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Sometimes in life, you have to do the hard things. It’s human nature to want to do those things that come easy, or push things to the back-burner because you know they will be challenging, or simply avoid doing anything that elevates your blood pressure or pushes you out of your comfort zone. But it’s when you do those very things that you actually discover new strengths, growing personally or professionally, which ultimately leads to your own version of “success.” I recently read a great article entitled, “4 Tips for Leaving Your Comfort Zone” by Marshall Martin and would like to share theses inspirational thoughts with you:

1. Find your “zone of courage.”
Your zone of courage lies just outside your comfort zone. If you’re not ready to take a big leap, take a baby step. You’ve got to start somewhere. The zone of courage contains much less predictability than your comfort zone, but it could also contain opportunities for personal and professional growth. The thought of leaving home and family and entering a much smaller company in a field I had no experience in was almost terrifying. But I knew that the role would prepare me for much bigger roles in the future, and the timing was right in my life to make a change.

2. Avoid the “zone of terror.”
Beyond your zone of courage lies another zone: the zone of terror, which is overwhelming and a place you want to avoid. The key to success is finding that area outside your comfort zone and outside the terror zone. It’s the sweet spot that allows you to move forward at a pace that allows you to grow but doesn’t paralyze you with fear. If I had thought any of the changes I made in my life were truly terrifying, I would have been frozen and they never would have happened.

3. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
You can play it safe and always do the predictable thing, or you can push the envelope a bit and go for maximal growth. Moving out of your comfort zone is bound to make you feel a little exposed and that’s a crucial part of the process. You’re going to feel afraid. But moving forward—even while knowing that failure is a possibility—helps you set new and higher bars for your goals and move into your zone of courage at the same time.

4. Take it one step at a time.
You might think that sounds less than ambitious, but trust me, moving out of your comfort zone doesn’t happen all at once. With every move you make, take time to evaluate where you are and plan where you want to go next. Then take your next step in your new direction. That’s how you develop momentum and keep yourself moving on to greater opportunities, and further out of your comfort zone. We often start the day surrounded by the familiar comforts of home and family. It’s our job as humans to walk out the front door, shake it up a bit and grow.

You have to do the hard things. The things that no one else is doing. The things that scare you. The things that make you wonder how much longer you can hold on. Those are the things that define you. Those are the things that make the difference between living a life of mediocrity or outrageous success.

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As you heard through that very kind email from Andy Vitale last week, I recently celebrated a 35 year milestone with the firm. Thank you all for your well wishes that followed and blew up my inbox.

Reaching a milestone like this has made me reflective upon the last three-and-a-half decades. When I was offered the opportunity to join WithumSmith+Brown, it was sold to me as a unique firm that was growing and progressive. I accepted the position here, with a hopeful expectation of it providing a great learning experience and intellectual challenge, as well as an opportunity to grow personally and professionally. Clearly the firm provided this to me… and so much more.

When I look back, I think about how I envisioned my career when I graduated college – oh so many years ago – and I have exceeded those expectations exponentially. The profession and our firm have provided me opportunities to travel far beyond what I could have imagined, while also helping me provide a comfortable standard of living for my family, and even helping my children get a leg up on life as they launch their careers. And as icing on the cake, many of you – my colleagues at the firm – as well as clients and referral sources, have become true friends, rewardingly intertwining both personal and business relationships.

Yes, there were times throughout my career when I was approached with opportunities from other firms, forcing me to reassess my position at Withum. But I always concluded that the best opportunity was right here in front of me, and I have never regretted the repeated decision to continue my career here. Our firm has always been entrepreneurial and a people-oriented place to work. As the Withum Way describes, we work hard and play hard, embracing the family spirit and offering the flexibility to allow all of our professionals to be well rounded people in and out of the office, and not just focused on work and the accounting profession.

When I joined Withum in 1980, I could have never predicted I’d be here for 35 years. Yet, here I am… and I am truly thankful every day for the people who work for this fine firm and make the experience not only interesting, but also very enjoyable. I share all of this with everyone today, not only to thank you for your support of our great firm, but to remind each and every person here about the opportunities that WithumSmith+Brown provides all of us… to enjoy an intellectually stimulating, satisfying career with phenomenal upside for personal reward and achievement.

The best career opportunity is right here at Withum. All we each need to do is take advantage of it.

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In today’s MP Message, we will be covering the second topic from Jack & Suzy Welch’s book, The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career, which is: You Gotta Have Growth.

The only thing that is constant is change, as the old adage states. Moving forward and staying competitive requires constant adaptability, development and growth.  We continually see many changes in our firm, be it the addition of new staff at every level, new titles within departments, new software being implemented… all done in the spirit of accommodating growth and staying on top of our game. Growth is great because it is what gives people job security, pays for a child’s college tuition, buys a home and all the while builds meaningful careers. Growth is a huge part of what makes business fun.

