-based Source Global Research predicted that the U.S. consulting market would shrink 20 percent by the end of the year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Procurement-intelligence firm Beroe, Inc., monetized this reduction in business as a $30 billion hit to the consulting sector. Client postponement or cancellation of consultant-led projects is responsible for much of the loss.


However, “even before COVID-19, the consulting industry was in the middle of a period of profound change,” observe the authors of “Leaders of Tomorrow” from the firm SheffieldHaworth. “Effective leadership has, therefore, never been more important for consulting firms than it is today,” the authors note.


Typically, the top leadership role in the consulting sector is partner. Partners oversee strategy and goal-setting for the business and its revenue. At one time, consulting partners shared in the company’s profits, but this is not necessarily the case today. A blogger at CaseCoach points out, “only a small percentage of consultants who join top consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain make it to partner.” In fact, the blogger estimates that less than 5 percent of consultants become partners.


What does the partner role consist of? In an article titled How to become a partner at McKinsey & Co, Sarah Butcher offers this description:

Partners oversee multiple engagements for multiple clients at a time. They maintain long-term relationships with more senior-tenured clients and entire organizations. They advise clients in terms of the types of work that might be most relevant and useful, outline the scope of our work with their clients and teams and manage requests for proposals. Partners are accountable for the work we do and impact we deliver; they remain involved in daily problem-solving and help their teams solve the toughest parts of each challenge. They mentor junior-tenured … colleagues, take leadership roles in the firm and contribute more heavily to recruiting, office/practice leadership, etc.


Experts offer advice for those seeking to make partner. Nitin Kumar, whose Getting to The Partner Level is richly detailed, notes that good performance is not enough; the aspiring partner must be growth oriented and demonstrate that he or she can help grow the firm. Kumar also recommends a strong personal brand, the ability to network effectively, commitment to clients, and thought leadership – or what he calls “presence.” Others advise getting published, having a full grasp on industry trends, possessing strong business acumen, developing new business, and honing outstanding skills in consulting and engagement management.


Preferred Background

One of the common paths for entering the consulting industry is after attaining a bachelor’s degree. Many consultants, however, don’t join the sector until after gaining a master’s degree, typically an MBA or a master’s in management. “Typically, candidates who do not hold an advanced degree,” Butcher notes, “such as a PhD, JD (Doctor of Jurisprudence), MD (Doctor of Medicine) or MBA join as business analysts.” The third common path for entering the consulting sector is from industry by leveraging functional expertise, for example, in supply chain and operations, or industry expertise.


Not all consulting leaders have business backgrounds. Butcher quotes Caitlin Storhaug, McKinsey’s global director of recruitment marketing and communications: “We have significantly increased our experienced hire recruiting and our experienced hires include former doctors, lawyers, soldiers and even a theatre company director. We are looking for people who love to work in teams to solve the world’s toughest problems.”


A common progression of roles from bottom to top (which takes about 10 years) starts with business analyst, then associate, consultant, senior consultant, managing consultant, associate partner, and finally partner. Because the progression can vary from firm to firm, Vijay Vijayasankar created The path to partnership in big consulting firms. The predictable path has been a selling point for the sector, although Richard Longstreet points out on LinkedIn, “consulting careers today are much messier; consultants are no longer hikers progressing along a trail from A to Z, but must instead see themselves as explorers and navigators, charting a course for themselves through unmapped territory.”


Desirable Characteristics

“To succeed in the future,” write the authors of “Leaders of Tomorrow,” partners will need to be capable generalists with a rich understanding of their firm’s capabilities – and, crucially, the ability to create bespoke solutions for clients that cut across them.” Additional desirable leadership characteristics include the following:

Leadership Styles in the Consulting Field

Not surprisingly, a consultative leadership style is recommended for consulting leaders. “Consultative leadership,” says Gerald Ainomugisha, a blogger at 6Q, “entails asking key people for their thoughts and allowing them time to process the problem and solve for what they feel was the best possible solution.” Given that consulting leaders may interact with diverse organizations, advice by a blogger at Cerius Executives also makes sense – that consultants should adapt their leadership style to the organization they’re currently working with.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in consulting:

What It Takes to Be a Leader in Accounting

Entering the third decade of the 21st century, leaders in the accounting sector are confronted with the inexorable march toward automation and digitization against the backdrop of a call for upskilling, especially in the area of change management.


