During my six years as a staff-level internal audit practitioner, I often thought, "If I ever get the chance to lead, I would do this or that differently." In September 2019, my opportunity arrived. I became the senior internal auditor with the chance to take our internal audit team into a new era.
My vision for the team was always to be future focused, while staying grounded in the present. I wanted to retool the team and make things more efficient. I also wanted to deliver value-added results to our stakeholders so they would seek us out for our high-level, professional services and solutions.
To achieve these objectives, I knew the team needed the right talent, team members who would always be open to learning and adaptable to change. To fill the staff position I was leaving, my main focus was to recruit someone who was professional, had a strong foundation in the financial world, and who could communicate his or her thoughts clearly, precisely, and concisely both verbally and in writing.
The next change I wanted to make right away was revamping our internal audit function's policies and procedures. During the six years I was a staff auditor, there had never been a review of our policies and procedures. I felt that they needed to be revised, not only to fit the vision I had for the team, but to fit the way the internal audit profession was going.
Among those revisions, was including specific times that the team would get together for brainstorming sessions on risks affecting the company. This would be a time to learn from each other and share our thoughts on any of the issues we believed could affect the business. During engagements, monitoring procedures also were needed so that we could hold ourselves accountable. This would also enable us to find more enjoyment in our day-to-day work, without feeling the weight of being stuck and not moving forward.
This planning was all done before even starting any engagements, and taking the reins of a team in the midst of its audit plan for the year presented a different challenge in itself. But once we had our foundation set, including how we would achieve our objectives, I trusted that everything else would fall into place.
Then came our trials. With both my staff practitioners having less than two years of experience in the profession, there was a sweet spot I was trying to find — the balance of getting the job done within our budget, while also providing in-depth training in how we should be doing things.
I also realized that now, instead of thinking only of what I wanted to change, I was confronted with thoughts of what type of leader I was going to be. Would I be the person who demands work to be done by this date and time, and wants perfection daily? Would I be the laissez-faire leader?
The truth is I tried a variety of leadership styles, and I've learned that it's all situational. Reading the situation and using your best judgment, in most cases, will lead you in the right direction when it comes to managing a team.
With more than a year's experience as the senior internal auditor and with a recent addition to the team, I've learned that once you're in the leadership role, 100% of your focus needs to be on the path in front of you. Leaders have be adaptable to any changes and challenges, be able to make decisions swiftly, use their own wealth of experience to help the team develop, and be able to communicate their vision. They also have to set goals and targets and implement practical steps to help the team achieve those goals.
For other internal auditors who are thinking about what they would do differently if they were in a leadership role, having a vision is the first step. Once you get there, see what you want to accomplish, take decisive, well-thought-out steps to get there, and always deliver the best that you can.
Emilio Lui, CIA, is the senior internal auditor for a group of companies in Belize City, Belize.
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