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Happy New Year to everyone celebrating Rosh Hashanah.

As shared in previous posts, I enjoy reading books and articles on leadership and business topics as part of my own professional development. They often serve as inspiration for many ideas and initiatives which are currently established here at the firm. I recently read The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career, authored by Jack & Suzy Welch. Jack Welch, as you may know, is the legendary former-CEO of General Electric who was named “Manager of the Century” by Fortune magazine in 2000. His wife, Suzy Welch, is a bestselling author, television commentary and noted business journalist. The book is chock full of sound business advice, with six key learning opportunities which I felt are most applicable to every professional in our firm, relating to Team Alignment, Growth, Leadership, Marketing B2B, Building a Winning Team and Getting Unstuck in Your Career.  I’d like to share a little about each through this and five additional future messages.

Let’s start with Team Alignment, which means more than simply a group of people who are in agreement. Alignment reflects an active ownership on the part of the team members, with each individual understanding and contributing to the goals, vision, and solution of top challenges. And Leadership is the driver to galvanizing the kind of alignment that takes the grind out of work.  Here are a few points the Welch’s share to get your teams successfully aligned:

  1. Getting into everyone’s skincaring passionately about your people and understanding what makes them tick. If you want to inspire even more good stuff happening within your team, you need to truly get to know and care about your people as individuals. Your people give their days (and sometimes their nights) to you. They give their hands, brains and hearts. Sure, they are paid a salary to do so. But as a leader, you need to fill their souls. As a firm, we are more than happy to reimburse expenses related to lunches or activities with your staff with the intent to build stronger relationships.
  2. Serving as the Chief Meaningful Officer – using words and deeds to give your team’s work context and purpose. Remember, your people spend more than 40 hours a week working. If you’re not helping them make meaning of that investment, you’re wasting their time and their lives. Be aspirational in your tone with your team members. They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
  3. Removing blockages – clearing bureaucracy and other nonsense out of the way of your team’s path to results. A leader’s job is to sweep away those things which stand in the way of a team reaching its target. That includes people, too: the action blockers, the change resistors, the process obsessives. There’s always a way to create work-arounds for most anything so your team members can achieve their goals. And there are certainly plenty of people within our firm with a wealth of “people experience” to assist you in this area if needed.
  4. Demonstrating the generosity gene – going over-the-top in your desire and effort to reward people for great performance, using money, promotions and praise. One of my favorite things about the State of the Firm event is to recognize talented, loyal staff with our Strength Awards and Milestone Awards, also giving them a monetary gift. But remember, a simple ‘thank you’ or an announcement during a team meeting sharing praise about a job well done is free and goes a long way. And don’t forget about the Gotcha Awards!
  5. Making sure the work is fun – creating an environment of enjoyment and celebration. “Work Hard-Play Hard” is part of the Withum Way culture, and I think we do a pretty good job of having a good time while also providing the world-class service our clients expect. We embrace humor and candor; we do things outside of the office to build camaraderie; we do our best to adhere to our ‘no jerk’ policy and maintain a familial atmosphere. Every leader in our firm should help nurture this very important behavior.

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

Have a great week!

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As part of my own professional development, I enjoy reading books and articles on leadership topics. They often serve as inspiration for many ideas and initiatives which are currently established here at the firm. Whether written by world-renown leadership authors such as Jim Collins or Patrick Lencioni, or by the CEOs of powerhouse companies such as Zappos or Starbucks, you can always find at least one gem of an idea which can be applied to how you might think differently; approach a challenge from a different perspective; or how to inspire the people around you to reach new heights alongside you.

Our partner Tom Basilo forwarded me the email below discussing “divine discontent” the “agnostic habits” shared by global advertising firm Ogilvy and Mather, which sounded very much like the Withum Way philosophy we embrace here. I like the phrase, “divine discontent,” which is an inner urging that calls us forth to our next growth opportunity. Yet, so often we ignore it or procrastinate on listening to it.

To: The Great Leaders Who Have a Passion for Continuous Learning

“We have a divine discontent with our performance. It is an antidote to smugness.” These words, written by David Ogilvy, Founder of Ogilvy and Mather International Advertising Company, are the company’s guiding philosophy – one that shapes the corporate culture instilling a passion for creativity, innovation and performance excellence. The company and people embrace Ogilvy’s eight habits that inspire and sustain this creative spirit and passion to achieve excellence. He says that these are agnostic habits “required in all our disciplines and are, by no means, proprietary to advertising.”

  • Courage – Standing up for what you believe (this habit is the foundation for the others creating a strong foundation for trust).
  • Idealism – How great you become depends on the size of your dreams.
  • Curiosity – Explain, dream and create.
  • Playfulness – Be childlike; have fun; enjoy life.
  • Candor – Be terribly, terribly honest and dedicated to the truth.
  • Intuition – Listen to the invisible guru inside of you; go beyond pure logic.
  • Free-Spiritedness – Two rules: Rule #1: There are no rules; Rule #2: Never forget Rule #1. Be a free-thinker; be an alchemist.
  • Persistence – Persistence and determination are omnipotent, always making it better, in search of the best.

I hope this list of admirable habits inspires your inner “divine discontentment” to move you in a positive, upward direction… in your career and in life.

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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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Being from NJ, I just read with great interest the book, The Jersey Sting, by Josh Margolin and Ted Sherman, covering the sting operation that came down in June 2009, in which the FBI and Department of Justice indicted 44 politicians and political operatives and five Rabbis around New Jersey. While reading this compelling story, I was struck by the number of people who were willing to cooperate with the central character as he manipulated them to break the law for purportedly his own benefit, which was usually for his real estate ventures.

 

We all know entrepreneurs who want to push the envelope and go as far as they can, whether it be relative to their tax postures or an opinion on their accounting statements or – as described in the book  – to gain favoritism for their real estate projects. We must realize it is their nature, and essentially their role within their business, to maximize the potential with every opportunity they encounter. This drive is what generally makes them successful business people. On the other hand, our job as professionals – and this would include not only accountants but also attorneys, engineers, architects and others – is to be honest and forthright with them, explaining the circumstances, the parameters that can be pushed, those that cannot and the risk of failure. We need to be crystal clear and sometimes sobering in our discussions. They need to know the ramifications of their actions and how to accomplish their goals within the boundaries established by laws and regulations. And in the end, we must be willing to walk away from relationships that encourage us to compromise our integrity by breaking any of those laws or regulations for their benefit. We are an important part of the business community and need to be there to keep entrepreneurs in check and avoid chaos.

 

So long as we understand our role, we will preserve and protect both our clients and the organizations where we are employed, assisting both in successfully growing, without having cause for anyone to write a book about us.

 

Bill

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