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Expanding Your Influence: 2017 VSCPA Leadership Academy

September 30, 2018

The VSCPA’s Leadership Academy has been going strong for half a decade now, fulfilling its mission of preparing the next generation of CPA leaders to take the reins of the profession. The 2017 edition took — is taking — a different tack than previous years.

Just as leadership is an ongoing process, the Leadership Academy is now ongoing as well. The event has been expanded to encompass future webinars and conference calls, culminating in a final meeting at the VSCPA’s Leaders’ Summit in May.

One reason for the shift is to keep attendees focused on the bigger picture — that their leadership development is a process that extends beyond three days in November. That’s a lesson that takes many different forms and can shape the future of one’s career.

“People are so focused on their own very small orbit of who they are and what they want,” said John Sarvay, founder and lead consultant at Richmond-based leadership and coaching firm Floricane. “They lose sight of the fact that their leadership, which they desire so passionately, is about other people and not about themselves. Good managers who know how to solve people problems move into leadership relatively easily.”

Sarvay and colleague Kathy Greenier helped drive the Leadership Academy, which also included presentations from Dale Carnegie Executive Director J.J. White and several senior VSCPA staffers. The Floricane contingent, Sarvay and Greenier, discussed perspective a great deal in terms of which perspectives rising leaders must consider and how they should weigh them.

“Your first team, which is the team where you should be spending more of your time and energy with, is the team you’re reporting to, not the team you lead,” Sarvay said. “Those of us in management jobs, our job is to take care of our team.

“If I’m managing a team, my first job is the care and feeding of those I have responsibility for. But you’re reporting to a higher-functioning team in the organization that has bigger issues like financials and client care top of mind. Your job is to be representative of the team you manage and take it up.”

Sympathy and mindful communications can aid in keeping both teams happy. Greenier referred to the Johari window, an exercise aimed at helping people understand their relationships with others. The four quadrants of the window are:  

  • Known to self, known to others: The ideal window, with a high level of trust going both ways
  • Unknown to self, known to others: A person’s blind spot, also known as the “bull in a china shop,” where a person gives a great deal of feedback but solicits very little
  • Known to self, unknown to others: The private self, also known as the “interviewer,” where a person tells others what he or she thinks of them but does not listen to the feedback he or she receives
  • Unknown to self, unknown to others: Known as “the turtle” because of the metaphorical shell around the person, which prevents feedback from getting in or out

“We think of personality as an outer shell where you meet the outside world,” Greenier said. “But there is all kinds of other stuff that informs who you are — fears, ego issues. That’s the turtle. The point is to know that it’s there. When I see the world differently from how you see it, it’s also because of all that stuff inside.”

“All that stuff inside” could be one of many types of baggage for a profession where practitioners generally move up based on technical proficiency. A career that had been, say, 80 percent technical work and 20 percent people management sees those numbers flipped, which can cause angst for CPAs who don’t go into a new position with a plan.

“We find that managers who get promoted based on technical skills who don’t have a background with people skills wind up having issues with human resources or wind up with employees who are disengaged,” Sarvay said. “Or they get disengaged themselves. It’s exhausting to not know how to do your job.”

That’s why knowing how to manage both up and down is crucial to career advancement. The ability to consider what your colleagues want can provide a definitive leg up.

“People are so focused on their own very small orbit of who they are and what they want,” Sarvay said, “and they lose sight of the fact that their leadership, which they desire so passionately, is about other people and not about themselves. Good managers who know how to solve people problems move into leadership relatively easily.”

The alternative, a lack of consideration for others’ perspectives, can lead to siloed thinking that can derail any plan before it gets moving.

“The ladder of perception is a concept we use to think about the idea of seeing the world differently from other people,” Greenier said. “I’m climbing up my own ladder and others are on their separate ladders. None of us are talking about where we’re coming from.”

Before Sarvay and Greenier took control of the proceedings, three members of the VSCPA senior management team led a session on change management. VSCPA President & CEO Stephanie Peters, CAE, discussed change in terms of a military acronym — VUCA, short for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.

Peters often uses those terms to discuss the accounting profession as a whole, speaking to the disruption that prompted the VSCPA to develop its VSCPA2025 strategic framework. But it can also be useful in understanding smaller-scale changes within organizations.

One key takeaway in change management discussions comes in managing information and expectations. It’s important to recognize that not everyone has the same information or perspective.

“If you’re the one driving the change, you’ve been at that inception of the change and you’ve gone through the cycle to really process it in your head,” said VSCPA Chief Operating Officer Maureen Dingus, CAE. “People around you have just heard about the change. There’s an element of time that’s needed when you go through change.”

“Who are your key decision makers? Where are they on a scale of 1– 10 in buying in?” asked VSCPA Vice President, Learning Amy Mawyer. “If they’re at a 1 and I need them to be at a 10, I need a plan on getting them from 1 to 10. What information do they need to know? Communication is continuous.”

Knowing when and how to communicate with stakeholders in your project is crucial to building consensus. Just as it’s a big shift when going from executing to managing, it’s just as much of a change to go from managing to leading.

“The shift to influencing is hard,” Sarvay said. “Managing feels tangible. You hold meetings, you manage projects, you set agendas, you manage things. It’s clear to people what management looks like. Leadership and influencing are a little more ethereal and intangible.”


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