[IMGCAP(1)]  All too often, professional leadership seminars fail to live up to their potential for lively, intellectually engaging discussions about current issues and those on the forefront. I recently returned from the AICPA’s Inaugural Leadership Academy in Chicago where 28 young CPAs discussed topics affecting accountants everywhere.

Prior to the start of the academy, I was asked to submit a personal “leadership challenge.”  My leadership challenge pertained to my need to be a more efficient and effective delegator of work. I found myself turning into the “I’ll take care of it” manager. I was correcting the work turned into me by staff and senior associates instead of having them fix their mistakes. My main reason for doing this was due to time constraints and my fear that if I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done right.  

At the academy, we engaged in 45-minute “Peer Consulting” sessions developed by Marty Linsky and Kristin von Donop, of Cambridge Leadership Associates. These sessions had some rules. First, after the initial 15 minutes of describing the challenge to the group and allowing them to ask some follow-up questions to clarify the issue, the presenter of the challenge was told to turn around and not speak for the next 20 minutes as the rest of the group brainstormed on what they just heard and give some potential action plans. Then, the presenter was asked to face the group again and give their thoughts on the potential action plans.

Although there were many incredible experiences throughout the three days, this “Peer Consulting” exercise was the most significant to me, as it showed that I had been attempting to change others around me rather than working to change myself. For example, I thought a majority of my issue was due to the staff and senior associates not caring about how the work was turned in, since I would “take care of it.” However, my group discussed things like: I probably don’t give good initial directions, have formalized goals or expectations and don’t give immediate feedback, which causes the poor performance to continue. All of those things were problems with me, not those working for me. I was floored!

Overall, I was amazed at the dedication and support given to this academy from the AICPA’s executives, staff and other presenters. All of the individuals present were available for questions, assistance or simply to add some “food for thought” to us as we discussed our and the profession’s issues. I left the academy with energy to pass on what I learned from each of the presenters as well as the other 27 young CPAs to make my company, state society and overall life as a CPA professional better.

To say that the AICPA’s Inaugural Leadership Academy lived up to its potential would be an understatement. However, we will have to wait and see if the graduates from the inaugural academy can live up to our potential.

Craig Steinhoff is a CPA at Hill, Barth & King in Boardman, Ohio.