CPA News Blog

Great Accountants Use Workplace Confrontation to Become Leaders

From our commute to work to inevitable political conversations and personality differences to job competition - no one wants petty confrontations during their day. They bring an onset of stress, uneasiness, and downright awkward vibes after they resolve. We often think it best merely to avoid conflict, but this also leaves an undertone of dissension which makes people feel like they are walking around ticking time bombs or simply leads to a culture of gossip and immaturity.

What should you do with the inevitable reality at accounting firms and businesses that not everyone is going to get along well in everything, all the time, forever? Well, you can take the easy way out and ignore but as we said it does not create a healthy culture but rather the opposite, it creates a culture of stunted growth. But notice we said you could do this because if you don't, it's likely no one else will. This leads us to how you can take these adversities and work them in favor of your company.

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Why you?
This is a question that crosses everyone's mind. Why do I have to take care of the problem? Well, as an accountant you have the skill set to analyze a situation and point out the flaws in a purely pragmatic, non-personal way. You are not HR but that works in your favor as you take part in the day to day operations and are more likely to witness problems first hand. Also, if you are a smaller company, there may be no real hierarchy or HR department.

You need to deploy some tact here and possibly address issues during meetings as a company wide endeavor rather than singling a person out, but you are the practical voice of reason. You are already the moderator of budgets and expense reports, the one who makes sure all tax law is followed. You make sure the financial wheels keep spinning and using the same qualities may be the best fit to ensure the culture is also running healthily along.

You might need to be the whistleblower
In extreme situations, you may need to call major offenses out to make sure one incident doesn't bring your company down. You should also set up a culture where this is encouraged from the top down. No employee should think they need to hide something they see going on which they believe to be questionable. This practice could end up saving your company in the end.

No offense is too small, nor is any offense too great
At the end of the day, people make mistakes and these mistakes are not catastrophic. Don't make too big a deal out of it. At the same time, it's the residual flow of water that form canyons and a small but steady problem can create a great divide over time. Spot the big and small things going on and present them as learning moments for you and the staff.

Shame and embarrassment are no way to fix a problem, but it's likely the perpetrator will already feel these things. What's best is to go in with a plan of approaching these things as a teachable moment. If it's a new worker, consider relating to them through a mistake you made when you were younger and express how improvement will help them in the long run. If it's a veteran employee, be honest and let them know why it's having a negative impact on you. Most of the time people will care and be understanding. You don't do this to stir the pot but to make sure nothing goes ignored and boils over.


Take feedback more than you give it
It's easy to point out what is going on with others, but if you are leading by example, people are more likely to listen to you. Ask around for feedback every once in a while. Make it a routine practice and let others feel comfortable encouraging you to become a better accountant. It may sound like a weird way to improve, or like you are asking people to make you better... but that's really what being on a team is about anyways, especially with your upper management.

Imagine if a player on a baseball team was afraid of the hitting coach saying anything to him, or no one challenged the hothead rookie or asked the veteran to lead when they became complacent. Taking feedback is an easy way to improve during your whole accounting career.