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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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I’d like to continue expanding upon the ten traits described in the Withum Way, all of which define our culture and the behaviors which best exemplify our people.  Today we will cover point five:

  1. Demand Integrity. One of Fred Withum’s favorite sayings was, “Our services are for sale; not our integrity.” This truism still applies, as Withum staff continue to hold up the highest levels of values and ethics, and expect the same from those with whom they work.

The goal of every professional service provider is to be a ‘trusted advisor’ to his or her clients.  Being honest and truthful is the basis of a trusting, valued relationship.  But sometimes the truth hurts, especially when it negatively affects the bottom line.  Your client may not want to hear what you have to say all the time, but in the long run, they will respect you more for having maintained your integrity and principles, guiding them to make the best decisions.

On the flip side, how do you address a situation when you find yourself in the wrong?  Remember this: honesty and transparency about mistakes actually increases your credibility and builds trust with clients. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s just a fact of life. It’s how you handle the mistakes which makes all the difference. Here are a few tips on how to best address an error with a client:

  • First, apologize sincerely.
  • Next, state what happened. Be honest, be succinct, but don’t berate yourself with, “I’m such an idiot…”   Rather, say, “In my effort to meet the deadline, I failed to double check the file.”
  • Next, share how you are going to fix it. Provide a solution that will meet the client’s needs.
  • Finally, share how you will make sure it never happens again.

Of course, no matter how honest and transparent you are, continually making mistakes will cause you to lose credibility and lose the client!  However, a good client will not expect everything to always go perfectly.  Be true to yourself and your core values, and ultimately, things will work out for all parties involved.

Thanks and have a great week!

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I’d like to continue expanding upon the ten traits described in the Withum Way, all of which define our culture and the behaviors which best exemplify our people.  Today we will cover point four:

  1. Maintain a Cooperative Attitude. Possessing a willingness to help, to solve any problem, to ‘make it happen’, is an attribute that is appreciated tenfold by others, and you are perceived as a team player.

There’s an old adage which states, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This means that a team can accomplish more together than if the individuals of that team went out on their own. The importance of being a team player is to contribute to that whole through leadership, cooperation and participation. I often hear stories about our professionals going above and beyond to help a client meet a deadline or solve a problem – sacrificing sleep, hustling to get many small details together, traveling great distances or making calls to the right people who have answers when we don’t, all in the effort to get the job done right for that client.  Taking these extra measures means the world to our clients and contributes to turning our relationships with them from a client/accountant one to that of the trusted professional. This also means a lot to your colleagues who are working alongside you.

Whether with your clients, co-workers, or even your own family or circle of friends, demonstrating a positive, cooperative attitude goes a long way in strengthening relationships when everyone feels they are working together.

Thanks and have a great week!

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We call tax season “busy season” for a reason – everyone in the firm is exceptionally busy, especially this week, as we come to the corporate deadline, churning out the tax returns for our valued clients. However, be mindful that busy season can also present additional marketing opportunities that will lead to new business after busy season.

  • Value Add. This is a good time to work on becoming our client’s trusted advisors. Make value added recommendations while we are at their offices. Ask them what the 5-year plan is for their business’ growth and development. Ask them what keeps them up at night, or what issues have been plaguing them lately. With this information, we can help them achieve their goals and solve their problems. We should get client contacts signed up for applicable firm newsletters, tax tips, seminars, etc. This will provide contacts you’re working with information that will help them beyond tax season.
  • Ask for the referral. Once you have a great client relationship, let them know you enjoy doing their work. Clients are your best sales people – they already believe in our firm and our abilities.
  • Don’t forget referral sources. Call a couple of your top referral sources to touch base and say hello. Mention there might be clients they have whom you’d like to meet and vice versa. Set up a lunch to talk about co-business development efforts. Hey, everyone needs to eat no matter how busy they are! They will be impressed you took the time to call them during busy season. Remember, you are helping them as much as they are helping you.
  • Client Service. Nurture our client relationships and let them know how important they are to our firm. Don’t just assume they know this – tell When appropriate, ask them if there are things we could be doing better. Client service and strong relationships with our clients are critical to the future of our firm.

It is so important (and easy) to stay in front of clients and prospects during these next few months. With just a little time each week, it is possible to turn busy season into marketing season!

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Happy Leap Day!!

Today’s MP Message is the last installment related to “The Real-Life MBA: Your No-BS Guide to Winning the Game, Building a Team, and Growing Your Career,” authored by Jack & Suzy Welch. I’d like to share the last topic of discussion: Getting Unstuck in Your Career.

At some point along your career path, you may feel stuck in some critical way – stuck in confusion or fear; or having feelings of being overwhelmed; or not getting the opportunity to live up to your potential; or just simply sick and tired of doing the same thing every day… all of which I hope is not happening here at Withum.  However, a career impasse does happen from time to time.  The Welch’s share a few great insights into helping you get out of the career doldrums if you are in one or happen to experience one in the future:

