Accountants to Watch: Bridget Kaigler

As the accounting profession prepares for a tumultuous future, a special kind of professional is needed to help accountants how to stay on top of change -- and Bridget Kaigler understands this new type of leader.

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As president of her own consulting firm, Bringing Leadership Back, the Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based CPA is aiming to share her expertise on what this new leadership needs. Her organization's mission "is to encourage and motivate others to be great, inspire the 'aspiring leaders' to be visionaries – big thinkers with plans that evolve over time, demonstrate what leadership looks like while maintaining character and integrity, [and to] pay it forward – leaders helping leaders."

Kaigler took a non-traditional route into accounting, which may explain the fresh eye she brings to the issue of leadership in the profession. That said, she's deeply involved in accounting; she's currently serving as president-elect of the Baton Rouge Chapter of the Society of Louisiana CPAs, and was previously named a 2016 Woman to Watch – Emerging Leader by the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee and the SLCPA, as well as recently being named a 2018 Great Futures Honoree by Club Blue, a Boys and Girls Club Young Affinity Group.

We recently caught up with Kaigler discuss what exactly makes good leadership, and how a team is always more important than the individual.

What made you first want to become an accountant?

As a non-traditional student starting college in my 20s and a single parent, my education track was crucial. I wanted to be part of a profession that created a marketable skill set and most importantly enabled job security. Not only did I want to be an accountant; I wanted to be a CPA. CPAs are the most trusted business advisors.

Although no profession comes with a guarantee, the opportunities of an accountant are vast. Accounting is the language of business. I believe accountants will continue to be sought-after professionals to drive business growth, to be the voice to advocate for taxpayers, the linchpin to protect the interest of an organization, visible role models, continue to inspire others, and much more.

What are the most important leadership issues for Boomer managers today?

Some baby boomer managers attempt to control a process, a project, a job position, etc., instead of providing guidance and acting as a facilitator. I can remember as a staff accountant asking my manager for help. My leader would ask specific, open-ended questions (i.e., "What do you think the issue is? What strategies/recommendations do you have? How will your decision affect others?")

At the time, I didn’t understand why these questions were asked. I was forced outside of my comfort zone. Most times, I didn’t know all the answers or none at all. What I realized years later, [was] this was an opportunity to develop my critical thinking skills. Boomers should empower direct reports to lead daily. Doing so will enable aspiring leaders to be introduced to leadership attributes and promote leadership development.

What do you consider to be the biggest issues today for emerging millennial leaders?

Experience counts! Appreciate the guidance and absorb as much knowledge as you can. Continue to challenge the status quo. Disrupt tradition and SALY (same as last year). Ask questions. Create a wish list. At the appropriate time, start the conversation about the information you’ve compiled. Listen to the guidance given, incorporate when necessary, and follow up when required.

If the excitement of an idea is not shared by your peers or leaders, don’t get discouraged. Your win is getting your voice heard, not achieving every goal. Progression has a growth affect. Your vision may be realized sooner than you may think.

How would you describe a good leader in the accounting profession today? What qualities should they aspire to?

A good leader is not afraid. They are not afraid of change management, automation, or other professionals that may have specific skill sets they may lack. A good leader should readily see the accounting profession is changing. What has worked before may no longer work or will soon be obsolete in the future. Such changes will require a change in the way we work, the way we communicate and, most importantly, the way we lead.

The qualities of a good leader continue to grow. Leaders are strategists, innovators, and servants. Leaders lead to serve others [and] are motivators, mentors, and coaches. Leaders are facilitators, sounding boards, and relationship builders. [They] have the unique skill set to say no and still maintain relationships by giving valid reasons why. Leaders should have the ability to see a person not for where they are, but [for] what they could become.

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Leaders should recognize [that] diversity is needed in the profession, in an organization, in the boardroom, on the executive leadership team, and in other settings. Leadership qualities are endless because perfection is never achieved, but we do our best to lead daily.

What are your biggest aspirations for the profession going forward? What qualities should the leaders of tomorrow have?

My primary aspiration for the profession is [to] help aspiring and emerging leaders grow. Based on my personal experiences and consulting with aspiring leaders, a gap exists for leadership development for aspiring leaders compared to leaders with a management position. The contributor or staff level is the beginning of one’s experience of leadership, good or bad. Unfortunately, most aspiring leaders are getting on-the-job training instead of focused and intentional training, including formal mentoring. Once in a management position, some struggle with being a leader because they were not groomed or taught to do so. The awareness and the efforts to lessen this gap is impressive. However, there is more to be done.

Fostering/maintaining relationships and face-time in the profession is imperative. The professional organizations have been forthcoming about being future-ready and [are] preparing to do so. Our education and technical skills set are needed and valuable, in addition to leadership skills, interpersonal skills and personal branding.

I strongly recommend aspiring leaders to volunteer and/or get involved in professional associations. Both avenues are a path to network, establishment relationships, and force face-time interaction. Volunteerism shows loyalty but also our social responsibility to pay it forward. Professional associations promote a team-based environment and servant leadership. If you are a member, be an active member, [e.g.] serve on a committee and advocate for a board seat, if desired.

Follow Bridget on Twitter here.

"Accountants to Watch" highlights standout members of the profession who are striving to push accounting forward. If you or someone you know would like to be considered, send a submission to AcToday@sourcemedia.com with the subject line "Accountants to Watch."

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