Building Staff Leadership Through Community Service

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By Alex Vuchnich, CPA, CFE -

Many practitioners realize the value of actively serving in their communities by serving on volunteer boards or sponsoring community events. If you read my previous post on financial literacy then you already know that I believe this is one cause in which the accounting profession needs to be leading the charge. Although many times the principals of a firm may be heavily involved in this type of activity it seems that this same mentality is not fostered and instilled among the younger staff of the firm. As a result there is a tremendous opportunity being missed for developing the firm's future leaders.

This is one of those rare instances where accounting firms can take a cue from the law firms on ethical practices. Many law firms build into their annual budgets staff time for active community service. This sets the expectation that associates are to be active in their communities and find causes that they can be passionate about fighting for. Although there is a clear cost in the billable hours lost to these activities, the potential value from business development, training on leadership and management skills and general goodwill more than offset. For accounting firms this is just as true. It is a matter of not only encouraging staff to become active but to also support our staff in community involvement. This means allocating resources in the form of time and maybe even occasional travel expenses. You may feel that part of the annual CPE budget for staff can be used for developing these 'soft' skills, but wouldn't it make more sense to use CPE to train on the technical skills and use community service as a way to provide real world practical leadership development? Community service provides the lowest cost for leadership training when compared to the cost of recruiting staff with these traits or paying for training on these skill sets.

I indicate above that this is not only a leadership and business development opportunity but also an ethical matter. Although community involvement does not fall into the category of ethical dilemma there is an ethical proposition here that should be considered. In the case of community service, doing what is good for society is also good for me. All too often in the accounting profession, it seems that we wait to take action for societal problems and by the time we get around to acting, a 'solution' is forced upon us by legislative bodies. We would be far better served by instilling community involvement into our younger staff and taking an active role in solving some of these societal ills.

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