The following, from Jon Gordon, says so much about life within a partner group in a CPA firm:
“Don’t get mad at the naysayers. Don’t hate the energy vampires. Instead, realize that without them you wouldn’t be as strong. If you never got sick you wouldn’t develop a strong immune system. Negative people make you more resilient, wiser and better.”
In your group, you probably have several positive, inspired, and passionate forward-thinkers, You also probably have a few of the naysayers. I hope that you do become stronger, as a firm, because you have developed a strong immune system.
I follow Jon Gordon on Twitter. I hope you do, too.
Inside CPA firms, we usually call the person holding the highest leadership position the Managing Partner. Have you considered if that title, in your firm, truly fits the position? Maybe you need to be a Leading Partner rather than a Managing Partner.
There is a big difference between managing and leading. When you think about your role at the firm, do you lead or manage? Maybe you don’t do a good job of either one.
Make sure your managers are managing and enlist all partners to be better leaders. Truthfully, most of your partners are managers or followers, not actually leaders.
Many CPA firm leaders become focused on doing what other firms are doing. Partners, COOs, firm administrators, IT managers and marketing directors go to conferences where they can learn something we call best practices. Then they return and try to convince the entire partner group to embrace these best practices.
The role of the Leader is not about copying from others. It is about identifying a direction for the firm, specific to your firm. That can’t happen if you are imitating someone else’s best practice. You are not leading, you are following.
Successful leaders create value and drive the firm toward something new. Many managing partners fall back on the usual solutions or quick fixes. They are reactive rather than proactive.
Leading Partners study their own firm, listen to everyone, and spend time simply thinking. They read extensively and not just tax and audit updates – they read current events and a wide variety of books and novels. Reading sparks ideas. So does listening to podcasts.
Leave the managing to your COO/Practice Manager. As of today, become the LP (leading partner) of your firm.
So many discussions have happened over the years on the topic of change for CPA firms. Most of these discussions have been focused on how to get partners, owners and/or shareholders to change. After all, if employees don’t see their leaders embracing change, why should they? Soon, the status quo becomes a way of life for many firms.
In the last couple of years, you have been saturated with articles, blog posts, webinars, tweets, and presentations stressing that you and your firm must change more rapidly than ever. Are you?
Change means discomfort and people fear discomfort. As leaders, you must push people through the discomfort until it becomes comfortable. And, it will.
Sean Glaze, of Great Results Teambuilding, tell us:
In fact, the first step in dealing with discomfort is fear.
People are first afraid of what makes them uncomfortable.
The second step is when people eventually become willing to experience discomfort.
The third step is when people become comfortable with the discomfort.
The final step is when people are excited by and crave discomfort. This is simply a sign that their zone lines have shifted, and they have established a much larger comfort zone than they previously enjoyed.
I’m not sure CPA partners will actually get excited and crave discomfort, but I do know that partners want what is best for their firm and just might realize that short term pain means long term gain.
Read this helpful article by Glaze, Why Discomfort is the Strongest Catalyst for Team Growth.
Have you heard the term “ear to the ground” lately? I haven’t heard it used much in recent times. I believe that it is something that managing partners and others inside a public accounting firm need to practice, keeping their ear to the ground.
It means: To be or try to be well informed about current trends and opinions.
Partners, managers and supervisors, you have to practice keeping your ear to the ground relating to both employees and clients. It is important for CPAs to develop the ability to skillfully listen and it has been written about numerous times. Yet a majority of CPAs in public practice will openly tell you that they have never had any sort of listening training.
Often, you want to impress a subordinate or a client with the high-level of knowledge you have developed over the years you have worked in the accounting profession. So, you talk and talk and at times almost brag.
You want employees to realize that you are knowledgeable and experienced so that they can trust your comments and opinions. You want clients to realize all the wonderful things you can do for them and how you and your firm are highly-trained accountants and very experienced business advisors. So, you talk more than you listen.
Try to listen more intently and always keep your ear to the ground.
During extensive research for the HBR Leadership Handbook, they discovered that the best leaders with the most outsize impact almost always deploy these six classic, fundamental practices:
- uniting people around an exciting, aspirational vision;
- building a strategy for achieving the vision by making choices about what to do and what not to do;
- attracting and developing the best possible talent to implement the strategy;
- relentlessly focusing on results in the context of the strategy;
- creating ongoing innovation that will help reinvent the vision and strategy; and
- “leading yourself”: knowing and growing yourself so that you can most effectively lead others and carry out these practices.
While the leadership development industry is thriving, they found, in its fundamentals, leadership has not changed over the years. It is still about mobilizing people in an organization around common goals to achieve impact, at scale.
Read the article: The Fundamentals of Leadership Still Haven’t Changed.
“Steady as she goes” is something you might have heard growing up. We don’t hear the term used much any longer. Steady as she goes is an order for a helmsman to keep a ship’s current course.
I think it also applies to CPA firm leadership. During my many years inside a CPA firm and consulting with many other CPA firms, I have seen many interesting styles of leadership from managing partners.
