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Becoming Better Bosses and Mentors

Maria L. Murphy, CPA

This issue of The CPA Journal focuses on our recent roundtable of young CPAs (see p. 14). The experience surpassed my expectations, thanks to the participants’ energy and enthusiasm for the CPA profession. Though it gave me lots of ideas for my column this month, its greatest impact was to reinforce in my mind our responsibility as experienced professionals to encourage more junior colleagues along their way.

I have worked in private industry and supervised a large staff of professional and clerical employees. I have also worked in public accounting, with its chain of command and sometimes limited interaction with superiors and firm leadership. Like most people, I have had my share of great and not-so-great bosses. How we learn from both categories helps to define us as professionals and gives us the opportunity to be better bosses and mentors ourselves.

Essential Leadership Qualities

Much has been written about good leaders and managers. Though some CPAs have the innate ability to be good bosses, others need to develop their skills. For me, the following characteristics are essential in a good leader.

Get the job done, while fostering a sense of teamwork and shared responsibility and accountability.

This means finding the right people for one's team and keeping them engaged and motivated. Good workers need to be supported over time, with on-the-job development and professional training. A good boss should also offer personal support through encouragement, feedback (both positive and constructive), and cultivation of a sense of community in an organization. I experienced my greatest sense of work community while employed by the telephone company many years ago, where everyone knew each other's family, celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, and supported each other through tough personal times—and we kept in touch outside the workplace long after we all moved on to other jobs. I have never experienced as much staff responsibility and commitment to getting the job done as I did there; our motivation stemmed from our personal connection, not just the one on the company organization chart.

Be willing to listen and encourage ideas.

Employees have great ideas. Younger employees have a whole different way of thinking about issues and finding solutions. Great bosses take time to have frequent face-to-face conversations with their staff and get to know them. They make employees feel that their suggestions and creativity are valuable; meetings need to be more than one-sided presentations. They teach by example how to conduct effective meetings.

Good leaders facilitate better information sharing between employees in different areas of an organization. This does not mean that bosses can't issue directives on how to do things, but that should not be the only way that decisions are made. Great bosses make sure that their employees understand that they deserve to be heard and that they can share concerns and suggestions without fear of repercussion. They are effective listeners, letting employees express themselves and acknowledging their points, even if not always agreeing with them.

Aim to inspire others.

Not everyone can have a great day at work every day, and some tasks are less inspiring than others. A great boss helps employees find satisfaction and excitement in their projects and accomplishments. Not everyone is motivated the same way, so it takes a personal relationship and active communication to identify the duties that individuals enjoy and find challenging. It also requires a willingness to delegate responsibilities to others—and to trust that they will get the job done, even if it takes a little coaching along the way. Great bosses share their visions. If you believe in what you do and have a passion for your work, it will encourage others to feel the same way.

Reward good performance.

Of course, raises and incentive bonuses motivate most employees. One frequently overlooked area that sets good bosses apart is their willingness to give frequent praise and show gratitude for things like a job well done, a deadline met, an additional responsibility assumed, a risk taken, a low-profile task completed, or for just being an employee with a good attitude who smiles and treats others with respect on a daily basis. Telling staff how much they are appreciated—in front of others, whenever possible—goes a long way.

Lead by example.

Some of us were lucky to have worked for a boss that we aspired to be like someday. Especially for women in business, role models are very important. That biblical adage, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” still works. I also found this great tip on effective leadership by Maria Rodale on her blog, Maria's Farm Country Kitchen:

  • 4. Your job is not to be loved, but to do the right thing. … 5. Your job is to do the right thing, with love. … No matter what you do, it's always better done with love. But still, remember #4 … You still need to do the right thing, just in the right way.

Learning from Each Other

One of the qualities of being a great boss is the ability to listen to and learn from others—-that's why I know that you will find some valuable insights from our In Focus article and the perspectives shared by the young professionals who participated in the roundtable. I hope this issue serves as a reminder of how important it is to continue to actively encourage our staff members and younger colleagues to learn from us, as we have learned from those who coached and managed us. I also hope it encourages all of us to be the best role models that we can be.

Maria L. Murphy, CPA. Editor-in-Chief. mmurphy@nysscpa.org.

The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect those of the NYSSCPA, its management, or its staff.

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