To Be a Good Leader You Have to Wake Up
CEO and Founder of Conscious Public Accountants, Amber Setter, was recently interviewed by Gusto for Partners. The article below was originally published by Gusto for Partners on September 20, 2022.
One of the easiest ways to spot someone who lacks consciousness at work is to look at their calendar. If there is no white space, that is someone lacks the necessary time to be alive and aware of their surroundings.
I don’t mean they aren’t sentient. They’re still a thinking, curious being. But, operating on all cylinders, in an environment that’s kept them that way a long time, the muscle for self-reflection has atrophied. They’re doing, doing, doing and then “unwinding” by scrolling through social media as they drift off to sleep. Which is to say, not unwinding.
If they don’t have time to reflect, can’t step away from the problem to see it differently, and can’t view things from a higher altitude, they cannot, by definition, lead consciously. And that’s a big problem for accountants who manage others because it keeps everyone in that cycle. Especially you.
Why staying conscious is such a struggle in our industry
Finding time for awareness is one of our greatest modern-day challenges. And for accountants, there’s so much work to get done and people feel they have to work back to back to back. It affects everyone, and when I coach people in senior positions, like partners or executives, and they need to design a new process, they really struggle to think critically. They struggle to deal with complicated, technical issues and problems that have never existed before. And it’s because they have zero white space on their calendar, and by association, in their brain.
As they say, no problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.
This is all perpetuated by busy seasons and the cyclical nature of accounting. Nobody gets time to reflect. They go from “That was terrible, I can’t do this anymore” right into the next cycle and bury the discomfort by busying themselves. To break free, people need a container, a mental space, to contemplate.
As an example, when I coach people, it’s one hour a week where they need to come to the conversation to drive the agenda. I was hired by someone who operates primarily as a sole proprietor but has a couple of staff in the office. That person had been trained to excel at tactics, and was always planning new ways to work on those tactics. But they weren’t holding themselves responsible for pausing, and asking why they weren’t progressing toward more of their goals.
When they finally realized that clients’ needs were met before setting healthy boundaries for themselves, things clicked. They started coming to our sessions saying, “I want to be more effective as I lead my team. I need to get better at having healthier boundaries. And I need to be taking care of myself. I keep saying exercising is important. Why do I keep not doing it?”
The answer to almost all their blockage was their totally blocked-out, zero-white-space calendar. It seems small, but they started reserving time for things that mattered weeks in advance, and not caving to client pressure. They realized the downtime was their recharge time. Without that time, there was no strategic thinking. There wasn’t a space to envision their future. There was no being conscious at work.
After six months they shared this with me:
“I clarified what I want for myself. I learned to put my needs ahead of clients. I now recognize their needs are endless and I have to have boundaries. I doubled my happiness and billed $80,000 more in a year. I no longer let toxic people hang around, no matter how much money they bring. I let go of the traditional office model I lived in for 25 years. I no longer get beat up by the workload or the bureaucracy of the regulatory environment. Getting worked up doesn’t make a difference at the end of the day.”
The best time to start work like that was six months ago. But the next best time? It’s today.
Let the consciousness back in
For some, maybe the answer is hiring a coach. For many more, it’s even simpler. It’s spending part of every Saturday at a coffee shop with a journal and answering open-ended questions. Start anywhere. Start with questions you find on Google. It’s stopping, pausing, and looking within to say, “What does today’s version of me need the most?”
And then it’s making space to take new action—very intentional movement—toward the life you envision for yourself. If you need to exercise, calendar it and find an accountability partner to meet you at the gym. If you are struggling to make a change in your business, dedicate time in your schedule for the project and find a thought partner to join you. We are really good at canceling commitments to ourselves but we rarely cancel our commitments to others. Make space to let the consciousness come flooding back in. It’s what’s truly going to let you be a great leader.