*This blog is part of the March 2023 Thought Leader newsletter
We know it’s a busy time of year for everyone, so this month we’re re-running one of Darren’s most popular articles for inspiration. (Wait, what’s that up ahead? It’s the tax season finish line, getting closer every day!)
Which of the following is an example of an inspiring leader?
- The CEO of a successful multinational corporation.
- A stay-at-home mother who organizes local residents to clean up community parks.
- An injured war veteran who founds a charity to help other injured vets.
- All of the above.
(The answer is #5.)
Now, if your reaction is: “What’s he talking about? As a firm owner, I’m number four, and I don’t feel like I’m especially inspiring,” you’re not alone.
I’ve noticed that accounting professionals tend to downplay their ability to inspire. Maybe we’ve been unconsciously influenced by the stereotype of the meek accountant. Or maybe it’s just the natural introversion of those who spend so much of their time with financial statements and documents. However, as someone who’s spent years working with accounting firm leaders, I’ve discovered that “inspiring” is a matter of perception.
Too many people think an inspiring leader must be dramatic and powerful, like Captain America in “Avengers: Endgame,” shouting, “Avengers…ASSEMBLE!” before he leads the superheroes into final battle. But an inspiring leader can just as easily be an accounting firm owner who has his or her team’s back when things don’t go according to plan.
Out of vision comes inspiration
In the past, business leaders didn’t see the need to involve their staff in the ups, downs and minutiae of the business. Luckily, that mindset has changed. As we see with our Rootworks member firms, when there’s vision, inclusion and transparency, a firm’s chances of success increase exponentially.
Your vision doesn’t have to be grand, but it does need to be:
Think about the old tale, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” If you talk about your vision but never actually do anything, eventually those who listen will lose interest and their sense of investment. I know it’s daunting to take that first step toward the future—especially when other people depend on the success of your vision to keep their families fed and a roof above their heads. But as someone who’s taken many first steps over the years, I can attest that you’ll regret the steps not taken much more than the steps you actually take.
Shared with your team
Empowerment is empowering—and one of the most powerful acts of trust you can give to your team. This is their future, too. Get them involved. Invite and seriously consider their ideas. Ask them for help. Give them things to do that help contribute to the vision. Listen to their challenges. Work together to solve those challenges and implement new ideas. Have their backs. Trust me, rare is the human being who won’t rise to the occasion when they know they’re valued.
Keep your team updated—whether those updates are positive or less than ideal. It’s always a thrill to share good news, of course; there’s no feeling like it. However, with all good intentions, those of us who run businesses sometimes tend to spare our teams gloomier news. Something I’ve learned over the years: DON’T DO THIS. You’re not sparing them; you’re missing out on possible solutions. Be truthful. Let them know the vision may be off track. Give them the chance to help you brainstorm solutions. It’s all too easy to have tunnel vision and miss something a colleague with a different point of view could put their finger on with no trouble.
Think back on previous business leaders you’ve worked for during your career. Like most of us, you’ve probably had managers that drove you to leave a job (or two). But if you’re lucky, you’ve also had the chance to work for managers for whom you’d have taken the proverbial bullet. Managers who truly cared about you, your family, your growth as an employee—and who valued your input. How did they make you feel?
In my case, they made me feel…inspired. Important. Part of something bigger than myself. Like I was making a difference, one day at a time. They had my back. They trusted me. And not one of them was Captain America. They were regular people—managers, fellow employees, accounting firm owners—doing their best every single day.
Just like you.