The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) cites leadership skills as important for accountants, “particularly as they have become key to helping their organizations navigate an increasingly complex business world.” Adding new complexity to this world has been the COVID-19 pandemic. “Like every profession, accountancy will emerge from COVID-19 changed,” write the authors of the IFAC’s report, Accountancy Skills Evolution: Impact of Covid-19 & the Path Forward. “We will be accustomed to digital processes we once thought impossible,” the report goes on. “Our change management abilities will be sharper than ever.”


Russell Shapiro, who interviewed 12 accounting-firm leaders about COVID’s effects, also cited upsides of the pandemic, noting that managing partners “see reduced space needs, and increased remote work (but not exclusively), and less travel.” Consequently, automation has accelerated in the accounting sector. Shapiro, an accounting attorney, also notes that while the economy continues to suffer, pricing, recruiting and training, business development, and maintaining employee morale will be affected. Half of accountants were predicted to work from home in 2021, writes Emma Pegg for ReceiptBank.


Top leaders in accounting include Chief Accounting Officers (CAO), sometimes known as corporate controllers. Chief Finance Officers also sometimes spring from the accounting ranks. CAOs, notes the University of Alabama, are operations managers overseeing an organization’s accounting and accounting-related practices. CAOs preside over all accounting functions and ensure accurate reporting and bookkeeping that complies with federal regulations. Types of accountants at all levels include staff accountants, Certified Professional Accountants (CPAs), investment accountants, project accountants, management accountants, forensic accountants, and auditors.


As in many fields, women are underrepresented in the top echelons of accounting leadership. The 2019 CPA Firm Gender Survey from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) reported that women represented 23 percent of partners in CPA firms. Both AICPA’s report and Promotions, Plateaus and Possibilities: New Ways Forward for Women in Accounting from Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance and its Accounting MOVE Project point to incremental progress in women’s leadership in accounting and offer strategies, such as obtaining mid-career coaching, for women’s advancement. Women in accounting leadership fare better in small businesses than in large firms.


Preferred Background

A master’s degree in accounting (MACC) is recommended for those who aspire to accounting leadership. A scan of job postings for top-level accounting roles suggests 7-10 years of managerial accounting experience is desirable. Some C-suite accounting positions require applicants to have served for a few years in the same role they seek at a new firm. The blogging team at QuickBooks offers suggestions for those seeking top accounting leadership positions, such as seeking to serve as the “numbers person” on nonprofit boards, applying for in-house leadership positions with an accounting firm or with a business that has a large accounting department, and garnering endorsements about leadership skills.


Desirable Characteristics

As noted above, upskilling is a current battle cry in the accounting sector. “There is a clear need,” write the authors of Accountancy Skills Evolution: Impact of Covid-19 & the Path Forward, “for well-rounded skillsets that combine technical skills and professional skills that are rooted in relationship-building and communication.” The report also suggests building skills in storytelling and scenario planning, as well as in “new techniques for analyzing and interpreting data in differing circumstances, and aptitudes for strategizing on increasing priorities.” Speaking in a short video, Jennifer Wilson, co-founder and partner at ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, recommends building connections with staff and being open to feedback.


The conclusion of 2016 research conducted by Miriam Gerstein and co-authors was that “the ideal person to head an accounting firm …  must be one who has a laudable vision and knows how to communicate it, believes in servant leadership, wants to set an ethical tone at the top, cares about all stakeholders, believes in maximizing client satisfaction, encourages teamwork by building a learning organization, understands the importance of diversity, supports CSR, and wants to build a strong positive reputation for his/her organization.”


Additional desirable leadership characteristics include the following:


Leadership Styles in the Accounting Field

Several researchers have looked at leadership styles in the accounting sector. Jeffrey Barnes and co-authors concluded that the “transformational leadership style is the most effective, transactional is not effective, and passive-avoidant leadership style is deleterious to subordinates’ perception of the preferred ethical climates.” The transformational style was also found to align with all the skills associated with accounting senior leadership, posited Brian Carpenter and co-authors. Joanna Kalin tied the transformational style to addressing gender gaps in accounting.