  1. Don’t Deliver. Over-deliver. If you want to demonstrate breadth and depth, the first change you need to make is not just meeting expectations. Overdelivering means taking the presumed thinking or idea in your supervisor’s head and elevating it to a whole new level. It’s about defining the extra credit, and then acing it. Feel free to ask your Career Coach, PIC or department leader on what is expected of you… then do a little more! You’ll be surprised at how invigorating this can be.
  2. Volunteer for Hard Duty. Exceeding expectations is something you can strive for every day, but every now and again, you get the opportunity to demonstrate your strengths by volunteering for, and nailing, a hard engagement or project, particularly one that no one wants to touch yet offers high-visibility potential.  These types of opportunities can rebrand you from follower to leader, from muddler to winner, from maybe to yes.
  1. Acquire Followers the Hard Way. A third change you can make to break your career stalemate is the acquisition of followers. You need to show the leaders of our firm that people – peers and supervisors alike – listen when you talk. Luckily, if you’ve embraced the first change of over-delivering results, the acquisition of followers should come pretty automatically.  People generally want to hear what the firm’s biggest contributors are saying. And don’t be afraid to let your PICs or members of the Marketing Department know what you are doing. They are champions of our professionals and want to share successes and efforts with the firm.
  1. Make Sure You are Tech-Current. Not being tech-current is a surefire way to lose your seat at the table. As mentioned in the Withum Way, you need to welcome innovation and change, and that certainly applies to the new software systems and gadgets we introduce to our professionals on a regular basis. We upgrade our technology in an effort to improve efficiency and to give our staff the best tools to perform their tasks, ultimately providing our clients with the world-class service they expect.
  1. Get Real About Mentors. No matter where you are in your career, consider every person in your sphere to be a mentor – young, old and in between, in your area of expertise and outside it… and observe best practices. If someone is a great speaker, study what he’s doing right and incorporate that into your presentations. If a manager in your office consistently on-boards new employees well, copy his/her techniques. If you have a supervisor who runs a great meeting, see that person as a teacher or guide. Learn from every experience.
  1. Love Everyone. Ok, that might sound weird. But the point here is to speak only positively of everyone. Loving everyone is not a brain thing; it’s a heart thing. Train yourself to avoid surreptitious coalitions, backstabbing and politicking. Don’t get caught up in the gossip and mean-spirited nonsense that sometimes goes on in the workplace. Uplift people in conversation, and turn a negative into a positive. A person who demonstrates integrity and leadership possesses the qualities of which promotions are made.

I hope you enjoyed these messages from The Real Life MBA. Remember, if you’d like to read this book yourself, feel free to visit my bookshelf on Shelfari.com and order it. You can enter the expense under Publications/Subscriptions, with the words “Bill’s Virtual Library Book” in the Description section.

Have a great week!

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It’s hard to believe we have only a few days left in 2015.  What a great year it has been!  As the last message of the year, I would like to take this opportunity to share my gratitude and appreciation for the hard work, enthusiasm and continued support that has been demonstrated by the entire staff.  Everyone in all departments – from our Professional Staff (Staff 1’s to the PICs) to the IT Department, Finance, Collections, Human Resources and Marketing – have been running on all cylinders and putting forth best efforts, keeping our firm on a positive trajectory towards even greater heights in 2016.

Our clients, communities and the influencers in our profession are noticing, giving Withum high rankings in prestigious lists such as Accounting Today’s Best Accounting Firms to Work For; NJBIZ’s Best Places to Work in New Jersey for the eleventh consecutive year; Crain’s Best Places to Work in New York City for a third year in a row; Best Places to Work for in New York State for a third year; Inside Public Accounting’s Top 50 Firms ranking #28 in the country and #6 in the Northeast; Vault Accounting 50 ranking #15; and for a fourth year, New Jersey Law Journal’s “The Best of” Reader Polls winning in three different categories in 2015. Our philanthropic initiatives have also been recognized, being named a “Great Oak Awards Finalist” by New Jersey Monthly honoring the state’s most generous companies; winning a Philadelphia Business Journal Corporate Giving Award in its “Hands On Initiative” category for Withum Week of Caring; and being a finalist in CIANJ’s Companies that Care program. I sincerely thank you for your outstanding efforts.

The cornerstone of our success is truly the loyal and talented professionals who work here every day.  At Withum, our culture and commitment to providing a great work environment allows our professionals to grow and thrive in their careers, and also having some fun while doing so.  The Withum Way philosophy is indeed alive and well.  I hope you are looking forward to the big things ahead being launched at our State of the Firm event on January 11th as much as I am. There will be plenty of good things to share and celebrate, demonstrating why our firm continues to be one of the best places to work in the profession.

I wish you a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2016!

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In today’s post, we will be covering the fourth 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: Leadership.

The word “leadership” can bring to mind a variety of definitions and images. Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”  While that may be true at a 20,000 foot level, there are many more nuances which comprise the true meaning of leadership at a deeper level. The Welch’s believe that leadership can be boiled down to two simple things:

  1. Truth and Trust.
  2. Ceaselessly seeking the former, relentlessly building the latter.

Truth-and-trust leadership is an overarching approach – an organizing principle – that drives everything leaders do every day, whether they are in staff meetings, performance evaluations, strategy sessions, budget reviews and everything in between.

Truth is a determined pursuit, a personal and unquenchable fire, burning to know what is really happening inside the people – or the company – and out. Truth is bearing down on the assumptions, asking questions which must be answered with rigor. “Where did you come up with those numbers?” “What were the underlying assumptions that got you there?” “What was your thought process in making that determination?” “What kind of technology or situation could disrupt everything you are suggesting?” This is how leaders dig for the truth.

Trust is a muscle that is strengthened by daily exercise. In our world, trust amongst staff is generally developed during meetings. We talk about work and how to get it done, review the competition, devise marketing strategies. But meetings are huge opportunities to build trust if you do them right. This is the platform where you encourage open debate and praise courage when someone says or does something bold, counterintuitive or assumption-challenging. And to take it further, you (lightly) reprimand those who try to silence these ideas. Good leaders keep confidences closely, and in public conversations and private ones, make it clear that everyone is on the same team. They don’t tolerate gossip. And really important is that trust-building leaders tell the same story to everyone all the time. Everyone hears everything, and variations or discrepancies or attempts to spin differently for different audiences can cause trust issues.

Combined, the double helix of truth and trust cracks the code of leadership today.

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

Have a great week!

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