insight magazine

Today's CPA | Winter 2019

Yes, You Are a Mentor

As business leaders, we must recognize that the actions we take and the decisions we make always affect the people around us.
Todd Shapiro ICPAS President & CEO


In full disclosure, I don’t consider myself a mentor. While I’ve always thought of myself as a teacher or coach, I’ve never been assigned as someone’s mentor—nor has anyone informally or formally requested that I mentor them. When it comes to managing people, my goal has been simple: help them become better businesspeople. But, I recently had a candid conversation with a fellow Society staff member that has me thinking differently.

As we talked about things like feedback and the challenging, and sometimes difficult, business decisions leaders must make—and how these things influence others throughout their organizations— he challenged that I am a mentor whether I choose to be or not.

Truthfully, I try to be a transparent and highly visible CEO to both the Society’s staff and its members—a leader that is engaged in all areas of the organization but not micro-managing. The staff member who I was conversing with stated that my actions inevitably position me where people watch what I do, learn from me, and are influenced by me. So, he concluded that while I may not formally mentor a single individual, I informally mentor many inside and outside the organization.

As I noted, I’ve always thought of myself as a teacher or coach and have taken great pride in helping people move forward. It’s a responsibility that I take very seriously and conscientiously as a business leader. I guess you could say I at least have the makings of a mentor mindset. Maybe that’s why this conversation led me to wonder how many others, due to their position, skill, or management responsibilities, are in positions where they are developing, influencing, and guiding people but never consider that they should be operating with a mentor mindset. My concern now is that many of us in leadership positions are leaving the mentoring to others.

In a manufacturing environment, hard assets, such as machinery and equipment, are carefully cared for and maintained—maintenance schedules are strictly adhered to and downtime is critical. In the accounting profession, our number one asset is people. Yet, too often, we watch our staffs get burned out or disenchanted. We passively refer to management and leadership as soft skills, so we often pass up formal development of these critical areas. We don’t intentionally operate with a mentor mindset and then we wonder why we see poor retention rates across the profession.

We are part of a profession that is facing significant change over the coming years. Baby boomers will be retiring in mass, passing on their torches to new generations of firm and corporate leaders. Technological advances are impacting both who we hire and how many staff we hire. When I think about these shifts in our business landscape, of which there are many more, it becomes clear to me that the need for a mentor mindset is more critical than ever.

We all have a stake in moving the profession forward and should strive to leave it in a better place than when we came into it. How we accomplish this is by recognizing that we all have a responsibility for mentoring others, whether formally or informally, no matter our level, or title, or place in public accounting or corporate finance. So, I encourage you to be the coach, to be the teacher, and to be the mentor that you are. With intentional mentor mindsets there are no problems too big for us to solve because, together, we will move our profession forward.

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