These resources offer additional insight on leadership in accounting:

What It Takes to Be a Leader in Retail

Retail, an industry disrupted to its core by the COVID-19 pandemic while already facing significant challenges, cries out for strong, transformational leadership. “COVID-19 has shaken retail markets everywhere,” notes the report The Pandemic and Global Retail Markets. “While many other segments of the economy were strong prior to the pandemic,” the report continues, “the retail sector was in the midst of a correction, reacting to growth in ecommerce and other changes in consumer spending habits.”


The pandemic has slammed the retail industry with unpredictable restrictions, temporary and permanent closures, consumers staying home and shopping online, along with operational changes, such as curbside pickup and contactless payment. “Retailers all over the world are stress-testing their leadership principles and capacities,” Bob Phipps writes in an interview with Ralph Lauren’s CEO on the pandemic’s leadership lessons. Even more daunting are predictions that the industry will never be the same even after the pandemic. Researchers expect consumers to continue buying online in massive numbers. Ecommerce purchases are expected to increase 169 percent post-pandemic, predicts a report from Accenture.


Retail executive teams need leaders who can rise to COVID and post-COVID challenges. Retail leadership teams currently are predominantly male; a 2017 study by consulting firm Russell Reynolds found 84 percent of the 300 retail executives they researched were men. More than two-thirds of these executives, whose average age was 54, had been internally promoted, having spent an average of 15 years with their current firms. Most of those hired from outside had retail backgrounds.


“Women — and other minorities — will likely continue to face significant barriers when charting their path into those roles,” asserts Sheena Butler-Young, who also writes about “second-generation bias” — in which women candidates are recruited for top slots but expected to “have experience in roles that were traditionally offered almost exclusively to men.” In 2020, just 5.6 percent of retail CEOs were women, reports Sarah Hoodspith in Retail Insider. Meanwhile, Cara Salpini notes on Retail Dive that “since 2010, the percent of executives of color in retail has hardly changed.” The Retail Leadership 700, a report that reviewed the diversity composition retail boards of directors, suggests retailers risk productivity and profit by failing to address diversity gaps.


Preferred Background

In terms of education, the retail industry has a low barrier to entry; most people can enter the field with no more than an associate’s degree or even a high-school diploma. Those who progress into retail management will likely attain a bachelor’s degree in business, and those seeking senior leadership will benefit from an MBA. Significant informal education happens in retail, as well. Interviewing three retail CEOs to glean their leadership lessons, James Coker, a reporter for Essential Retail, stated, “One effective method of learning how to be a CEO is to regularly pick the brains of those who have experienced this type of role.” Coker shared the experience of one of his interviewees, Timo Boldt, on this type of learning: “Every CEO or entrepreneur you meet has rich learnings, so I think the faster you can absorb them, and you develop a growth mindset, you can learn from failure.”


Career paths into executive retail leadership vary. In fact, Barbara Farfan identifies four ways retail leadership aspirants can advance. Relatively uncommon today, Farfan says, is the traditional rise through the ranks. More common is a path that includes company and industry hopping. Farfan cites Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who had no background in retail before founding the online behemoth, as an example of her third path, specialized focus and expertise. The fourth path is to start your own retail enterprise as Walmart’s Sam Walton and Costco founder James Sinegal did. It is noteworthy that retail is thought to provide relatively weak leadership pipelines. “We have found,” say Chain Store Age writers Maryam Morse and Ryan Dixon, “that retailers in particular have often insufficiently invested in strong leadership pipelines.”


Desirable Characteristics

Because consumer behavior spawned by the COVID pandemic is predicted to stay with us for the foreseeable future, retail leaders are already focused on re-skilling and re-training workers. “The involvement of retail leaders in managing this momentous transition will in itself require the acquisition of new skills,” writes Rosanna Iacono, managing partner at The Growth Activists. A Multimedia Plus COVID-19 Impact Survey noted that new-employee training and training in communication and contactless payments are current re-skilling priorities, while training in 2021 was expected to emphasize leadership development and safety. Skills mandates pressing on retail executives even before the pandemic have centered around technology and championing customers.


