When you go to work each day do you take your mojo with you?

Mojo, according to Marshall Goldsmith, is that “positive spirit towards what you are now doing that starts from the inside and radiates outside.”  My interpretation of this is that you feel great about what you’re doing because you’re accomplishing personal goals, it’s taking you in a direction you want to go and the value of your contribution is recognized by other people who are important to you. Simply put, you feel like a winner and others see you as one too.

Armed with a new PhD in Organizational Behavior at the age of 30 Goldsmith was making very good money doing 360-degree feedback consulting when one of his mentors said “Marshall, your problem is you’re making too much money. You’re very successful running around selling days and getting paid.  But you’re becoming addicted to this success. At your current pace, all you’ll do is run around and sell your days. You’ll have a good life, but you’ll never be what you could be.”

His mentor suggested to him that his idea of “success” was limiting his vision of what he’s capable of.  Goldsmith went to to say “I’m convinced that if Paul hadn’t pointed this out, I’d still be doing today what I was doing 30 at thirty.”  It’s amazing how some brief, almost trivial, conversations can be life changing!

This is precisely the same message conveyed by Jim Collins in Good to Great – good is the enemy of great because it causes us to be reluctant to challenge the status quo.  By nature most humans do not generally like to take risks.  Making choices that could result in you moving out of our comfort zone of “good” immediately conger up thoughts of the trade-off between what you believe you must give up and what you stand to gain.

This is natural and yet in my personal experience, and in every situation I’ve been told about by other people, accomplishments I and they have been most proud of have resulted from a career change. If you are interested in this issue I strongly recommend Susan Jeffers’ book Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.  If you’ve got children or grandchildren it’s worth reading too!

During the last 20 years I have dedicated my professional life to helping accountants experience a more fulfilling life by creating a firm that focuses on creating exceptional value for its clients, team members and owners.  But I did not start my career with that purpose in mind.  It evolved as I’m sure everyone’s has.  After all, when a 5 year old is confronted by a career choice of becoming a CPA or a Fireman the latter will win every time so when does one’s career path become evident and is it a path we really want to be on or is it the result of circumstance?

I’ve had 4 careers. First, as an economist with a government department – in many ways this was a dream job, it was interesting, challenging, for the most part I worked with exceptionally talented people, I got to travel and I enjoyed rapid promotion.  I could look forward to the security (it was tenured position) and perks (e.g. fully funded retirement benefits) that then attached to a government position.  My mojo was intact, I liked to go to work.  But during that time I started a business on the side which turned out to be a financial success but the real payoff was that I got the “business bug.”  This resulted in me feeling a shift in what gave me a positive spirit about what I was doing which led me to walk away from a secure future to pursue my next career.

I enrolled in Graduate School and discovered a mentor who piqued my interest in the role accountants could play in helping small business managers achieve their full potential.  He encouraged me to pursue a research and teaching career.  I loved it.  I’d found my mojo: for a time anyway.  With tenure and the security that offers, it would have been easy to settle into teaching.  I still believe few careers are more noble or rewarding than teaching but as was the case with Goldsmith, a friend said “you’ve got a lot more upside potential in public practice” so off I went on another career change.

Everything I had done before going into practice was a preparation for that excursion into the unknown. When I look back on that now I see what a big risk I was taking financially–a view shared by my first wife I suspect. But once again I’d found my (new) mojo.  I loved what I was doing.  I loved the challenge, I loved my colleagues and I loved our clients.  I felt I was making a difference on many levels so my life had meaning.

Then along comes another opportunity.  This time it’s a small business conference conducted by Paul Dunn in the Blue Mountains bordering Sydney, Australia. Paul said from the stage “… our goal is to change the face of small business on the planet.”  I looked around the room and saw about 130 business owners and I thought “… at this rate that will take a thousand lifetimes but what if we married his incredible energy and insights with my experience and protocols and tap into the accounting channel. That would give us the leverage needed to get somewhere near accomplishing that lofty goal and in the process it will give my colleagues in the profession an opportunity to play off our experience and most importantly, give them their mojo back.”

This is now what I do and each of those career experiences was a building block for the next one.  I have my days like everyone but my mojo is well and truly intact.  It has given me a greater sense of satisfaction than you could possibly imagine.  I’ve been privileged to work with with literally thousands of accountants around the world and many of our team members are now also consulting to the profession in some form or other.  I’m proud of this because I know Paul and I inspired them to take this path and they’re helping the profession rise to greater heights.  But my work is far from done.