The Real Life MBA shares these six levers which have proven to be effective catalysts for growth:

  1. Eyes Wide Open (or ‘fresh eyes’) – If you want growth, no matter the size of a company or where you sit in it, be it a leading niche or department, don’t be afraid of a new pair (or more!) of fresh eyes on your team.  And by that, we refer to the newly hired people we bring in. As a firm, we are excited to recruit the best and brightest in the profession from other firms, or merge in smaller firms. These professionals are always willing to integrate into our culture and ways of doing things, of course. But remember to tap into the value they bring with their experience and new perspective on the current way we do things here. The fact is, we don’t know what we don’t know. So a fresh point of view can help recharge a team or help spark ideas on new growth initiatives.
  1. Concentrate, Don’t Dilute – When allocating budget resources, sprinkling a little here or a little there tends to be ineffective, particularly with growth initiatives. Focus on what will make the most impact and go with that. Quoting Jack Welch, “If you want growth, don’t hedge your bets. Go big to get big.” As we all know, we keep a close eye on our spending as a firm and can’t offer enough money for every last growth initiative. When looking at department or niche budget allocations, spend what you have to, spend what you can. Just no sprinkling. Concentrate on a few things for bigger impact.
  1. All Hands on Deck – In business, we hear the word ‘innovate’ frequently within the scope of growth. And maybe epic inventors such as Steve Jobs or Bill Gates comes to mind immediately, leaving you feeling a bit intimidated when asked to contribute to the innovation within a team. Don’t be! Innovation in business is likely to occur when it is defined to mean incremental improvements that are held to everyone’s job. It can and should be a mindset that has everyone saying everyday as they walk through the door, “I’m going to find a better way to do my job today.” Amazing ideas can be born when done collectively as a team.
  1. Match Talent to the Task – If you want growth, you have to staff the engines of growth with your best. This seems like a no-brainer, but it is a point that is oftentimes overlooked because of time constraints or lack of resources. Assign projects to the right people. Growth doesn’t lead itself.
  1. Keep Compensation Fresh – Measure and compensate your people for their performance accordingly. According to the book, “Performance and compensation systems go stale with time… So you may think your organization measures people for the right things, and pays them for the right things, but such thinking could be more wishful than accurate.” As a firm, we have looked and continue to look at how our professionals are compensated to keep them motivated and satisfied. We encourage you to be very mindful of evaluations and niche member ratings, as these are the basis of raises, bonuses and promotions.
  1. The Competition… Inside – You know the ones… jealous, petty resisters who moan and groan about new ideas or processes or people. And their subterfuge can take a real toll on the psyche of team members. I’ve seen it first hand: talented, bright staff who get turned off completely by this type of nonsense. If you are aware of it, I ask you to let me know immediately, or at least let your PIC know. There’s enough competition going on outside of our firm; we won’t allow for this type of influence within the firm.

I hope you enjoyed this installment of the thought leadership coming from The Real Life MBA.

Have a great week!

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Perhaps I am the eternal optimist, but I am very excited about the prospects for the new year and potential for our firm to continue to prosper.

I really look forward to seeing everyone next week at the SOTF, where we can go over how the firm is doing and where we are heading, reveal the new videos and give out service and strength awards.

Have a great week and Happy 2015!

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Today, I’d like to share a message regarding “ownership of your work,” crediting John Mortenson, Partner-in-Charge of our Firm’s New Brunswick office, who shared this sage advice…

Ownership of your work

For staff at every level (from staff 1 to partner), the common theme which distinguishes whether someone is excelling or just collecting a pay check revolves around taking “ownership” to the work we do.  We use this phrase over and over but what it comes down to is assuming responsibility to ensure we provide world class client service.  Every day, I hear of examples of staff who really do understand what it means, but every now and then I hear examples of not executing properly.  For us to be successful, we need everyone to assume ownership, which includes the following:

  • Assume responsibility for an engagement from the second it comes in, until the moment it goes out the door.  This would include not just the part of the project you are working on, but the entire engagement. 
  • Take it upon yourself to be sure that every member of the engagement team (that includes staff below and above your level) provides world class client service and not assume that someone else will do it.  
  • Do not wait until the last second to deliver the project, and yes, that may mean burning the midnight oil on occasion.  That also means you need to know the due date of the project.  It means each member of the engagement team needs to hold up their end.  When one person fails, the burden falls upon the others on the job which is not fair.  However, we also need to step up and help other staff when the situation arises.
  • Follow up with other team members on the status once you have complete your portion of the project.  Don’t wash your hands of the project just because you finished your assigned task.  Make sure the project gets completed and see if there is anything you can do help.
  • In summary, take it upon yourself to make sure we under-promise and over-deliver on every job and hold those that do not accountable. 

