Yes, the economy is in a crisis. Yes, the stock market has tanked, Bernie Madoff is a shameful situation and clients are in trouble.

And yes, you are still your clients' most trusted advisor. Now, more than ever, your firms need your leadership, your clients need your counsel and advice, and your people need your guidance.

We have spent the last 30 years learning how to be business leaders, professional managers and good decision-makers. Now, more than ever, the CPA community must do what it does best - analyze problems, create sound business decisions to steady and advance firms, and ask what might go wrong if these decisions are implemented.

The leadership environment calls this problem analysis, decision analysis and potential analysis. Most of you call this common sense. We are entering uncharted waters for one of the few times in our professional lives and we must now rise to the challenge.

As I travel the country, consulting with firms of various sizes, I am seeing a revisionist attitude move to one of fear and uncertainty. Uncertainty is acceptable - fear is not. Now is the time that strong leadership must be inserted into the culture of your firm. Centralized leadership with the ability to be nimble, flexible, fair and specific must be the order of the day. Those of my clients with a strong, centralized and deliberate leadership style are growing and continue to be profitable. Those without it are floundering and are calling for my help to merge or sell their practices.

Whether you are a $3 million firm or a $50-$100 million firm, we all must rise to the occasion and provide our colleagues with direction, guidance, creativity and accountability for our performance. Firms across the nation are attempting to adapt to their clients' ongoing concerns as the economy continues to play havoc with each client's profitability.

In these "uncharted waters," the rules of engagement have changed. We now have to be more focused on our own growth and profitability, while at the same time being compassionate with longstanding "A" clients having their own survival problems. Partners need to be focused on such concerns as billing, collecting and receivables, while being patient with clients' struggles as well. We need to be more creative or tolerant of our receivable issues, but not allow them to bring our own firms into "risky" areas. Partners must stay in very close touch with their clients' needs, concerns and performance issues. We cannot afford to lose contact with those clients who need us now more than ever, who helped us to build our businesses, and whom we need to nurture for our (and their) futures.

TIME TO RAISE THE BAR

Given the turbulent times, it is ever more relevant to ask partners to raise the bar on their performance. They must be more focused than ever, communicate more with clients, be more helpful to staff and utilize every opportunity to bring in new business. Without it, a firm cannot grow and will disappear.

Partners often tell me they are not salespeople, and I get that. But all partners can market their firms, go to networking opportunities and give out business cards. They can make appointments to attend with other partners (who can sell), and they can help brand the firm's name recognition. I agree that not all partners can "sell," but they all can market.

Secondly, we all must expend the energy necessary to protect and grow our firms. The concept of work/life integration is a critical one. Now, however, there may be a need for a bit of imbalance. Given our economic environment, we must tip the balance a bit towards our professional lives and our firms. Yes, I understand how important family is. I also understand that there are times when our families must understand that we need to protect the quality of life that we have spent years creating for them.

This economic crisis will, at some point, turn around and allow us all to once again balance the needs of our firms and families. But for the moment, you need your family's understanding that you may be out a few more evenings prospecting, or perhaps not able to make every soccer game. While I believe this situation is temporary, I also believe it is necessary.

We're all adults and I believe we know what we are supposed to do. Why we cannot seems to be a story for another article. I believe most partners are keenly aware of what they should be doing. The problem is not a deficiency of knowledge but is more a problem of execution - or, rather, a deficiency of execution. Why deficiency of execution? This is a puzzle that continues to stump the experts. Is it an attitude issue, an energy issue or a fear-of-failure issue? Take your pick. Somehow we must now focus on the excuses, shake them off, get a coach if need be and exorcise the demons preventing us from successfully doing the things we all need to be doing.

Simply put: service clients, bill and collect; bring in new business and sell additional services to existing clients; and mentor and guide staff. We all know how to do these things, but for some reason we fail miserably at staying focused on the relevant tasks.

We will weather these turbulent times and the changes we are experiencing. Stay focused and stay healthy. Physiology plays an important role in our ability to be present and rise to the challenges of everyday life. Time management, physiology, family and your professional environment will all require your highest level of attention and energy.

Remember, every day you get up, you get to choose your attitude; you decide what kind of day you will have. Make every day enjoyable, help others by making their day and be present at every conversation you are in.

Jay N. Nisberg is an internationally known consultant to the CPA community. Reach him at (203) 743-2567 or jaynisberg snet.net.

(c) 2009 Accounting Today and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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