Some managing partners are dictators, benevolent dictators, collaborators, delegators, know-it-alls, consensus builders, and even radicals. Some are very strong and some are wimps.
When it is time to appoint a new managing partner, beware of inconsistency and go with steady and dependable. I remember one firm that had a choice of two partners to take the role of managing partner as the current managing partner moved into retirement.
One was a great rainmaker, very involved in the community and great at client service. He was always quick to take action; however, he could be described as hot and cold. You never knew which personality you would be dealing with on any given day.
The other candidate had similar positive characteristics but he was steady, consistent and dependable. He was always easy to talk to and sought out feedback from everyone in the firm. He was confident but careful. He demonstrated the same demeanor day in and day out.
I guess you know which one was selected to be the firm’s next managing partner.
I don’t know how to put this in a softer way but, way too many CPA partners think they know it all.
I don’t mean to be harsh or disrespectful. Experienced CPA partners do know a lot. They have spent years developing their technical skills. Many have become true experts in a specific niche or discipline. Often, they discount their vast knowledge by not charging fees that are appropriate for their exceptional expertise.
However, when you mention Emotional Intelligence (EQ), they are in the dark. In working with many partner groups over the years, I have found that usually, but not always, the managing partner demonstrates more traits of EQ than the other partners. That is probably why the managing partner was elected managing partner.
Emotional Intelligence is a term created by two researchers – Peter Salavoy and John Mayer – and popularized by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book of the same name.
Some define it as the ability to:
- Recognize, understand and manage our own emotions
- Recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others
This means being aware that emotions can drive our behavior and impact people (positively and negatively), and learning how to manage those emotions – both our own and others – especially when we are under pressure.
According to TalentSmart, 90% of top performers have high EQ. EQ is responsible for 58% of your job performance and people with high EQ make $29,000 more annually than their low EQ counterparts. Maybe it is time to provide some EQ education and training to all your staff.
Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, via an article on Inc., both have an important message for leaders and it certainly applies to all of us working, as leaders, in the CPA profession.
“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better. I think that’s the single best piece of advice — constantly think about how you could be doing things better and questioning yourself.”
Musk believes good leaders seek feedback even if it is not what they want to hear. Negative and constructive feedback will stretch you to learn new things and consider better options.
“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
Some CPA partners seem to actually fear feedback from their team. Some have even shared that they really don’t care what the team thinks of them. Continually asking your team and your clients for feedback should be a habit. Just ask, “How am I doing? Is there something you need from me that you are not getting?”
The managing partner is faced with many challenges. It is a juggling act, trying to keep a group of partners happy and continually push them out of their comfort zone.
You are now facing major changes in the profession and it is your job to pull the wagon of change up a steep hill. You are the leader and it is your responsibility to lead. Sure, you want to be loved and respected but forcing change and being loved usually does not go hand-in-hand inside a growing firm.
Certainly, you need to listen to your partners and discuss major changes. What I often observe is that the listening to partners and discussing can go on for months and even years!
As a leader, you need to take action and force change. It might not make you the most popular partner but you were given the role of leader, so lead.
Once you have all the input from the partners and the staff, make the decision, a decision that is in the best long-term interest of the firm. Always make your decisions based on “the good of the firm.” Never let individual interests over-shadow what is best for the long-term prosperity of the firm, as a whole.
Some new ideas result in failure. Take the blame and move on to other challenges. If the new idea is a great success, give credit to all those who helped make it possible.
As managing partner, daily you are walking a tightrope. Work on your balance!
As the firm leader, you have many very important responsibilities. Sometimes you do what is easiest and sometimes you do what you like the best.
For example, you really need to focus on guiding the firm to a better workflow process but, a client calls with an interesting project and you take it on yourself rather than delegating. Putting client work first is an easy-out for many partners and especially managing partners. It’s something you know, understand and enjoy.
Almost daily, you feel pulled in too many directions and it’s not just your office life, it includes your home life, too. You are faced with:
- Exercising for personal health
- Home responsibilities, like yard work
- Hobbies, because you enjoy them (like golf)
- Taking on the duties of assistant coach for your son’s soccer team
- Giving attention to those scores of emails in your inbox
- Returning phone calls from clients
- Filling out that performance review questionnaire on a staff person
- Scheduling mentoring meetings
- Conducting goal sessions with the other partners
- Meeting with the firm administrator to handle operational questions
- Meeting with the technology director about security issues
- Review work on client engagements
- Checking firm production for the previous day (or week)
- This list could go on and on……
First of all, you are not alone. Most of your partners and staff feel the same way!
Just remember, you don’t have to do everything yourself. Help is there, if you ask. Delegate as much as possible to your firm administrator (practice manager). Allow the staff to take on more difficult client assignments. It will help them stretch and grow.
There is an old saying, doing ten things half way is not the same as doing two things as best as you can. Make thoughtful choices and never forget, it is okay to simply say, “No”.