When I started on this journey I thought the answer to building a successful firm was to give people a roadmap that provided them with direction together with a suite of tools and methodologies including marketing resources and sales training.  These things are incredibly important but I now consider them to be a table stake in the sense that without them the challenge of building a great firm is daunting and will be harder, take longer and cost much more than you expect.  However, they alone are not the answer for the majority of people.

I’m now certain that personal development must come before practice development.  By this I mean it’s crucial that you have a very clear understanding of WHY you are in practice.  Only then can you have that “positive spirit towards what you are now doing that starts from the inside and radiates outside.” This is a personal thing for sure but when you get to clearly understand WHY you are in practice the other things fall into place and you’ll be amazed at what can result.

Recently we conducted two webinars that were presented by Tim Fitzgerald, one of our members from St Louis, Missouri.  The webinars were about the importance of understanding why we are in practice and are based on Simon Sinek’s bestselling book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.  Essentially Sinek’s message is that people do not buy what you do, they buy why you do it—Sinek has done a great presentation on TED that’s worth viewing.  If you would like to view Tim’s webinars click in this link.

In the November, 2011 issue of The Harvard Business Review there’s a short article written by Peter Fuda and Richard Badham called Fire, Snowball, Mask Movie: How Leaders Spark and Sustain Change that also points to the importance of having a very clear “why” in any transformational effort.  Click on this link to view a really cool animated movie showing Fuda’s three metaphors that “explain, inspire and accelerate leadership transformation.”

With that in mind I’d like to recount a conversation I had with one of our clients that I recently shared with our members and friends in an end-of-year note. I talked about how easy it is to miss the incredibly important contribution we can all make to our clients and our community when we allow ourselves to be drawn into the “vortex of compliance.”

I was privileged to talk with one of our members from Seattle, Washington, and he mentioned in passing how tough the past few years had been for many of their business clients. But he went on to say that after using GamePlan he had saved one from bankruptcy and had helped another experience a $300,000 increase in profitability (more than double the previous year!) as a result of showing them the folly of dropping prices and the critical importance of focusing on transaction planning and monitoring.

I mention this not to sing the praises of GamePlan (hopefully it speaks for itself!) but because the conversation moved to what I consider to be the really important issue and that is accountants have the power and the position to make a difference in the lives of people.

Randy mentioned that had he not had these conversations with those two clients who knows what might have happened to them—one may have succumbed to bankruptcy and the other may have left $300,000 of profit and possibly $1million of business value on the table.

The conversations that took place were not based on rocket science.  All they took was for the CPA to shift his mindset from that of service agent to change agent.  Change agents literally change lives.  I passionately believe that this profession has people with the skills together with the opportunity and, dare I say in these tough times, also the responsibility to proactively help business clients not only survive but set themselves for long term prosperity.

I don’t know if we’re at the bottom of the business cycle, still on the way down or on the way up but I do know that we are not at the top.  If I were starting a business I would not want to be doing so at the top of the cycle so the way I see it now would be a great time.  That being the case, it’s also a great time to implement a business growth strategy.  The results that Randy helped his clients achieve that I mentioned earlier came from a conversation which, coming from a professional properly equipped with analytical tools, give business owners confidence to take action that will dramatically change their lives.  The most valuable thing we can do for our clients at this time is give them confidence and convey the sense that we care enough about them to have these conversations!

As Marshall Goldsmith notes people have a default response in life to experience inertia—in other words, change is hard for most people.  He mentions that an analysis of his database of 250,000 people “Very few people achieve positive, lasting change without ongoing follow-up.”  This is why I encourage you to engage your clients in a process on regular “accountability” meetings.  Help them create a Management Control Plan that’s built on a profit and cash flow plan and a range of non-financial KPIs.

So my challenge to everyone in our wonderful profession is let’s make 2012 a truly great year during which we do good and have a great life.  Speaking of which, I came across this quote from a book I read some time ago.  It is most appropriate for this time of year and for this point on the business cycle …

A great life would naturally bring more meaning, purpose, love, laughter, wonder and adventure to your days, and, at the end of your journey you would look back on a life of significance, rather than regret, knowing in your heart that you left the world better than you found it, knowing that you made a difference in the lives of others, knowing that you got something wonderful out of it and you gave something wonderful back.  A great life of course is not something we experience; it’s something we create.
That’s what we’re all about, we want to help you create a great life.  On behalf of all of the team at Principa  I wish you a safe, healthy, happy and productive 2012.

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