Marcus Rien, CPA, wanted to enhance his leadership skills but wasn’t entirely sure how that would happen.
Rien applied and was accepted into the AICPA® Leadership Academy, an immersive leadership program for young accounting professionals. In October 2022, Rien joined 34 other accountants and finance professionals from across the United States for a four-day program. They examined personal approaches to leadership and how it intersects with their career paths and profession.
When he walked into the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club, in Durham, NC, he had an “open mind, open heart and open ears.” That mindset served him well: He hadn’t expected the program to challenge him and change his leadership approach.
“Leadership Academy has elevated my mindset and encouraged me to do more work on becoming the best thought leader that I’m capable of,” said Rien, a controller based in the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area.
Through participation in the AICPA Leadership Academy, next-generation CPAs learn directly from the experts what it means to be a strong leader, forge relationships with like-minded professionals and expand their skills. They leave empowered to become capable leaders within their organization, their community and the profession.
“The Leadership Academy is an amazing opportunity to explore more about yourself,” Rien said. “You’ll be rewarded with insights about yourself and how you show up to others on a daily basis, and inspiration to lead others and organizations to heights you hadn’t previously thought possible.”
Advanced leadership training that inspires and empowers
The global business environment is continually changing. The AICPA Leadership Academy prepares future CPA leaders to address challenges and steer the profession.
Since the academy’s inception in 2009, participants in the program have undertaken advanced leadership training meant to inspire and empower. The interactive workshop provides participants a nurturing space to partake in leadership training, engage in networking activities and listen to presentations from thought leaders in the profession.
This year, executive coaches from pLink Leadership led sessions to help participants explore personal leadership styles and what it means to be leaders within their organizations.
“I want participants to remember that their values will drive their subconsciousness, whether they are aware of them or not,” said pLink executive coach Ranieka Weston, PCC, MA. “When they become aware of their values, they are able to stand in their power more confidently.”
Participants additionally explored methodologies behind having strategic conversations, with the intent that participants can return to their organization prepared with the tools to help them have difficult discussions and enact change.
Facilitating thought leaders included:
Anoop Mehta, CPA, CGMA, Chair, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA, President and CEO, American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and CEO of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
Tom Hood, CPA/CITP, CGMA, Executive Vice President of Business Growth and Engagement, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
Lisa Simpson, CPA, CGMA, Vice President of Firm Services, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
Eva Simpson, CPA, CGMA, Vice President of Tax Practices & Financial Planning, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
Crystal Cooke, Director of Diversity & Inclusion, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
Liz Burkhalter, CPA, Senior Manager of Diversity & Inclusion, Young Member Initiatives, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants
Rebecca Tillemans, PCC, MS, LCPC, Senior Leadership Coach, pLink
Ranieka Weston, PCC, MA, Executive Coach, pLink
A meeting of diverse minds
Leadership Academy is a catalyst to bring like-minded accounting and finance professionals together to expand their networks and share their unique perspectives — and is one of many diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives through AICPA.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion in the profession also relate to ensuring that someone who is entering the profession sees someone that they can relate to and who looks like them, that has a similar story they can identify with,” the Association’s Burkhalter said.
Participants represented 26 states and the District of Columbia. More than half of the 2022 participants were women, 23% identified as Black or African American, 11% were Hispanic/Latino and there was representation among Asian-American professionals of Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean backgrounds.
Beyond bringing professionals of different races, genders, ethnicities and backgrounds together, the program focuses on professionals in their mid-20s to mid-30s — with the intent to magnify these professionals’ voices and foster connections.
“Leadership is more than just competence and character,” said Blaise Wabo, CPA/CITP, CISA, CCSK, CCSFP, a Colorado-based participant. “Leadership is mostly about consciousness. It is about embracing adversity and complexity and still finding your way. It is about meeting people and cultures of different value structures with empathy and curiosity. Leadership is a journey.”
“Participants are getting an incredible opportunity to network with other emerging leaders with diverse minds. This program blends professional development and the creation of a professional network seamlessly,” Burkhalter said. “It’s not only about growing your leadership skill set, which comes as a surprise to most participants.”
A transformative experience with peers
Throughout the conference, Burkhalter continually heard from participants how the experience exceeded their expectations.
“Most participants just thought this was ‘another leadership conference,’ but they left with a renewed mind, friendships and actionable steps on how to elevate their leadership in their organizations and at home,” she said.
Burkhalter was impressed with the comradery she witnessed among the participants within a few short days. “I met a group of incredible thought leaders who will transform the accounting profession. I am so excited to see what they can achieve,” she said.
Rien backs up that statement.
“You will meet people who will transform your world, challenge your beliefs and inspire you … I’m walking away with more meaningful friendships, ‘accountabilibuddies’ and people who I just would love to see every day. There’s not a program out there like the AICPA Leadership Academy,” Rien said.
During his presentation, AICPA’s Mehta advised participants to “be genuine, be authentic, be nice to people, and get involved. You cannot do this alone, you need support.”
And that’s why Leadership Academy is vital — to provide that support to future CPA leaders.
“If you want to elevate your leadership and build a great network of like-minded professionals, Leadership Academy is a must-attend program,” Wabo added.
Ready to transform your views on leadership skills? Learn more about the 2023 installment of the AICPA Leadership Academy and how to apply.