Lessons in leadership

Leadership Academy graduates describe their best takeaways.
By Teri Saylor

The AICPA started the Leadership Academy in 2009 to teach the next generation of CPAs strategies to help them become strong leaders in their organizations and communities and in the profession. Over the past nine years, more than 350 CPAs have graduated from the highly selective program.

This year, the Leadership Academy is celebrating its 10th graduating class. We asked graduates to describe the best leadership or career lesson they learned through their participation. Here is an edited compilation of what they shared:

Provided courtesy of David Almonte

"The best leadership lesson I learned at Leadership Academy was that no one makes it in this world on their own; we all get help along the way, both in our personal and professional lives, so it is our duty and responsibility to pay it forward, lift as we climb, and move the generation before and after forward as we navigate the world we live in today."

David Almonte, CPA, CGMA

Audit manager, DiSanto, Priest & Company, Warwick, R.I.

Leadership Academy class of 2014

Photo by Sally Pittelkow

"Leadership Academy is an experience rich with leadership lessons, and the one I continue to apply is 'you can lead from wherever you are.' In other words, you do not need a leadership title to be a leader. A leader is someone who inspires others to improve themselves and their environments. Be authentic about your leadership strengths and apply them to helping others. As part of the Leadership Academy experience, I learned the type of leader I strive to be is a servant leader who promotes courage, integrity, and positivity."

Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner, CPA/CITP, CGMA

Controller, Litera Microsystems, Chicago

Leadership Academy class of 2013

Provided courtesy of BKD CPAs & Advisors

"Adapting to a rapidly changing environment is essential to the continued success of the accounting profession. The intentional use of reflection, observation, and questioning is key for adaptive leaders of the future."

Damien R. Martin, CPA

Host of the Simply Tax podcast

National tax assistant director, BKD CPAs & Advisors, Springfield, Mo.

Leadership Academy class of 2018

Photo provided courtesy of AICPA Leadership Academy

"The greatest lesson I learned from my experience at Leadership Academy is that I should look for the opportunities that add the most value to my life and allow me to consistently be present." 

Lori Liddell, CPA/ABV

Senior manager, fraud, forensic, and litigation services, HORNE LLP, Ridgeland, Miss.

Leadership Academy class of 2016

Photo by Kellie McCann Photography

"Some of the lessons I learned at the Leadership Academy are as follows:

Make sure your own house is in order before effectively leading others.

Everybody carries the story of their own life experiences. If your story isn't currently working for you, then you need to reframe how your experiences will define you going forward. You can determine to what degree your past defines your future."

Chris Hervochon, CPA

Owner, SOAR — a better way CPA, Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Leadership Academy class of 2018

Photo provided courtesy of AICPA Leadership Academy

"The best lesson I learned at the Leadership Academy is no matter what type of job you have, where you are located, or where your career path takes you, others are tackling many of the same issues you are experiencing, and people are happy to collaborate and help you grow."

Sean Stein Smith, CPA, CGMA, DBA

Assistant professor, Lehman College, The City University of New York, Bronx, N.Y.

Leadership Academy class of 2017

Photo by Al Weems Photography

"The biggest lesson I took away from the Leadership Academy was the importance of taking a step back and asking for different points of view as the profession adapts for the major technological changes that are on the horizon."

Garrett Stenhouse, CPA

Manager, DiSanto, Priest & Company, Warwick, R.I.

Leadership Academy class of 2018

Photo by HL Photography

"The Leadership Academy helped me realize that to fully understand others, and to lead a diverse team, one must first fully understand themselves. Only then can true collaboration, understanding, and success be achieved."

Meagan M. Wellbrock, CPA

Principal and A&A service line leader, Adams, Brown, Beran & Ball, Hays, Kan.

Leadership Academy class of 2017

Photo provided courtesy of AICPA Leadership Academy

"The biggest lesson I learned from the Academy was the necessity to have trusting relationships with colleagues, because that leaves people feeling more effective and likely to think about work as their calling as opposed to a way to provide for themselves."

Alexandrea Keller, CPA

Senior accountant, Williams & Company, CPAs, Onawa, Iowa

Leadership Academy class of 2018

Teri Saylor is a freelance writer in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at

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