Desirable leadership characteristics for retail executive leaders include the following:


Leadership Styles in the Retail Field

Transformational, transactional, and democratic leadership styles get the most attention in retail literature. Researchers Adel Mekraz and Raghava Rao Gundala found the transactional style to dominate among their retail study participants, but by a small margin. They linked both transactional and transformational styles to lower employee turnover. Cuiping Zhang found the transformational and democratic leadership styles to positively correlate with job satisfaction in the retail industry.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in retail:

What It Takes to Be a Leader in Consumer Packaged Goods

CPG - Consumer Packaged Goods acronym concept

Recurrent themes among experts in the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry point to a discipline that would benefit from a boost in innovation, disruption, and digital transformation. “Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies are classic examples of organizations that have to move from a static-control to a dynamic-innovative focus,” write Penn State’s Samuel Hunter and his co-authors in “Shifting to a Strategy of Innovation: The Key Role of Leadership in Consumer Packaged Goods.” “Innovation is critical to the success of CPGs,” he notes.


Despite lagging in these areas, the industry has more than held its own during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to consumers stocking up on essentials and more, though not without significant supply-chain woes. Writing about how the early months of the pandemic changed the mindset of CPG CEOs, Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the Consumer Brands Association, characterizes the CPG response as “companies ensuring the delivery of products needed to help fight COVID-19 and doing the right things for essential employees.”


Whether building on COVID-driven momentum or tackling the mandates of innovation, disruption, and digitization, CPG companies need strong leadership. A 2020 study from TCS Business 4.0 Institute, Opportunities for Leadership and Disruption in Consumer Packaged Goods,” distinguishes digital-leader companies – those with strong leaders promoting digital initiatives that contribute to increased revenue – from digital-follower firms that have little digitization going on and minimal success in increasing revenue. The study found that CPG companies tend to be followers. The risk of the follower position is falling behind in the world of online sales. In a brief account of the recent history of the industry, Richard Stark and co-authors note that between 2013 and 2020, “more than $17 billion in sales shifted from CPG giants to startups and 90 percent of all CPG e-commerce growth came from new, smaller companies.”


Consumer Packaged Goods executive teams, reports a 2019 study by consulting firm Spencer Stuart, have an average of 12.8 members. Four-fifths of CPG company leaders have devoted their whole careers to consumer packaged goods. Of the 50 leaderships teams Spencer Stuart researched, 17.5 percent of studied executive-team members were women;16 percent included no women, and 36 percent boasted three or more women. Among CPG industry CEOs, only 5-6 percent are women.


Like many leaders in CPG, CEOs also tend to have long tenures at their companies – an average of 22.6 years – and have been CEO for an average of 5.3 years, reports Spencer Stuart. Very few are hired from outside their companies. Laura Gurski, senior managing director and global industry lead for consumer goods and services at Accenture, paints a picture of a typical CPG CEO: “male … aged in his mid-fifties, and overwhelmingly from an industry background in management, sales or marketing.”


Preferred Background

In addition to the most common functional backgrounds, CPG leaders come from finance operations/supply chain sales/commercial consulting, strategy, technology, quality, R&D, and innovation. Common industry backgrounds, Spencer Stuart’s CPG Leadership Index reports, include beverages, food, household products, tobacco, personal products, healthcare, and private equity. Frank Birkel and his co-authors of a 2019 Spencer-Stuart report on the “CPG CEO of the future” observe that experience in regional general management and global category management is advantageous.


Desirable Characteristics

An array of hard skills, soft skills, and personal traits are keys to success in CPG leadership. “Changes sweeping through the CPG sector require new capabilities within the top team,” proclaims a 2018 McKinsey report. Pointing to the need to level-up in digital, big data, and analytics skills, Patrick Guggenburger, writing for McKinsey, warns, “for the consumer-packaged-goods, the skill crunch is just around the corner, driven in part by the shift toward digital channels.” The Spencer-Stuart CPG CEO of the future report notes that “the next generation of CPG leadership must anticipate how to better connect with consumers, invest in the right technologies and business models, and use culture to spark innovation and growth.”


