[IMGCAP(1)]Let's play a quick word association game. Choose which of the following words -- "driver" or "passenger" -- best describes each member of your partner group in terms of their role in influencing firm growth.

My guess is that your imaginary "growth vehicle" quickly filled up with passengers, but that not many drivers climbed aboard. That is to say, you saw very few of them willing to grab the steering wheel and propel the firm forward.

What does it take to be a driver? How can passengers move to the other side of the seat? And will it really affect how and when you reach your destination? Fasten your seatbelt and read on!



Most partners with some degree of practice experience under their belt have comfortably settled into the passenger seat. When they joined the firm, they also joined the prevailing culture, typically an individual-contributor environment in which partners single-handedly seek business and serve their clients.

Newcomers tend to follow the road that's been paved by others, making progress within their book of business but doing little to grow the firm. Many go on for years, even decades, like this.

But what happens when they are asked to assume a leadership role -- when the managing partner tasks them with leading an audit practice or developing an international niche? They quickly discover a simple truth -- it is impossible to drive from the passenger's side.

Unless they're willing to fall by the side of the road and be forgotten, these passengers must find a way to shift from responder to initiator -- from someone who's along for the ride to someone who envisions a destination, steps on the gas, and doesn't let up until they arrive.

Like driving a "real" car, steering a firm takes skills that must be taught and experience that must be acquired. Without these, the driver will inevitably lead the growth vehicle into a ditch.



What can you do to help your firm along the road to solid growth? The first step is to gain awareness of where you currently sit in the vehicle. Do you take bold initiatives (driver) or do you prefer to wait for someone to tell you what to do (passenger)?

Would you volunteer to conduct a financial analysis of a targeted niche, or would you ask the firm's chief financial officer to provide available data and be content with whatever you got?

Do you aggressively make appointments for research calls so you can learn about a buyer group or industry? Or do you give up, resigning yourself to the fact that "nobody called back?"

If you recognize that you've spent your career in the passenger seat and want to make the switch, take comfort in the fact that it's never too late. But you've got to become a driver by first driving the transition.

Identify a colleague or coach with the knowledge and experience you need and learn from them. Read books, attend webinars and conferences, and become an expert in the industry or service line you've been asked to grow. Analyze the work style of skillful drivers within and beyond your firm and emulate their approach.

You also need to understand what it takes to be a driver. Not only will you need the requisite skills, you also need to know where you're heading, what roads will most efficiently take you there, the type of gas (and other resources) your car requires, and who you'd like in the passenger seat next to you.



Rather than focus on the rearview mirror, look out the front window and focus on the future.

Announce to yourself, and anyone else who needs convincing, "I've been asked to take the wheel. I'm on a road that will not only lead the firm to its desired destination, but may also get me closer to my personal and professional mile markers. The trunk is packed with tools, the map is in front of me, and my eyes are on the destination ahead."

Gale Crosley, CPA, is founder and principal of Crosley+Co., providing revenue growth consulting and coaching to CPA firms. She brings more than 30 years of experience in both public accounting and industry. Reach her at gcrosley@crosleycompany.com.

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