Leading the way to success

By Jeffrey R. Wright, CPA

Here is how colleges, universities, and practitioners can help students meet the increasing challenges of the public accounting profession and become leaders.

Get practitioners to share experiences. Dave Fowler, CPA (inactive), an adjunct instructor and executive in residence, designed The Magis Leaders Program of mentoring at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo. He spent 36 years at KPMG, the last 13 as managing partner of the firm's Kansas City practice. Having practitioners participate in or lead such a program gives students an important perspective on the business world they are about to enter and prepares them for a lifetime of leadership. Fowler said practitioners who share their practical experiences — and even the mistakes they have made over the years — help incoming professionals successfully launch their careers.

Start with an assessment. The yearlong professional skills development program at Rockhurst first requires students to assess their personal and professional skills and career preferences. This process begins in a one-on-one, interview-style setting where a student identifies personal life priorities, what he or she enjoys, and what he or she is proficient in. Although it sounds like common sense, many students have not engaged in this type of reflection.

Align with the student's skills and career interests. Instead of using a one-size-fits-all approach, a professional-readiness program can build on the self-assessment to align with the person's individual skills, talents, personality, and career desires. Students develop their own style by identifying their strongest core values. They are encouraged to consistently apply their personal style in all aspects of their life to reinforce their career objectives. For example, an individual who desires a career in accounting would distinguish himself or herself with core values and a style consistently portraying integrity, a strong work ethic, an engaging personality, team orientation, and an ability and desire to be a leader.

Focus on interpersonal skills. During Fowler's time at KPMG, he encountered many new hires with excellent academic credentials who lacked interpersonal skills that are essential for success in public accounting. They frequently struggled with the stress of interacting with peers, supervisors, and especially clients, who could be adversarial at times. Moving beyond textbook learning, the students benefit by identifying and honing skills of engagement including problem resolution, the art of persuasion, leading teams, personal interaction, public speaking, mentoring, and relationship building.

Make leadership the ultimate objective. Students' immediate goals typically include graduating, finding employment in their area of career interest, and passing the CPA Exam. But, ultimately, the goal of professional-readiness training is to prepare students to become leaders in their field. By initiating mentoring and networking activities that reinforce core personal career objectives, effective professional training prepares students to apply the skills they have learned, coach others, and lead by example.

— By Jeffrey R. Wright, CPA (Jeffrey.Wright@rockhurst.edu), an executive assistant professor of accounting at the Helzberg School of Management at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com or 919-402-2112.

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