This article was originally published in the August 2012 issue of CPA Practice Advisor.
We are headed toward a massive transition in leadership at firms
across the country as the current leadership gets closer to retirement. Some firms have already successfully
transitioned, others are preparing, and then, there are those that don’t yet
have any plans in place. The transition
discussion is abuzz at the conferences I’ve recently attended – both among
attendees and speakers. And, tensions
are high between the very generations whose roles are about to shift, which is extremely
of the State
Current leadership often complains they can’t find quality
candidates to fill the pipeline.
Pointing to a generation that doesn’t want to put in the hours or work for
it. They use words like lazy and
entitled to describe them and say they waste time using technologies like
mobile and social media. The younger
generation uses terms like out-of-touch and archaic to describe the people they
will succeed. They point to a need to do
things differently to succeed in the future and some suggest throwing out the
old model completely.
So who’s right? I’ll show
you here how the correct answer lies somewhere in the middle.
I’ve been hearing an increasing number of people from my
generation (the emerging partner group) spreading a message that the old model
is antiquated and needs to be replaced by completely new thinking. I agree that we need to do things differently
but a complete reboot isn’t necessary.
Emerging leaders needs to step back and understand a few things about
those that have come before us.
- First, they have years of wisdom and
professional experience that we can and should tap into if we are smart
- We also need to appreciate everything they’ve
done to set up the opportunity that is currently ahead. It would not exist if not for the hard work
they put in throughout their careers.
- We need to realize it’s hard to let go of
something you’ve been doing your whole life.
We may have to temper our expectations of how quickly we are going to
ascend in the firm.
- We also need to present our new ideas with
respect and ask how they fit in with current leadership’s view of the
- Finally, don’t push too hard. This is an emotional transition that takes time. They need to work through it personally
before they can work share the plan or roadmap with anyone else.
Seasoned professionals must think back to earlier in their own
careers so they can better empathize with what the emerging professionals are
thinking, feeling and doing. A few years
ago I listened to Bill Reeb speak on generations – he read an article to the
audience that listed all the gripes current management had with the next
generation. Only after the audience
(made up mostly of seasoned professionals) had finished their wave of head nods
in agreement did he reveal that the article was from many years ago and was
actually written about the Baby Boomer generation. Truth be told, you’ve been in their shoes
and, likely, someone judged your perceived intentions (or lack thereof) at some
point in your career. So let’s look for
the positives that we can leverage to move forward toward a successful
- First and foremost, the up-and-coming leaders
bring a fresh perspective that is important to the future of the firm. They also bring new ideas and skills to the
table as well; especially in the area of technology. Leverage these to the firm’s advantage.
- Open your mind to new ways of thinking and
doing things. Considering how these
ideas might fit into how you’ve traditionally done things.
- Coach & mentor young professionals but
also challenge them. This involves
stepping back, which can be emotional and difficult to do but is necessary to
Although Thoreau wasn’t referring to the accounting industry when
he said "things don’t change, we change,” I think this quote is a great way to
approach the coming of ages. The
sooner we stop throwing daggers at each other based on what the other perceives
to be wrong and start focusing on the positive aspects we all bring to the
table, the quicker we can start blending our perspectives and planning the
transition – together. This building tension and divide must
stop. It will derail, delay and even destruct
the impending and important shift in leadership, and we must all come together
now to ensure a successful transition.
Put an action plan in writing that spells out the transition
timeline, what/when activities will be transitioned and how approaches can be
melded. This will probably require many
emerging leaders to ‘tap the brakes’ and current leaders to ‘hit the gas,’ but working together you can figure it out.