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I once had a younger team member ask me, “What can I do to make sure I have a successful tax season”? Aside from having the technical knowledge needed to do our jobs, the essence of a successful tax season is effective communication, whether internally to our peers or supervisors, or externally to clients. Some clients prefer we only send emails; others need us to spend time on the phone; most effective is to meet in person. Regardless of our clients’ preferred mode of contact, keep in mind the following tips on being an effective communicator. In addition, effective communication with fellow engagement team members will improve the efficiency of the engagement and enhance “world class client service.”

  • First, you have to remember that good communication starts with being a good listener. Always be prepared to patiently listen to your client or teammate and never interrupt them. A simple way to be sure you understand their point or questions is to rephrase it and ask them to confirm that you didn’t misunderstand him or her.
  • Second, try to focus on being self-confident and positive. By projecting the right attitude, your words also become more positive – affirmation and encouragement will help get the best out of people, and clients will get more from the conversation. A good tip in this regard is to smile even while you are speaking on the phone and can’t be seen. This helps project a positive tone.
  • Third, understand who your audience is. When speaking with clients, it generally is not necessary to be technical in nature. Tax clients don’t really care what the code section is that allows the deduction; they only care that they can take advantage of it. Be sure to speak in your clients’ terms.
  • And lastly, you don’t always have to be right – sometimes it is better to “let it go.” There will be times during tax season when conflict with a client or fellow team member will occur. It’s generally best to hear each other out and allow time to cool off before addressing it. Remember that there is normally a compromise that is possible, and you just need to approach the conflict with a cool and rational state of mind. If you do make a mistake or find your previous position on a subject is no longer accurate, your clients and colleagues are likely to be forgiving when you are honest and up front about it.

Always feel free to seek advice from your peers or supervisor if you are not clear on something. Not only will it help you work more productively, it will minimize any potential pitfalls with our clients, particularly during this stressful time of year.

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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 second side of leadership:

  1. COMMUNICATION. “Suppose I said to you, things are bad and they are going to get worse, really terrible. Now follow me!” – Rudy Giuliani

Williams is convincing in his theory that one of the primary roles of an effective leader is to be a ‘vision caster’ and to do that, one must be an effective communicator who can share that vision clearly, motivating and inspiring others to embrace that same vision. Here are the six principals he shares

  1. Believe in the power of communication. To be an effective leader, you must believe it is important to be an effective communicator, and you must become a talker.
  2. Communicate so that people understand. Never communicate in an attempt to impress others with fancy words.  Don’t say, “I suffered a bilateral periorbital hematoma” when you mean “I got two black eyes.”  And say exactly what you mean, as clearly and concisely as you can.
  3. Communicate optimism.  Optimists always trump pessimists. Where others see obstacles, we must train ourselves to see opportunities. “Optimism is a choice – a powerful one,” observed Ronald Reagan. “Perpetual Optimism is a force multiplier,” says Colin Powell.
  4. Communicate hope. Hope for the future is the glue that binds people together as a team, a community, or an organization.  Without hope, the people perish and teams disintegrate.
  5. Communicate to motivate* and inspire. It is very rare for a team to be self-motived and self-inspired.
  6. Become a storyteller. We are hardwired to retain stories, not PowerPoint presentations. The greatest leaders are good storytellers.

*Williams also breaks down the issue of motivation into six drives, and being aware of these drives will help you find the right message for motivating and inspiring your team, influencing a board, or convincing a client or prospect of new services:

  1. The drive for financial security.
  2. The drive for acceptance and emotional security.
  3. The drive for recognition and affirmation.
  4. The drive for self-respect.
  5. The drive for self-expression.
  6. The drive to identify with a cause greater than ourselves.

Aside from having the technical knowledge needed to do our jobs, the essence of a successful career within a public accounting firm is effective communication, whether internally to our peers or supervisors, or externally to clients, prospects, or members of organizations to whom we may be presenting our thought leadership and expertise. There is another great section of the book beginning on page 99 which offers a “Quick-Start Guide to Effective Public Speaker” which I highly recommend you take the time to read. 

Unleashing the power of the spoken word you have within yourself will help you become a better teacher, presenter, motivator, and influencer… resulting in becoming a great leader.

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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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I have had younger staff member ask me, “What can I do to help me be successful”?  Aside from having the te596232_origchnical knowledge needed to do our jobs, the essence of a successful professional is effective communication, whether internally to our peers or supervisors, or externally to our clients.   Some clients prefer we only send emails; others need us to spend time on the phone; most effective is to meet in person. Regardless of our clients preferred mode of contact, we must always keep in mind the following tips on being an effective communicator. In addition, effective communication with our fellow engagement team members will improve the efficiency of the engagement and enhance “world class client service.”

 

  • First, we have to remember that good communication starts with being a good listener. We must always be prepared to patiently listen to our client or teammate and never interrupt them. A simple way to be sure we understand their point or questions is to rephrase it and ask them to confirm that we didn’t misunderstand him or her.

 

  • Second, we must try to focus on being self-confident and positive. By projecting the right attitude, our words must also become more positive – affirmation and encouragement will help get the best out of people, and clients will get more from the conversation. A good tip in this regard is to smile even when we are speaking on the phone and can’t be seen. This helps project a positive attitude.

 

  • Third, understand who the audience is. When speaking with clients, it generally is not necessary to be technical in nature. Tax clients don’t really care what the code section is that allows the deduction; they only care that they can take advantage of it. We must be sure to speak in our clients’ terms.

 

  • And for last, we don’t always have to be right – sometimes it is better to let go. There will be times when a conflict with a client or fellow team member will occur. It’s generally best to hear each other out and allow time to cool off before addressing it. Remember that there is normally a compromise that is possible, and you just need to approach the conflict with a cool and rational state of mind. If you do make a mistake, both clients and peers are forgiving when you are honest or if you find your previous position on a subject is no longer accurate.

 

Effective communication is the best way to differentiate yourself in the market place. When providing professional services, everyone states they will be progressive and have the most talented people. Most important is to deliver on the these promises, and let our clients know they are important to us.

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