Jennifer Soltis is a Partner at Baker Tilly. Her primary disciplines include financial statement attestation and employee benefit plan audits. She has a specialized focus in the investment company industry (including private equity, venture capital, and hedge funds). Through this practice, she has extensive experience in regulatory, accounting, and compliance issues. She is a great example of what it means to maintain a strong commitment to her family and personal life while thriving in a challenging and demanding role and profession. She is an inspiration to aspiring leaders and partners by actively listening to and getting to know the people with whom she works. Here is what she had to say when we asked for her unique perspective on leadership:
ConvergenceCoaching: Whose leadership style do you most admire and why?
JS: At the onset of my career in public accounting, there was one partner in particular that I always looked to as an example of great leadership. He was an individual that held his employees to high expectations, but did a wonderful job of preceding those expectations with compassion. This, in turn, gave the people that worked with him the desire to push themselves to be the best they could be, without the fear of failure. He also was a great example to a workforce of young professionals by always putting his family first. At the time, I had not yet started my own family, but it instilled in me the confidence that you can be successful without having to sacrifice other things that bring you joy and happiness.
ConvergenceCoaching: What do you think the single most important leadership attribute or characteristic is and why?
JS: I think being an optimistic leader is extremely important. It is difficult to encourage people to follow you as a leader if the message being delivered gives off a “doom and gloom” feel. People tend to shut down and begin to stress. Instead, an effective leader will focus on inspiring his or her team members. This can be done in so many ways, whether it is building their confidence through words of encouragement, rolling up your sleeves and working side by side with team members to achieve a goal, or simply taking an employee aside and saying “thank you.”
ConvergenceCoaching: What do you look for in young up-and-coming leaders?
JS: For our up-and-coming leaders, one of the key attributes I look for is whether they have gained the trust and respect, not of their employers necessarily, but of those that work for them. You can tell a lot about someone’s leadership skills by how those that report to them feel. Furthermore, do they “serve” the teams they lead, rather than dictate to their teams? Do they make a conscious effort to be empathetic and aware of what is going on in the lives of those they work with? I have always been willing to go further and work harder for someone that makes an effort to get to know me. And lastly, integrity is critical. Doing the right thing, even if the outcome is less than ideal, will only further build trust and respect.
ConvergenceCoaching: How do you develop leadership in others?
JS: I strive to be a leader that helps others perform to the best of their abilities. Investing time in your people is one of the most important things we do in a leadership role, and my success is largely due to those that coached and developed me throughout the years. I also believe empowering people to come up with new ideas and suggestions and letting them be involved in working towards implementing change gives people a sense of value.
ConvergenceCoaching: What advice do you have for those looking to step into a leadership position in their firms or businesses?
JS: As one starts to differentiate themselves as a leader and has a positive impact on a group, there are some simple guidelines I would recommend. First, be fair to those with whom you work. Often times, leaders are put in positions where difficult decisions have to be made. Be as objective as humanly possible and be willing to be fully transparent as to how each decision is derived.
Secondly, say “thank you.” Early on in my career I worked for someone that told her team thank you at the end of each day. I haven’t forgotten that to this day and it is something I try to instill in my managers that are leading engagement teams. Something as simple as those two words takes little effort, but can have a profound impact. People want to feel appreciated.
Thirdly, show an interest in your people. Take them to lunch, find out what their hobbies and passions are, remember their kid’s names…the list could go on and on. Often times, we put so much effort into building relationships with our clients that we neglect really getting to know the people that work with and for us.
ConvergenceCoaching: What three words best describe your leadership style?
JS: When I think back on some of the feedback I’ve received regarding my leadership style, some of the strengths noted were Decisive, Compassionate, and Listener.
Decisive – Being a mom of two young children, I have to make my working hours as productive as possible. My goal when coming into work is to make the lives of my team members easier, by not being the “bottle neck” on any engagements/projects. By tackling issues head on and moving forward, I find it lessens the stress of my team members, and also has a positive impact to the client service we are delivering.
Compassion – I can say within the last few years, I’ve had some life experiences that have given me an even more profound understanding of the kind of impact compassion can have on people. Each of us have our own burdens to carry throughout this life, sometimes heavier at times than others. It is a constant reminder to me that you do not know what someone is dealing with and sometimes people are just doing their best. This is where getting to know your people and showing a vested interest in their lives can have a positive impact on the relationships we, as leaders, have with our employees.
Listening – What I’ve found, over the years, is that people want to be heard. I’ve always preferred being on the listening end, rather than being the talker, and I think this has helped me build relationships. The best way to understand people is to slow down and actually listen to them. I think it’s important to not only listen, but also show that you’ve actually taken in what someone has told you by following up, when necessary.
Jennifer’s emphasis on listening and being interested in others is a great reminder about the importance of making people feel valued, interesting and important. Curious and open-ended questions are one of the best ways to accomplish this. Examples of these types of questions include: What are you most passionate about? What really fascinates and interests you? How did you choose your line of work?
What are some of your favorite questions for learning more about other people? Please share them in the comments section – we would love to add them to our ever-expanding list!