This is great advice for everyone.  Owning your work means to have the instinct and the drive to take on its responsibilities – completely.  Do it the best you can; do it the best it can be done.  And if you have to work a couple of extra nights to get the work done, then you need to do it.  Demonstrating this level of dedication to your job is how you convert from a person going to work every day to one that is spending every day building a career. That is how you win client loyalty.  It is certainly a factor we consider during the evaluation process.

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Today, I’d like to continue discussing Pat Williams’ book, Leadership Excellence: the Seven Sides of Leadership for the 21st Century, covering the first side of leadership:

VISION. “Leadership is about the future, so all true leadership begins with vision.”– Pat Williams 

In Leadership Excellence, Williams cites leaders like Cyrus the Great who builds his empire based on tolerance and diversity. He talks about Sam Walton’s vision for Wal-Mart, Steve Jobs for Apple, Richard Branson for Virgin, and many more. Leaders with vision look ahead to the future while sharing the dream and direction which other people want to embrace, share and follow. The vision of an organization’s leadership permeates the workplace and is manifested in the actions, beliefs, values and goals of its people. Williams goes on to share how vision produces three vital effects in the life of a leader:

  • First, vision keeps you focused.  It wards off distractions. Your vision of the future keeps you on the main highway to your goals.
  • Second, vision keeps you fueled.  It gives you energy, passion and enthusiasm for the challenges you face. Energy, passion and enthusiasm are the most contagious of all human qualities… vision evokes emotion.  There is no such thing as emotionless vision.
  • Third, vision helps you finish. Leadership isn’t easy. The road is hard, and there are deserts to cross, valleys to traverse, and mountains to climb or tunnel through. Your vision keeps you going through the tough times.

So, how do you become “visionary”? Without going into great detail (you can read the book), here is a list of skills Williams believes will help you do so:

  1. Uncork your imagination.  Don’t just think outside of the box.  There is no box!
  2. Silence your inner critic. Remember, nothing is impossible.
  3. Consider every possible solution. There is rarely one right way to solve a problem.
  4. Ask yourself, “What if—?” Don’t be content with status quo.  To find a better way, continually ask, “What if—?”
  5. Train yourself to notice what others miss. Look at everything with potential opportunity.
  6. Think “tomorrow.”  Become a futurist. Take time to imagine where today’s trends will lead us in the future.
  7. Make your vision clear and simple.  A complicated vision is not a vision.
  8. Learn to think backwards.  As you plan your leadership journey, begin with the destination in mind, not the starting point.
  9. Tap into the imagination of the entire team.  Call your team together and conduct regular brainstorming sessions.  There are no bad ideas.
  10. Get your entire team to buy in.  “My vision” must become “our vision.”
  11. Give people an elevated vision of themselves.  Great leaders want to develop more leaders.
  12. Prepare people for celebration. Reward your people for a job well done, and let them know about it ahead of time.

Regardless of what level professional you are, from Staff I to Partner; or in which department you are based, be it Accounting, Marketing, Firm Administration, IT or Human Resources, we encourage staff to make time here at Withum really count and be an active part of the growth and betterment of yourself, our Firm, our clients and our communities.  Adhere to the vision that is shared through a variety of avenues throughout the firm, either by your supervisors or office PICs or niche leaders or even myself.

See it.  Feel it.  Share it.  The vision we have for WithumSmith+Brown includes growth and success in revenue and geographic reach, for sure, but it is mostly about the growth and success our own people and our culture.  And from what I can see, the future is very bright.

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As part of my professional development, I regularly read books about leadership, team building and how others have succeeded in business and in life.  They have often served as inspiration for many ideas and initiatives which are currently established here at the Firm.  One of the best books I’ve recently read is Leadership Excellence: the Seven Sides of Leadership for the 21st Century by Pat Williams, a motivational speaker and sports executive currently serving as SVP of the NBA’s Orlando Magic.  A true team leader, his biggest achievements include winning the 1983 World Championship title with the Philadelphia 76ers and being a partner in the creation of the Orlando Magic. 

 

Leadership Excellence is a summary of hundreds of Williams’ personal interviews, drawing upon leaders in business, sports, religion and politics to distill great principles that apply to leaders of any age, background and setting. He has bucketed these traits into what he describes as, “Leadership’s Seven Sides: Vision, Communication, People Skills, Character, Competence, Boldness and a Servant’s Heart.”  These seven sides of leadership are timeless.  This book shares many inspiring stories and great insights proving his theory that regardless if it’s King Solomon, President Lincoln, Coach John Wooden, Billy Graham, Jack Welch or Steve Jobs, the essential principles of leadership are always the same and will produce magical results. 

 

We are fortunate to have Pat visiting our firm and presenting on leadership on November 18th as part of our firm wide CPE that day.

 

Over the next few months, I will dive a little deeper into each of the Seven Sides as they apply to our firm and the Withum Way.  I invite you to purchase the book and follow along.

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