The importance of ‘boss moves’ when making your next career step

Hosted by Neil Amato

Jeannine K. Brown, CEO of a talent development consultancy, worked for 17 years as an accountant, so she rightfully refers to CPAs as "my people." She is co-chair of the AICPA & CIMA Women's Global Leadership Summit, an event scheduled for Nov. 8–10 in Miami, and she joined the Journal of Accountancy podcast to share a few highlights from the summit's agenda, what "psychological safety" means, and why managers should me more focused on the question "How are you doing?"

Brown, also an author and ENGAGE speaker, shared some insights about the financial aspects of subpar people management.

What you'll learn from this episode:

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:

— To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato at


Neil Amato: Welcome back to the Journal of Accountancy podcast. This is Neil Amato. Joining me for this episode is Jeannine K. Brown, co-chair of the AICPA & CIMA Women's Global Leadership Summit. She's also presented at ENGAGE and is someone worth listening to on topics such as leadership, building culture, and creating psychological safety. You'll hear our conversation right after this word from our sponsor.

Amato: Welcome back to the podcast. As I said, Jeannine K. Brown is joining me for this segment of the show. Jeannine, first, thank you for being on the Journal of Accountancy podcast.

Jeannine K. Brown: Hi, Neil. Thank you for having me. It's my pleasure to be here.

Amato: It's our pleasure as well. You've spoken at ENGAGE. As I said, you're the co-chair along with Lindsay Stevenson at the AICPA & CIMA Women's Global Leadership Summit. What are you looking forward to about that event? Can you also fill in the listeners on some of its particulars?

Brown: One of the things I'm really excited about for the Women's Global Leadership Summit, that's going to be held in Miami November 8th through the 10th, is that we will be back live in person. No more virtual conference. Just like every other conference over the last two years, we've been virtual. It just brings a different dynamic and excitement when we're all in the room together. I'm looking forward to seeing hundreds of women in our profession gathering together, excited about learning about our careers in public accounting and accounting and finance.

That's what I'm most excited about. What people can expect is some amazing dynamic speakers and conversations for career, diversity and inclusion, and how that impacts you from a vantage point of intersectionality for women. Then also we have a men's track this year. I'm really excited that men, please come; we have a whole conversation related to how men can support, sponsor, coach, and mentor women in the workplace and just a few conversations with them. One, so that we can also learn from our male colleagues in a safe space, and they can join us for a little fun.

Amato: You use the term "our profession." Right now your bio would not include CPA, but you do have a CPA background. Do you want to explain that a little bit, where you were and where you are now, what you're doing?

Brown: Yeah, now I am the CEO and founder of Everyday Lead, and we're a talent development consultancy with a lens to diversity, equity, and inclusion for our clients. We design training programs, we do executive coaching for high performers or high potentials, as well as we help companies design their diversity and inclusion strategies and also deliver DEI training. I have a public accounting background. I spent 17 years doing state and local tax and had a great time and ended my career in public accounting, and now I do this, but a lot of the work that we do is through the lens of my former profession, as well as a lot of our clients are public accounting firms or accounting and finance professionals in other industries. That's why I say it's my profession, because these are my people. I was once an accountant and did a lot of work in this space, and I'm still very closely connected to the profession and its direction and its vision for the future.

Amato: Definitely, you are someone who can connect to those accounting attendees when you speak. One of the topics you speak about is psychological safety. Now, first, what does that mean, and how has the concept become, I guess, more in focus because of the pandemic and the rapid shift to remote work?

Brown: I'm glad you introduce the topic that way through the lens of how the workplace has changed. We've been remote, now a lot of folks are hybrid, some people are being required to come back into the office. Psychological safety is a topic that a lot of companies are talking about. In layman terms, people think of the opposite of being in a psychologically safe space as being in a toxic work environment. We hear that word all the time. It's a toxic work environment, people don't get along, people don't have a sense of belonging.

But psychological safety and creating cultures that are psychologically safe means that employees and leaders can work in an environment where they can speak up freely with work solutions and maybe even dissent content ideas. Or there can be discourse without the feeling that their interpersonal lives will be in jeopardy. They won't lose their jobs. Psychological safety focuses on creating high-performing teams where people feel a sense of belonging because they know that their voices will be heard.

Amato: I think that's a really good definition. How do you think it's different to feel or make sure as a manager you're enabling psychological safety when people are so dispersed?

Brown: I think the one thing that you want to do is tell people. Sometimes we start our conversations and meetings by saying, "Hey, this is a safe space." Because what we're looking to do is make sure that we can get people to engage in learning behaviors such as asking for help, seeking feedback, admitting that they made a mistake or an error, or that they don't know something. I don't have enough knowledge to complete this task. Even taking risks by trying something new.

When you can create that just through open communication, saying, "This is a safe space, we are here to do great work, but we know that mistakes will be made, we know that you will have questions. We also welcome if you have a different opinion." I think that's one great way to do that. You can do that if someone is in your office or if you're looking at them on a screen, creating a culture of that by saying, this is how we're going to work with one another. I think is the best way to do that.

