Leadership is a shared experience

Both sides benefit when professionals connect and support one another.

Mingling with so many young professionals at the upcoming E.D.G.E. Conference in San Antonio is going to be one of the highlights of my year as AICPA chair. Those who attend are already on their way to becoming leaders in our profession, and I can’t wait to share my experiences with them and hear their perspectives as well. The more CPA leaders we have, the better off our profession will be.

I define leadership as the ability to inspire motivation in others to move toward a desirable vision. Mostly, I think, a person leads by example. I have seen this principle in action in my own life. I was fortunate to grow up in a tiny town in Kentucky, where people were proud, respectful, and lived the value of their word. My father was an accountant whose work inspired me to achieve great things in the profession. My mom was a role model for women in the workplace at a time when it was still uncommon for a woman to work. Having leadership lessons right in front of me for as long as I can remember gave me a big boost in life, and I’ve always tried to pass those lessons on to others.

Mentoring is an important way one can lead by example. Again, I’ve seen this in my own life. During my career, I’ve benefited from the insight and wisdom of many colleagues, and I’ve tried to reciprocate by mentoring others. Recognizing the value people have to offer is a key ingredient of leadership. Mentoring is a great way to learn about your employees or colleagues and may even help you discover their hidden talents.

As I moved along my career path, I found opportunities almost every day to help my colleagues grow, usually by just going about my day with purpose and integrity. But growth has always been a two-way street. Mentoring allows you to connect with other people and learn from their perspectives as well. It is critical to teamwork and productivity and is the best way I know to grow professionally and personally, whether you are doing the mentoring or being mentored.

You can lead by example no matter where you are on your career trajectory—whether you are just starting out or are a seasoned veteran. Sometimes leading by example means showing a younger colleague the ropes, but it can also mean helping a co-worker of any age with a professional or even a personal challenge. Every step I have taken in my career exposed me to new skills, new ideas, and new colleagues who helped deepen my expertise and enhance my development.

Leading by example also means demonstrating ethical behavior in everything you do. That’s one of the hallmarks of our profession, because ultimately our profession’s reputation is the sum of the daily activities of hundreds of thousands of CPAs. Each of us plays a role in preserving the profession’s integrity—one action at a time. It need not be a dramatic gesture. You can show leadership just by demonstrating your commitment to your job and contributing value to your organization. The rewards are priceless. Each time I have given back—to colleagues, an employer, or client, to the profession, or to my community—I have always found that I get back more than I give; I think you’ll find the same is true for you.

Leadership also means forging ahead, sometimes into unknown waters, so don’t be afraid to stretch new muscles and take measured risks. While my own career trajectory—from a two-person firm to a midsize firm and now to a top 100 firm—may sound like it had a logical flow, I can assure you, nothing about it was inevitable. The opportunities I was afforded arose because I made informed decisions and always worked to the best of my abilities.

Moving from one firm to another advanced my knowledge and skills and enabled me to seize the growth opportunities that emerged along the way. Stepping out of my comfort zone also expanded my palette of competencies and strengthened my confidence.

Jumping into stretch assignments, as I did, will surround you with supportive colleagues who help you to succeed. My colleagues over the years have encouraged me, challenged me, and shared with me in a way that has made me a better professional. I’ve learned that leadership is a shared experience; it can do wonders for you, your colleagues, and your organization.

Tommye E. Barie, CPA, is chair of the AICPA board of directors and a partner at Mauldin & Jenkins.

Editor’s note: Tommye E. Barie will speak on “The Importance of Leadership” at the 2015 E.D.G.E. Conference in San Antonio on Aug. 7. For more information on the conference, visit aicpa.org/edge.