Former Rhode Island Auditor General Ernie Almonte opened the inaugural American Institute of CPAs’ E.D.G.E. Conference in New Orleans today with a talk on leadership that deemphasized individual accomplishment.

Instead, the current partner at Warwick, R.I.-based DiSanto Priest & Co. told the audience of young CPAs that they should focus on finding a mentor and surround themselves with accomplished peers, in a sentiment echoed through the rest of the day’s sessions.

“I’m successful not because of my own actions but because I surrounded myself with people brighter than me,” Almonte explained.

Steve Harris, partner at St. Louis-based firm RubinBrown recommended a similar strategy during his session on making the transition from manager to supervisor.

“You should have an emotional connection with people in your career,” he said. “Then you have someone that can be an advocate and support you in the process; someone that, when I’m not in a room, they’re speaking up for me.”

Mentors can also help advise younger CPAs on striking that near-mythical work/life balance, said Allison Harrell, audit senior manager for Tallahassee, Fla.-based Thomas Howell Ferguson during her session on the topic.

She also addressed the increased blur between the personal and professional, from the 25 percent of Americans she cited as bringing their email to bed to the online manifestation of this on Facebook.

Mark Koziel, the AICPA’s director of specialized communities/firm practice management, spoke of the advantage this offers, especially regarding client relationships, during his talk on business acumen later in the afternoon.

“By having that that blend, you have instant connection with people,” he said. “A connection that would’ve taken you years to develop.”