The Accounting Hall of Fame . . . Have you got the EI to qualify?

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By Edi Osborne, CEO Mentor Plus 

At the opening of this year's Super Bowl, seven men were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You don't even have to be a football fan to appreciate the skill it took for each of the Hall of Fame Inductees to have received the honor. It's like winning an Olympic Gold Medal for football but instead of just prevailing during the Olympics, these athletes prevailed and excelled throughout their football careers.

As the commentator went down the line, naming each Inductee, I was struck by the variances in their physical attributes. For example, Floyd Little at 5'9" 196 lbs was next to Russ Grimm who's 6'3" and 273 lbs – they looked like David and Goliath. Although they are very close in weight (205 lbs), Emmitt Smith looks up to Jerry Rice both professionally and physically at 5'9" and 6"2" respectively. In spite of their different physical attributes, each of these players has developed his skill to a level of performance excellence that has put them in a world-class group of inductees.

It got me thinking about the line-up for The Accounting Hall of Fame. What would it look like? If we went by physical attributes alone, the differences would be plentiful. However if you examine their skills, you would find that the most successful accountants have a lot more in common. Exactly what are the skills that define an exceptional accountant, one who would be voted into a hall of fame?

To find exceptional athletes in football, you would look at the specific, but different, skills that made Emmitt Smith a great running back or Jerry Rice a great receiver. In accounting, exceptional practitioners have specific expertise that varies by practice i.e. litigation support, tax, international, etc. Those technical skills are important, to be sure.

However, in both football and accounting (and the majority of other careers) there are some personal skills that are universally critical to success. Those skills together are what is known as Emotional Intelligence or EI. EI is a measure of our ability to relate (play nice) with others as well as manage our own emotions. And EI is about using those emotions to benefit ourselves and others.

Keeping all this in mind, I come to the heart of my story. Lately I have read a lot of articles about getting ready for the NextGen accountants; I've written a few myself. All of us who like to comment on this subject recognize one of the greatest challenges for the profession in the coming years is succession.

The message seems to be that the older practitioners need to suck it up, count to 10, and just accept the newest generation and the attitudes they bring to the workplace. I'm here to say, Hogwash! That seems very one sided to me.

This tendency to give in and accommodate the younger generation may, in the moment, seem like the right move, but in the long run aren't we just setting up the same scenario to repeat itself when the next generation (still in school) joins the profession? What needs to happen, instead, is that we stop accommodating any particular group, including grumpy partners, and start growing the firm's overall Emotional Quotient.

Firms with a high Emotional Quotient (EQ) are focused on building a culture where each person on the team, regardless of attributes of position, age, gender, ethnicity, etc. is held to the same high standards of empathy, sensitivity, cooperation, and self-management.

So how can firms overcome the generational challenges? First we need to recognize that conflict among the generations is symptomatic of poor EI on both sides. In a profession where teamwork is critical, this is unacceptable. Rather than continuing to lecture on multi-generational differences, firms would see a greater ROI by investing in the growth of the entire firm's Emotional Quotient. Why?

You can't change the differences.

However you can measurably improve your firm's Emotional Quotient

Unlike your IQ, which is pretty much set at birth and therefore considered an attribute, your EI-EQ is not set, it is a skill that can be developed. This is the greatest revelation of our generation, the recognition that even the most intellectually brilliant people have the potential to fail if they don't have the right "EI skills." Proof of that statement is that we all know someone who may not be an intellectual giant but is incredibly successful at what he or she does. Likewise, we know really smart people who are clueless when it comes to interacting with people.

Referring back to the Accounting Hall of Fame inductee criteria, it would appear that success would have far more to do with EI than IQ. Many practitioners, young and old, who are touted for their technical abilities will never make it to the Hall of Fame for their lack of EI. According to Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, "As much as 58% of performance can be directly related to EI factors". That means that if someone has poorly developed EI, that person's overall performance is likely to be correspondingly poor especially in the areas of teamwork, training, and managing, which can adversely affect the entire team.

Here's the good news, thousands upon thousands of EI assessments have been correlated and validated against actual performance, and the connection is clear. Those with the highest EI win. Pioneer in the area of Social and Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, found that EI is twice as important as cognitive ability in predicting outstanding performance. Equally clear is our ability to apply specific skills to improve our EI.

What sets exceptional performers like Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith head and shoulders above their peers is their ability to willingly accept feedback and translate that into better performance. Equally important is their ability to read a situation in the moment and fine-tune their performances accordingly.

Similarly, the difference between a good and a great accountant often comes down to the ability to gauge/feel the needs and issues of others and fine-tune his or her approach accordingly. This is true of every interaction we have whether it be family, clients, team members, or strangers on the street.

In the moment fine-tuning is what ultimately improves our EI. The more we fine-tune, the better we get at recognizing the need to. The positive reinforcement from those around us motivates us to be even more aware and continually fine-tune going forward. It is a very positive cycle once it gets rolling. Like ripples in a pond, working on your own EI causes everyone on the team to see you, and, based on your behavior, see themselves, in a new light. And when everyone is working to improve his or her individual EI, that's when you see the firm's EQ scores really jump.

Remember those Hall of Famers? None of them could have earned the honor based on athletic talent alone. Nor could they have achieved such individual greatness without the help of their team. When it comes right down to it, being a good team player with high EI skills is the only way they could garner the thousands of votes necessary from their peers, coaches, fans and sportswriters to be inducted into the Football Hall of Fame. There are plenty of examples of great technical players whose arrogance has pitted them against their team, coaches, and fans. As a result, they will never be honored as Smith and Rice were.

Do you and your firm have the EI to qualify for any Hall of Fame? How would your team members weigh-in on that question? If a co-worker passed this article on to you, you may have your answer. If you are not sure, your next questions should be what is our current EI? What areas do we each need to focus on improving? And what specific actions can each of us take to improve those areas?

In the coming weeks I will be breaking down each of the areas of EI and outlining a number of specific activities to improve that area.

Those areas are:

Intrapersonal – Internal Focus

  • Self Awareness
  • Self Regulation
  • Motivation

Interpersonal – External Focus

  • Empathy
  • Social Skills

In the meantime I recommend you take advantage of the free EI assessment so you can follow along and apply the specific advice I'll be covering in future articles. Feel free to share this opportunity with others on your team.

Bottom line: Every day your firm is not focused on growing its EQ there is a lost opportunity cost. The ROI on improving your firm's EQ is immediate with dividends that will continue to pay for years to come, making your firm a good candidate for the Accounting Hall of Fame. If you are a sole practitioner, consider your clients as part of your team. By raising your individual EI skills you'll be better at understanding and addressing their needs and see the value of your client relationships grow accordingly.

Does higher EI = higher earning potential? Just ask Jerry Rice or Emmitt Smith.

About the author:

Edi Osborne, CEO of Carmel Valley, CA based Mentor Plus has 20 years' experience helping accounting firms develop a client centric culture. She and her partner, Steve Osborne, are Certified Analysts in multiple areas of human capital assessment. They have applied this talent to help many firms develop better internal communication and cooperation as well as improve external, client focused interactions.

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