'Set your own personal vision ...'
Going out on her own: I faced two obstacles in starting my firm. I'm the one who quit my job to start this firm, but I sometimes have negative self-talk about my ability to succeed. It's been a long process of identifying that it was a problem and changing my habits. I wouldn't let a friend talk to me in that way — I remind myself of that and find ways to work on it. And separately, I was not involved in sales when I left public accounting. I had to learn how to bring people in the door. I would take it personally if I got in touch with someone who needed my services and they didn't want to work with me. I hired a sales coach who helped me understand that it's OK.
Helping young CPAs prepare to lead later: Younger CPAs need to take responsibility for developing leadership skills, to be ready to lead later. Set your own personal vision. Figure out what activities are going to get you there and go after it. It's also important to create or find a team firm culture that supports you. If you're not getting the guidance or a culture that you want, try to create a micro culture within your sphere of influence. Whether you have two people whose work you oversee on occasion, or six people who report to you regularly — what are the leadership skills that you want to demonstrate in that context? Be proactive and set your own leadership standards early — you don't need to wait for permission.
Success providing feedback within teams: I often hear concerns about dealing with emotions in providing feedback within teams. Many people don't feel they have the skills to deliver challenging feedback. It's about getting comfortable with the fact that it's going to be uncomfortable. It's also important to build the relationship to a point that you have permission to share the constructive feedback. Give enough positive input into the relationship to have the social capital to deliver more critical feedback.
Using improv to improve communication: I've been doing improv for about seven years. When it's set up in a safe space, it can help with communication and public speaking for CPAs. When people are given a chance to speak while thinking on their feet, they start to gain confidence. It helps them think about what to do when something unexpected comes their way. Improv emphasizes the importance of stories. And last, it helps release some of that perfectionism that I think a lot of professionals, including myself, are stuck with. We want to prepare, but if you're able to release yourself from the highest standards of perfectionism, you're better able to connect with the people in the room.
— As told to Lea Hart, a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, JofA editorial director, at Kenneth.Tysiac@aicpa-cima.com.
For more on the role of improv in professional development, see "How an Improv Class Can Help Develop Essential Business Skills," FM magazine, Feb. 2018.