Become A CPA

Become A CPA

Leading Through Connection

by Amy O’Donnell, WSCPA Director of Member Services | Mar 17, 2015


The WSCPA recently hosted a Leadership Lens breakfast in Seattle. There were two speakers: Rachel Dexheimer, who spoke on identifying the type of corporate animal you are, and Tim Russell, who spoke on knowing yourself first to be a better leader. Although the two had different approaches, the overarching theme was about connection and the role it plays in leadership. If you are not connecting with the people you are trying to lead, then you may turn around and find you are just going down a path by yourself.

2014 is over, but every ending is a new beginning. The question is, what new skills will you begin trying out or how will you expand your leadership tool box? The idea of leadership is fluid in our culture; the definition is dependent on the circumstances and leadership styles vary for each person. Even with these variations, there are some common themes or steps we can take to get closer to where we want to be as a leader. The first step is starting with a strategy. Writing your plan down may not always keep you on task but it will keep you from getting too far off course. Start by asking: What am I doing well? What could I do more of? What do I want to learn? What resources do I need?

I had the opportunity to hear Simon Sinek talk at Town Hall in Seattle a while back. His message includes identifying the “why” of a business and for your own life, along with the idea that leaders eat last. The concept of putting people first isn’t new, but Sinek’s ideas serve as a reminder that we need to pause and see the people around us in the busy world of business. He spoke about the second person in the group as the key to being a leader. Without someone stepping up to follow you and getting the larger group to join in, you are just a person with an idea or a product. Someone needs to say yes to what you are offering for things to move forward. Once you have that yes, research has shown that engaged and supported employees can make great things happen. Getting to this point starts with developing an interpersonal relationship with employees. You don’t need to know everything about their private lives but learning some basic information about them, checking in with them and sharing things about you or your life will go a long way. If you aren’t doing this, what is that silence costing you? Loss of good employees? A negative impression of your organization with potential employees and clients?

Part of creating connection in the workplace is developing a “circle of safety” so employees are able to direct their energy toward seizing opportunities that move an organization forward rather than staying under the radar to keep their jobs. Ways to do that include examining when you are in a monologue versus a dialogue, listening and asking pointed questions to gather more information, understanding your staff and their unique needs, and looking for moments to channel frustration into an opportunity for teaching. Coaching employees through slumps doesn’t always work but it could make a transition for you and the employee smoother. One tech company, Next Jump, has a policy of lifetime employment. Although it’s unrealistic that people will stay for a lifetime, the philosophy has put a different spin on their hiring practices and given more weight to character. They’ve adjusted their training to be more comprehensive and evaluations are more open and honest. The results have been a decrease from a 40% turnover rate (an industry average) to 1%. As a leader, are there concepts or philosophies you could integrate into your workplace to further expand the stability of employees and expand the growth potential for your business?

As you work on ways to help others and grow your business, it’s helpful to have your own team for feedback. You may want to consider beginning an advisory board, composed of people with different skills and perspectives. Survey them at regular intervals on how you are doing on the goals or areas you are developing. They can help hold you accountable and give you candid feedback. It’s an opportunity to review your own narrative about your progress, uncover a blind spot and/or find a resource to help your progress. Be bold with this group by reporting when you were a rockstar, hit a milestone, had a less than great moment, or failed. At the end of the day, as a leader you have a responsibility to your followers, who will watch how you handle your own growth.

Amy O'DonnellAmy O’Donnell is WSCPA Director of Member Services. You can contact her at

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