You know that you've created that when you had those experiences on your team. When someone comes to you and says, "You know what? I screwed up," or "I don't know how to do a particular task. I'm not even clear on what you want." If we can do that and disagree and get back to work, I think that's even better. You can have a disagreement. I can disagree with you, but it doesn't mean that our relationship and how I see you or view you will change.

Amato: One of the ways that I guess people can foster open communication, whether they are managers or, I guess, even colleagues, is probably to do a little more — and I'm stealing one of your concepts — of asking, how are you doing instead of what you doing? Can you explain that and maybe do you think there's too much, at least from a manager standpoint, of people too focused on the what are you doing instead of the how are you doing?

Brown: I do think there's too much focus on the what are you doing and managing as a task manager. I think a people manager manages the whole person, and asking people how they're doing gives them a sense of belonging. They feel seen. They feel valuable. When people have those experiences in the workplace, they are a lot more dedicated, they are a lot more creative, they feel more connected. Turnover goes down. Even if there is a great opportunity that they don't want to pass up, they're more transparent about having that conversation with their leaders because they don't want to leave.

I think if we can get leaders to see people really, even when things are challenging in the workplace, how is this impacting you? Asking your team, if an organization is doing layoffs, like, "Hey, are you concerned and what are your concerns?" I think we have to be more active and listening and getting to the root of it. We have a younger workforce that's coming in, and they're demanding that their companies care about them. That's one of the top two reasons people join a company is because they feel like they will be cared for in that organization.

We have an entirely different type of employee coming into the workplace. They're not as concerned about compensation. They are actually concerned more about having a sense of belonging and creating a workplace that will build them up emotionally and care about them socially.

Amato: While some may say that creating that sense of belonging is a nice to have, there's clearly a financial part of it because if you're keeping your people, you're going to do better and save a lot on those replacement costs, right?

Brown: It costs a lot to onboard a new employee, and the number of days that it takes for them to really become a part of the culture and get a groove around their work, takes at least 120 days, sometimes six months for us to really get an employee completely acclimated to their jobs, their culture, the network, and the teams that they're working with and understanding how the organization operates. To do that and to lose someone within 12 months is very costly, and it directly impacts how productive the team that they were on, how they'll continue to maintain because, while that person is being replaced, someone has to pick up that work. Typically, that creates a whole other issue within the workplace. We can keep people longer, ensure that they are happy, [that] they enjoy what they do.

That's one of the things — that's my mission is to help companies retain employees from college to retirement. Then to ensure that those employees love what they do and the companies that they work for. I think it's OK for us even say that they love it. My mother was one of those people who inspired me to do something that I love. She loves her job.

I recognized it was because she had a few core things that were really important and that was acceptance. She felt appreciated and acknowledged. She had purpose in the work that she did, and that's why she would use terms like, "I love it here, and I love the people I work for."

Amato: Now at the Women's Global Leadership Summit, again November in Miami, one of your sessions is about making ''boss moves'' and helping the people who tend to play it safe. What is that about? Is that about confidence or getting over a lack of confidence? Tell me about the session some.

Brown: For me, boss moves, and what I'll be sharing is about readiness. I think a lot of women think that they need more preparation, more education, other people to vouch for them before they can apply for a role. Boss moves is about you're ready. You have the skills and the expertise that you need to bet on yourself to make a move in your career. You can do that.

You don't have to be on a traditional timeline. We find that women will wait until they have at least 80% of the listed requirements on a job application before they will apply, but we find that men are closer to 60%. Women are typically overprepared and overqualified when they do decide to make a career move, so they're not really being challenged in that next role because they come into it already overprepared, already skilled to do the work. For me, I want to encourage people to make a boss move. When you do that, to your point, Neil, if they bet on their own readiness, then their confidence is directly increased.

That's what boss moves are really about. We're going to talk about that, how to get yourself prepared. It will talk about confidence. But I think when people bet on themselves and they make a move that they didn't anticipate making, or they took a risk, their confidence actually increases.

Amato: I think that's a good message for really anyone. A great spot to end on. But, Jeannine, would you like to add anything in closing?

Brown: I think the one thing I want to add, I'm going to do a self-promotion if you don't mind, Neil. I would love for people to pick up our book Unstuck and Unstoppable: Five Proven Strategies to Leverage Your Value, Increase Your Visibility, and Gain Recognition to Accelerate Your Career. That's what we're going to be talking about the Women's Global Leadership Summit. We want to help women accelerate their careers, increase their confidence, expand their networks, be more productive, and create cultures that are psychologically safe. They can do that in partnership with their male colleagues so that all people can thrive in the workplace.

I want to end with that. Examine your workplace, examine how you show up as a leader when things are great and when things are not so great. How does that impact your teams? Just be honest with yourself first, and then let's make a better workplace for everyone.

Amato: Jeannine K. Brown, thank you very much.

Brown: Thank you, Neil.

Amato: Again, thanks to Jeannine for being on the podcast. We appreciate you, the listener, following the show. I want to pass along some news: We were chosen as a finalist in the Eddie and Ozzie Awards for podcasts. The awards recognize editorial excellence, and we're honored to be included. Please subscribe to the show wherever you listen, share it with friends, leave us a rating and a review, and as always thanks for listening to the Journal of Accountancy podcast.