Leadership and Internal Audit​​

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Last Wednesday, IIA emerging leader Derrick Li published an interesting blog post about leadership and internal audit. He posed the question, would Steve Jobs have been a good internal audit leader. Check out Derrick's conclusions, as well as his interesting thoughts regarding the way internal auditors communicate and write reports.

His post got me thinking a little more deeply about good leaders and good internal auditors.

First, we have to have some agreement that Jobs was, indeed, a good leader. Some may disagree. You hear a lot of stories of the mistakes Jobs made and the way he (mis)treated people. However, that does not make him a bad leader. It just makes him human. Every leader is a human and every leader makes mistakes. One of the often overlooked traits of good leaders is their ability to be that leader in spite of their faults.

So, given that Jobs was a good leader, would he have made a good internal audit leader? Quick easy answer: Yes. Because a truly good leader can lead from anywhere and from any position. Good leaders are constantly looking to the future and revising their strategies to meet that onrushing change. Good leaders help others see a vision of the future and instill a desire to achieve that vision. And good leaders inspire greatness in those around them.

These are traits any person needs when they hold a leadership position. And they are traits we desperately need from audit leadership.

And before you start talking to me about experience, let me give you one more trait of good leaders. They may not be the experts, but they know how to use the experts around them to ensure the success of their department, organization, and vision.

One of the best audit leaders I ever worked for came in with next-to-no internal audit experience. But he knew how to use the experience he was surrounded by to help move the department forward. And those of us who worked for him learned incredibly valuable leadership lessons by watching the way he worked.

But there is something even more important in this whole internal audit/leadership symbiosis.

Talking about what makes a good internal audit leader is only one side of the coin. I believe every good auditor is also a good leader.

Let me quickly note that I am talking about really "good" auditors — the kind who are mastering the full range of skills a successful auditor needs. I've worked with auditors who were good technicians — who understood the work and did it fine — but were not (nor ever would be) leaders. I am talking about internal auditors who embrace the broad role of an effective internal auditor and do everything they can to be better at fulfilling that role. They help internal audit make a difference and, by so doing, help ensure they are making a difference.

If you look at the common skills people associate with leadership — things like communication, motivation, ethical behavior, critical analysis, and relationship building — then you also see a set of skills we expect from a good internal auditor. In fact, put these all together and it is a picture of the internal auditor we all want to be, we all want to hire, and we all want to see move forward in the organization. (And the previous examples were ones I got from an Inc. article — the first hit when I googled "key leadership skills."​ That is how much alignment exists between leadership and internal audit.)

I firmly believe there is no better breeding ground for excellent leaders than an effective internal audit department. And, as we promote our departments and our profession, this needs to be one of our major selling points. Come to internal audit to learn; leave internal audit a leader.​

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