Additional desirable leadership characteristics include the following:


Leadership Styles in the CPG Field

Research on leadership styles in the CPG industry tends to focus on effects of various leadership styles rather than predominance of any one style in the field. A study by Anthonia Adeniji and co-authors found that transformational and transactional styles had a positive effect on employee engagement and performance. Similar results were reported from a South African study in which Solomon Omonona and co-authors found the transactional leadership style to have a greater influence on employee performance than other styles of leadership.



These resources offer additional insight on leadership in Consumer Packaged Goods:

What It Takes to Be a Leader in Life Sciences

As the industry under pressure to produce vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutic medications to address the COVID-19 pandemic, life sciences faces disruption, along with significant leadership challenges and diversion of attention away from normal business. EY reports in How life sciences CEOs can rewire strategic planning and execution on research in which 76 percent of surveyed life-sciences industry CEOs and other senior executives said COVID-19 will impact or even pivot their organization’s medium- to long-term strategy.” A study by McKinsey indicates that up to 80 percent of the time spent by surveyed top-level executives (CMOs and other medical leaders) is currently on crisis management. The EY report suggests the addition of roles such as chief digital officer and chief innovation officer “to help bring necessary viewpoints to the table in order to develop a sustainable long-term strategy.”

Even before COVID, however, the industry, according to a 2018 McKinsey report on developing tomorrow’s life-science leaders, faced “demographic shifts, mounting cost pressures, advancing digitization, emerging scientific breakthroughs, and powerful new competitors.”

Top leadership roles in life sciences include CEO, Chief Scientific Officer, Chief Medical Officer Regulatory Affairs Director, Chief Operations Officer, Business Development Officer, Chief Finance Officer, Senior Director, Executive Director, Assistant/Associate Vice President, Vice President, Therapeutic Head. A list of 166 life-science roles at all levels can be found on the Biospace site, which also offers a life-science job board.

A disproportionately small number of women and people of color populate top leadership roles in life science’s most dominant sector, biotech. Ned Pagliarulo reported on a 2020 study by BioPharmaDive showing that only 30 percent of executive positions and just 18 percent of board seats are held by women, despite their making up half the companies’ workforces. The study found that about 80 percent of CEOs were men and almost 90 percent were white.

Preferred Background: Education and Experience

Unlike in many industries, where education takes a back seat to experience, a strong academic background, particularly in the sciences, is required in many top life-science leadership roles. The ability to translate that academic science background into a business setting is seen as a highly desirable trait in life-science leaders. “A transition from a science-oriented to a business-oriented culture seems to be essential to survive ‘the valley of death,’ and must begin within the company’s leadership,” writes biological scientist Isabela Oliva. At the highest level – Chief Medical Officer – a medical degree and state licensure as a physician are required, sometimes enhanced by specialty-practice certifications and a degree in business, as well as management experience and 5-10 years of clinical experience beyond residency.

McKinsey’s Developing tomorrow’s leaders in life sciences report suggests leadership development, given that only about 30 percent of current leaders surveyed had participated in such training. Leadership coaching may also be desirable, especially for those transitioning from academia to business.


Desirable Characteristics

 An array of hard skills, soft skills, and personal traits are keys to success in life-science leadership. The field “requires people who are willing to take risks, conquer new science, and have endurance for the many years it takes to develop a new medicine,” asserts Deanna Petersen, CBO of AVROBIO.

The COVID pandemic adds new dimensions to what is needed in a life-science leader. The EY report notes “life sciences industry CEOs and other senior executives need to address a few critical areas as they develop strategy for the post-pandemic era: building resiliency into their supply chain, addressing fast-evolving customer needs, supporting effective innovation to develop new treatments and staving off threats from unexpected competitors.

Additional desirable leadership characteristics include the following:

Predominant Leadership Styles in the Life-Science Field

Research on leadership styles in the life-science industry is limited. Jolyn Taylor and Diane Bodurka acknowledge that “all leadership types may be used at some point by effective leaders,” while pointing to democratic and transformational styles as especially effective in the life sciences. A chapter in the textbook Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science recognizes the dominance of the transformational style in recent years, but also points to use of behavioral, relational, transformational, transactional, contingency, and contextual styles.


These resources offer additional insight on leadership in life sciences: