Five Short Lessons essay

I can still remember the sting of embarrassment when the only female partner at the Big Six accounting firm I worked for made fun of me in front of my peers, everyone was laughing as I shrunk away from the executive meeting nearly in tears. That was almost 10 years ago, and there are now only the “Final Four” global accounting firms. At the time I felt powerless, but the lesson I learned during my recovery from that moment signaled the beginning of a new era of personal strength for me. I learned lesson number one in the power of personal influence: Earn respect by displaying your confidence, and standing your ground.

Here’s how I learned that lesson.

I was the “token marketer” in a sea of technical accounting types and was presenting my spreadsheet for an event I was managing for the firm. The partner had been poking fun at how a marketing person couldn’t possibly generate a budget worthy of this group. Following the meeting, I marched back to her office and demanded that she stop teasing me—in effect putting me down—in front of my peers. This, by the way, was not the first time she had acted in such a way, and I had already let it go too far.

I also pointed out that if she wanted my respect, and thus my support, the best way for her to have it was to earn it, and that as far as I was concerned her “putting me down” not only made me and others not want to respect her, but that it also made her look petty.

She immediately apologized, realizing that she had, indeed, made herself look small and had alienated a potential supporter. After that day, this partner demonstrated new respect for me: I had taught her that I was no pushover, and that I spoke her language, respect.

Lesson number one in “the power of personal influence” is to earn your boss’ and peers’ respect. To do this, you need to first display your insight, knowledge and abilities–show that you do, indeed, “know your stuff.”

Moreover, it is important to be confident, stand your ground, and anticipate their objections. It is important to establish “what’s in it for them,” and tailor your communication to appeal to the personal needs they may have.

Lesson number two: always act from a position of strength.
How do you do this? I think there are two ways: (1) act as an “internal consultant” to your organization, always seeking to add value; and (2) realize that you are constantly selling yourself and your ideas.

In order to sell yourself and your ideas, it is important to anticipate roadblocks or objections, obstacles to success, and always be one step ahead.

Lesson number three: learn to be less task-oriented and become more analytical. By this I mean, don’t always see yourself as the only person who can do a task or solve a problem. Think about how it should be done, and then consider whether you should recruit or direct others to help.
Further, think about how you can use a problem as an opportunity to teach others how to learn or how to solve the problem for themselves.

In later years, for example, I managed a staff of fourteen and one particularly sticky project just didn’t seem to be getting done. I brought the team together and set the framework for discussion: here’s the problem, here’s the background, here’s why it’s important to solve/fix it, who is going to work on this to come up with a way to solve/fix it? Any ideas?

The group was delighted, no manager had ever asked them to figure anything out, they had just been responding to directives. We made assignments that day for the action steps we would need, and met regularly after that until the problem was solved.

Lesson number four: to be more persuasive, keep in mind the “Six P’s.”

I have identified a short, alliterative list to help you remember how to act when you are presenting your ideas:
1. Prepared – know your stuff, have it organized and anticipate next steps as well as potential objections
2. Punctual – arrive at any meeting on time; finish when you say you will; when you consistently demonstrate that you are conscious of other peoples’ time, and respect it, then you will be treated similarly
3. Precise – don’t waste words, don’t take too long to explain something; get right to the point
4. Perceptive – notice how others are responding to your words; use their body language and their questions and observations as your cues
5. Probe – if you aren’t clear on what someone is asking or saying, ask open-ended questions designed to clarify their concerns or points
6. Pause – do not present an uninterruptible stream of information; those people who used to advocate “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with b.s.” were, umm, well, full of it! Allow time for interruptions, and in fact, encourage them—this is how you encourage buy-in and participation in your process.
Masterful presenters know how to do this intuitively, and have raised their persuasiveness to a high art. For those of us who are modeling our behavior after theirs, try using these six techniques from now on. See if people respond differently to your ideas.
Lesson number five: know all the things you can do to keep the respect you’ve earned.
There are a few things I can think of—I’d encourage you to come up with others—that will quite quickly lose you the respect you’ve earned, and possibly make it impossible for you to ever regain it.
1. Blame others
2. Act unethically
3. Break the bond of trust
4. Refuse to cooperate
5. Believe your ideas are the only ones that are right, or that matter
6. Deliberately mislead someone or hide something.

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