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Debunking the Statement “The Profession Wants Leaders”

If you aren't already reading Jason Blumer and Greg Kyte's work, you really should. One of Jason's posts late last year actually inspired my company to implement a results-only work environment and while it's too early to say whether this was a genius idea for my business or not, it goes without saying that these guys are true thought leaders in the industry.

We've already suggested Blumer would make one hell of an AICPA chair but think he politely declined our grassroots offer (fine, we'll try again in 5 years). After reading this post by his partner-in-crime, we see why he's kind of leadership-averse.

CPA firms have a similar problem. CPA firms need leaders, but they don’t really want leaders. They say they want leaders, but they’re afraid of where real leaders might take them. And I’m going to say this is true for all CPA firms, not because it’s true but because it’s inflammatory.

What CPA firms really want is not leaders but exemplary followers. An exemplary follower is someone to whom partners can point and tell others, “Why can’t you be more like Holly?” And then Holly is hailed as a “leader” not because she has led anyone anywhere, but because she hes [sic] perfected following. Brilliant. An exemplary follower is someone who leads only by example. An exemplary follower tells other followers how to follow better. An exemplary follower internalizes the message and vision of the actual leaders and will cough it back up to those further down the organizational chart.

I'll be damned, he's right. I've been saying this for years in a different way – when a Big 4 candidate who looks good on paper comes to me and asks "why am I not getting offered a job?" I can usually pretty easily deduce after a few emails that the problem is not this person's dedication or work ethic or GPA, it's that something about them says to the firm "I have determined my views on the world already and am not easily influenced by yours." CPA firms still need warm bodies in the chair but they don't want staff who have rock solid ideas about how things work, they want naive minds they can bend and form to do their [evil] bidding. This is why interns are so attractive (besides the fact that they're usually kinda cheap).

This revelation obviously begs the question: are you an exemplary follower or a leader?

When taking inventory of leaders in the industry, I could probably name true leaders on one hand. Tom Hood, for example, is the perfect example of a real leader. Intelligent enough not to rock the boat enough to tip it over, he delivers new ideas and ways of doing things while still placating the old standards of the industry who would probably prefer we go back to the abacus days.

But guys normally classified as leaders like Turley and BoMo et al are simply pied pipers of their respective firms, leading only in the traditional sense (as in: right off a cliff if that's the path they're on). Were they actually interested in bringing new ideas to the industry, they wouldn't be in the positions they are in, plain and simple.

Do you know any true leaders in this industry? I'm waiting.