Fearless Future: ICPAS Conference Aims to Develop Authentic Leaders

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By Deanna C. White

There's a new paradigm of leadership on the horizon, and, according to the organizers of the Illinois CPA Society's (ICPAS) newest conference for young professionals, it's authentic, distinctive, and decidedly fearless.

On May 31, the ICPAS will encourage future CPAs to forge their own unique and unfeigned leadership style when it hosts its Young Professionals Leadership Conference: Be Fearless in Chicago. 

The ICPAS says the conference will inspire attendees to develop the courage to follow their own vision and stand out from the crowd by developing the knowledge, skills, and confidence needed to thrive in a highly complex and competitive profession.

ICPAS officials say the "Be Fearless" agenda was developed in response to the needs of those young professionals who said they felt they lacked confidence in their new positions and wanted to develop the nerve to better network, speak up for their ideas, and express themselves in the workplace.

"This [conference] is a unique and exceptional opportunity. No other event is so focused on providing young CPAs with core leadership values as well as the tools to be fearless, gain new skills, build a professional network, and take charge of their careers", said ICPAS Interim CEO, CFO Todd Shapiro. "The Society is proud to offer programming, like this event, that enhances the leadership skills of the next generation of accounting professionals."

The conference will kick off with a keynote presentation "Show Your Ink", given by nationally recognized leadership expertTodd Dewett, president of TVA Inc. and professor of management at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Dewett, an author, speaker, coach, management professor, consultant, and self-professed "Harley Davidson nut", said the presentation is designed to empower young professionals to develop their own authentic leadership style.

Dewett says "Show Your Ink" is a reference to his numerous tattoos; not a reference to "get inked" per se, but a metaphor for honoring your true self, a call for others to be real and embrace their authenticity. 

"Years ago, a friend noticed that I was working hard to cover my tattoos professionally. He thought I should actually use them, to be as open and real as possible. He was right", Dewett said. "People spend too much time projecting fake but well-intended images of themselves to others. This is a good sign of social intelligence, but we overindulge to the point of being sterile. Instead, the goal is to be as human as possible. 'Show Your Ink' is a way to help others remember this goal." 

Dewett says "authentic leadership", versus the inscrutable image and unflappable confidence past leadership models expected people to project, is about sharing the complete you, not just a few positive highlights.

"In years past, the approach to leadership was simple – project your confidence and competence and all will be fine. You give orders people will follow", Dewett said. "Today, we're evolving toward a more productive paradigm. In addition to confidence and competence, leaders should share a few learning moments, figure out how to laugh and learn from their mistakes, and learn how to self-deprecate. The more staff sees you – their leader – as human and not simply the boss, the more they'll trust you and feel committed to the job." 

Dewett says authentic leadership is the "backbone" of any organization that wants to encourage change and innovation.

"When people believe they're part of mutually beneficial, productive, and positive relationships – authentic relationships – they have trust. Trust is required for the team to be willing to take risks", Dewett said. "You can't create innovation without taking risks, and people won't take risks unless they see you as more than just 'the boss.' They have to believe in you, and that requires knowing the complete and real you – not just the simple images we often wish to project."

Along with Dewett's keynote, the conference will offer interactive sessions to help participants explore how to deal with ethical issues, handle new management expectations after a promotion, and balance work with personal time and relationships.

The session "Ethical Decision Making" will consider such topics as what to do when a colleague is doing something that's in violation of GAAP or other corporate policies, how to handle being "brushed off" when you report something, and how to manage an abusive or harassing client.

Several prospective attendees, like Damien Martin, tax manager, Wolf & Co., LLP in Oak Brook Terrace, Illinois, say they're particularly interested in sessions on workload prioritization and work/life balance.

"As a young professional who balances many activities and responsibilities outside of work, I'm excited to explore ways to better manage the clock and work/life balance. I also hope to gain a better understanding of leadership styles and learn ways to approach motivation and conflict management", Martin said.

Megan Lee, senior in the Assurance Practice at Ernst & Young in Chicago, says she has her eyes firmly set on the leadership horizon and is attending the conference to learn how to best balance truly being herself with being in charge.

"I'm excited to gain a new perspective of what 'authentic leadership' means. We all have different leadership styles, and I'm eager to gain a better understanding of how to define my style. I have been to countless leadership trainings, courses, and seminars, and I always take away something new, whether it's something I should start doing, stop doing, or be more cognizant of. I hope to sharpen my own personal leadership style and leave with a refreshed view of what it means to be a successful leader", Lee said.

Developing Your Own Leadership Style

Dewett offers the following tips for anyone – young professional or seasoned leader – to develop his or her own authentic leadership style:

  • First, ask yourself if you've opened up enough as a person, not just a formal leader, to be authentic. Do you see mere compliance or serious commitment from the people around you? The more authentic you become, the closer you are to achieving real commitment. 
  • Find pockets of employee activity where you can step back and allow staff to own the process. Trust them to control some of their work, or you'll forever be viewed as a micromanager, not a helpful partner. 
  • Identify two or three opportunities each year to share a story about a time you made a mistake or experienced a great learning moment. Don't be afraid of a little honest self-deprecation. This shouldn't be an everyday event, but sharing these experiences a few times a year is golden. 
  • Develop a trusted lieutenant; a person who possesses solid social awareness and communication skills and who isn't afraid of you. Use that person as a confidant to glean feedback to understand how others view you. 

Err on transparency. When in doubt, share . . . your rationale, your gut feeling, your knowledge of why the new policy was enacted. The person who strives to be open, to reduce unnecessary ambiguity in the team, will be seen as fair, trustworthy, and authentic.

The Young Professionals Leadership Conference: Be Fearless will be held from 8:00 a.m. to noon May 31 at The Metropolitan Club, 233 Wacker Drive, Chicago, Illinois. 

The dynamic half-day conference is $55 for members and $75 for nonmembers (includes breakfast).

Seating is limited. Visit the ICPAS website to register

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