We have had the privilege of working with Sarah Johnson Dobek in a variety of capacities, but mostly through our membership with the Association for Accounting Marketing and The CPA Consultants’ Alliance where she serves on the board as the chair of the Marketing Committee. Sarah helps public accounting firms to grow – faster and in the right direction. She primarily works with firms that are looking to embrace or integrate digital media into their marketing mix, or elevate their current marketing efforts.
Prior to starting Inovautus Consulting, Sarah was the Director of Marketing for a Chicago-based accounting firm and the Director of Consulting Services at PDI Global. She was named the last two years as one of Accounting Today’s “Top 100 Most Influential People” in the accounting profession. We love Sarah’s no-nonsense approach to change and growth, so we asked her to share her leadership ideas with us in this issue of Leadership Spotlight.
ConvergenceCoaching: Whose leadership style do you most admire and why?
SJ: There isn't a specific person that comes to mind, but rather a set of behaviors I have seen from various leaders that I admire. I greatly admire the ability to communicate clearly and get your team motivated towards a common vision and set of goals. I also admire those who can hold the team members in an organization accountable in a way that doesn't feel like a dictatorship. Lastly, those that can bring out the best in the people working for them, which requires understanding the personalities of the people working with you.
ConvergenceCoaching: What do you think are the most important leadership attributes or characteristics and why?
SJ: Communication and vision. A leader’s job is to bring people along and the only way to do that is by communicating and having a vision or place to go. I believe that 90% of all problems within a firm can be solved with a shared vision and better communication.
ConvergenceCoaching: What do you look for in young up-and-coming leaders?
SJ: I still consider myself up and coming, so this is harder for me to answer. I think the most telling attributes of future leaders include the ability to listen to others and incorporate and synthesize the input so they feel heard. Most people don't need you to agree with them, they simply need to know you have heard them. I also look at how young people develop and promote others. Being a leader isn't about a title. It's about developing and promoting others in a way that gets the organization moving in the right direction. The last thing I look for is the ability to develop trust and credibility. People follow people they trust. That means you have to exhibit the behaviors that develop trust like consistency, follow-through, and confidentiality.
ConvergenceCoaching: How do you develop leadership in others?
SJ: Most of my development has been working with each person on a case-by-case basis. We each come from different backgrounds and are just made differently. Our personality tendencies and experiences in life all impact how we do things. I develop others also by leading by example. I then educate around the behaviors that I believe are important and work with our team members closely when they are attempting things outside of their comfort zones.
ConvergenceCoaching: What advice do you have for those looking to step into a leadership position in their firms or businesses?
SJ: Be humble. Leadership is one of the most challenging and rewarding things you can do. Awareness of who you are and how others view you is critical to your success. It's up to you to improve how those people view you and how effective your communication is. You need to understand your people and respect how much change you are asking them to make. If you are new to leadership, don't be afraid to ask for help. I have had countless mentors over the years and have recently hired a coach to help me. As leaders, we should never stop learning.
ConvergenceCoaching: What three words best describe your leadership style?
SJ: Direct - anyone that has met me knows I come right at. I don't sugar coat things and I don't politick well. It makes me good at accountability, but also can cause me to ruffle some feathers. I am practicing delivering more difficult messages with finesse.
Follow-through - I do what I say I am going to do. Most of this comes from my family. My grandfather was a Colonel in the Army and my mother raised us with the values she learned from him, that included delivering and keeping commitments.
Passionate Visionary - I have a clear passion for what I do. In fact I could talk all day about my work if you let me. I have also had a passion and vision for my business and I can't wait to share it with others and watch as it evolves with the help of others.
As Sarah pointed out, self-awareness is an important aspect of effective leadership. This is why we frequently write and speak about various methods of soliciting feedback from others. When was the last time you inquired to gather information about how you are being perceived by your team members and by your clients? Are you willing to make a commitment to ask for feedback as part of your own leadership development by the end of this year? If so, please comment below when you have completed this with a brief explanation of how you benefitted from being courageous enough to increase your self-awareness!