by Austin Schuerg
In October I had the honor of representing Montana at the AICPA’s Leadership Academy (LA), thanks to the MSCPA Legacy Foundation. This four-day intensive program was designed to engage young professionals in a self-examination of leadership, what that means and how that impacts their personal life and career path. The facilitators of this Academy, Tom Hood (CEO of the Maryland Association of CPAs) and Gretchen Pisano (CEO of p.Link Coaching Center) were truly amazing. If you’ve ever met Tom or Gretchen, you know they are both passionate and energizing people, key to a successful program.
The program itself consisted of 38 young CPAs from around the country with very diverse backgrounds. An application process was required that consisted of two short essays documenting the applicant’s thoughts on what the future holds for a leader in the accounting function, whether private or public, as well as how each applicant feels they would benefit from such a program. Outside of the program itself, a key component of LA was the networking and socializing with the other CPAs. This has already been super valuable in that we have formed a private Facebook group and have bounced questions and ideas around numerous times already.
Prior to the academy, the first step was identifying each of our own leadership strengths. LA utilized the book Strengths Based Leadership by Tom Rath which was accompanied by a Clifton’s Stengthsfinder assessment. I had always had an idea of where my leadership strengths lie, but this assessment really cemented that for me and pushed me to begin identifying how to leverage those in my daily professional and personal life. After I returned from LA, I sat down with the leaders in my current company and walked through my strengths. We have since redesigned my career path to one that will most benefit my strengths as well as the company. Actual action, I love that.
During LA, the facilitators walked us through an intensive study of the i2a facilitation process. The generalized concept here is to create buy in from team members to really help drive projects forward. As a team, you attempt to really break down an issue to its most basic form and then create a plan to overcome this. I plan to implement this process over q4 in my current role to identify ways to overcome some obstacles we are facing related to our interdepartmental relationships. If you are unaware of the i2a facilitation process, feel free to reach out to me and I will gladly provide a run down.
One of the highlights for me from the week was interacting with Barry Melancon, President of the AICPA, and Tim Christen, Board Member of the AICPA and Chair of Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP. During one of our “networking” nights, we had North Carolina barbecue and a bags (corn hole) tournament in which my team got knocked out in the semi-finals. The last evening of LA, we had the opportunity to have a two-hour Q&A session with Barry Melancon in which we learned about his career path as well as where he sees the profession headed. He is truly an inspiring leader and the insights he provided were amazing.
Overall, the three key takeaways for me from this program are self-awareness of my own strengths, awareness of what drives other’s motivation, and that leadership is facilitation.
Donna Salter and Erin Carson from the AICPA did a superb job in organizing this academy and I would highly recommend it to any young professional in the accounting industry who is looking to either take, or position themselves to take, that next step in their career. A special thank you to the Legacy Foundation and the MSCPA for their support in my attendance to the LA. I truly feel it was game-changer for me and I hope to assist and give back to the profession here in the state as much as I can.
Austin Schuerg is only the second Montanan to have the honor of attending the AICPA’s prestigious Leadership Academy, thanks to the support of the MSCPA Legacy Foundation. The first Montana attendee was Jeremiah Rouane (First Interstate Bank) back in 2010, so you can see that Austin’s attendance is landmark for Montana CPAs.
Austin works as a senior accountant with Simms Fishing Products in Bozeman. He serves as the Young Professional member on the MSCPA Board of Directors and is very active in all MSCPA initiatives to promote the success and involvement of our YPs.