Professionals within the various disciplines tend to develop reputations. What comes to mind when you hear that someone is a lawyer? Or a doctor? How about an engineer? It’s not unlikely that your mind immediately formulated a mental picture of the essence of a “lawyer,” a “doctor,” and an “engineer.”
What sort of reputation do accountants have? Words like “bean counter,” “numbers person,” “green eye shades,” “back office,” and even “boring” might come to mind. Accountants are not usually known for being the “life of the party,” and sometimes they have a reputation for being dogmatic and unapproachable.
As with any leadership role within an organization, the accounting and finance function demands a person who can break the stereotypes and be approachable. Here are a few suggestions:
- Learn how to “set down your pencil” and quickly transition from your present detail-oriented project to another demand. I developed this discipline when I worked for an accounting firm and was often interrupted by client phone calls or requests from my employer. I did not have the option of saying, “Let me finish this bank reconciliation, and then I’ll be right with you.” I had to develop the mental discipline of focusing carefully on the task at hand — making notes for myself and systematically working through the countless details — even while being ready to set aside the project at a moment’s notice and later (sometimes hours or even days later) picking right back up where I left off. Make no mistake, this is a mental discipline that can and must be developed; the process was not immediate or easy for me, but I had to learn to manage various competing projects and demands in order to advance as an accountant.
- Once you have this discipline in your professional tool kit, rather than keeping the door closed while you focus on details, make coworkers and employees feel welcome to stop by your office. This is a practice I have noted among some of the successful finance professionals and leaders I have observed. Your coworkers and employees might need to ask questions, and as you share your knowledge with them, you will find information flowing back to you about the business. This give-and-take will make you a more valuable and trusted contributor, a “go-to” person within your field.
- Get out of the habit of demanding well-formulated, precise, and detailed explanations for business problems. You don’t want your coworkers to dread conversing with you. Rather, be relaxed and composed as you navigate through ambiguous scenarios. Your professional judgment and sound counsel will become a welcomed beacon in a sea of uncertainty.
- Be personal. Let’s face it, your coworkers are real people with real lives outside the office place. You don’t have to be overly chatty, but take an interest in your coworkers and ask how their weekend was. They will appreciate your professionalism but also your personalism.
- Know your stuff and maintain your integrity. You will find yourself relaxed and comfortable conversing with others when you have valuable information to share and when you have nothing to hide.
As a concluding thought, though it might sound trite, accountants need to learn about and appreciate the value that other functions add to the organization — especially the business development group, which brings in customers and sales to sustain and grow the business. Show a sincere interest in learning about and even supporting your organization’s process of creating value in the marketplace. If you help others and proactively contribute to their success, they will flock to your door.