Alright, it’s the second day of the AICPA Leadership Academy and I am taking it all in. My name is Amy Smith and I am a senior accountant at HeimLantz, PC in Annapolis. This academy is the first of its kind in Chicago, IL, and for three days 26 of us from across the country have the privilege of interacting with leadership experts and the leadership of the AICPA and state societies. Tom Hood is going to speak tomorrow, which I am so excited about and cannot wait to hear. Yesterday and today the leadership experts have challenged our thought processes, questioned our notions of ourselves and the roles we play at work and encouraged us to uncover our weaknesses, at least in terms of how they are getting in the way of our progress as “people who exercise leadership.”
So far it has been an amazing experience – overwhelming, insightful, humbling, exciting – I am learning a lot about myself and am humbled by my peers. The biggest idea I have learned is that my challenges are not so difficult to overcome. Certainly my challenges are different than those around me, but I am finding we have a lot in common. Considering all we have discussed, I am sufficiently confused, provoked, and embarrassed but still want to make a positive difference.
So, what have we discussed to make me feel this way? Well, the first day I learned that the word “leader” is a sort of carrot the powers-that-be use to bribe people to continue taking on more work. Marty Linsky and Kristin von Donop have been our leadership lecturers and are both from Cambridge Leadership Associates, a company committed to helping people and companies solve problems through adaptive leadership. Check them out, they are brilliant: www.cambridge-leadership.com. We are learning how to “exercise leadership” from the middle of our organizations and not necessarily how to “be a leader,” which connotes a position of authority, something one does not need in order to exercise leadership.
Then we were told by Marty Linsky that manipulation is not necessarily an evil to be avoided and can be used as a means to an end. The question was, “How does manipulation differ from motivation?” And really, they don’t differ. People aren’t using manipulation in an evil way, but rather to facilitate the exchange of two things two or more people want. It’s kind of like a quid pro quo or help-me-help-you scenario, not necessarily bad, just different, at least that is how one of my colleagues put it.
We are being challenged to start taking the actions we are not necessarily comfortable with, not because they are “bad” actions to take, but because we are not used to taking them. One example Marty threw at us was yelling. Why is yelling bad, if that is what it takes to get the best work out of people? I am not suggesting that we should all go to work today and only yell at everyone because that is our perception of how we get the best out of them, but wouldn’t that be funny? Perhaps the humor would only be one-sided. But why should we limit ourselves to the approach that works for us if it doesn’t work for the people we are trying to influence?
Here is the kicker. Kristin von Donop led us in a five-step process to uncover competing values we have that get in the way of our progress. So, while I wanted to blame other people for my lack of progress on achieving particular goals, what I uncovered through this process was that I can blame yours truly instead. It turns out I have competing values – who knew? Certainly I had not analyzed my intentions or competing interests in this light. Not only did Kristin help me shed some light on my situation and frustrations, but imagine the heart-to-heart I am going to have to have with myself to right the situation! I am on notice.
What really spoke to me the first day was the definition of leadership. Marty Linsky pointed out that one definition of leadership is “the distribution of losses.” What?! How can something that sounds so positive and noble have such negative consequences? But as we talked about that idea, it turns out that when one person exercises leadership, other people can suffer. For example, if one person is exploring why a certain part of the company isn’t as productive as the other divisions and makes certain determinations, which are then acted upon, those unproductive employees could stand to lose a lot, even their jobs. So what we discussed was keeping in mind that our actions affect other people and can have real-life consequences, even though we may not set out with those negative outcomes in mind. So, when we exercise leadership, we are called to help the people we impact negatively. We owe them a certain amount of understanding and assistance if we have changed their world for the worse.
Those are my thoughts on the last two days. I am still digesting all the information we have covered and am looking forward to tomorrow. I am excited about what I can do with this information, how I can manipulate my bosses (not you, Carter!), and how I can make a positive difference. I think we are all here to learn how to add value to our organizations and learn where we can take things next. So, thank you for reading and I hope you can take something from these principles and apply them, too!