Leadership: One Man’s Perspective
Upon retiring after serving 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, Chief Master Sergeant (CMSgt.) Tim Omdal offered some parting words of wisdom to his fellow airmen. As he transitioned into civilian life, he wanted most to talk about leadership.
At re: The Auditors we spend a lot of time talking about leadership—mostly the lack of it. We bemoan the “auditor” mentality, the substitution of management for leadership, and the lack of accountability. So I thought I would try to translate CMSgt. Omdal’s words and see if they resonated for people in our profession. Of course, translations are imprecise and this one is no exception. So any mistakes are mine, not his.
We are all leaders in some way and each of us will influence at least 10,000 other people in our lifetime. So the question is not if you will influence someone, but how will you use your influence?
1. Look like a Leader: I learned early on that first impressions go a long way. Do you look like a leader? Are you fit? Is your shirt pressed? Are you ever in need of a haircut? Do you wear your clothes correctly and proudly? As leaders, we all set the example for others to follow; we must always be the role model for others to follow.
2. Act like a Leader: How is a leader supposed to act? Leaders aren’t afraid to step out and make the tough decisions. It may not be the most popular decision, but the right decision is often not the most popular. All of us, regardless of rank, are charged to enforce standards. Leaders don’t walk past problems but correct the problem or provide solutions to their supervisors. Our people want to be led. Give them guidance and direction, step back and you will be amazed.
3. Be a Leader: When I think of a leader, I think of my first supervisor. He cared for me. He would often stop by my cubicle and check to make sure everything was okay. The week before I took my CPA, he stopped by to give me one last quiz and the confidence that I could score above a 75 on my exam. I knew he would be there for me if I needed him; he believed in me. He saw potential in me that I didn’t know existed and always provided me with both positive and constructive feedback that made me want to do better. He was a leader who challenged and developed me as an accountant and person.
Being an average accountant was not acceptable. In the days when we did not have electronic publications, I became the office librarian’s best friend. He would require me to visit the office library to check out the current pronouncements and emerging trends. I was required to read each and every publication that was identified in my development plan, which helped me to develop a hunger to be the best accountant in our firm. Rather than ask someone what GAAP required, I would always get the books and find it for myself. He was a leader who invested back into others, and there is no doubt I’m where I am because of him, and the influence he had in my life and development as a person. He looked like a leader, acted like a leader and he was a leader.
4. We need Leadership, not “Likership”. What do I mean by “likership”? While not in the dictionary, the meaning is clear when seen in the context of the other attributes of an effective leader … be a leader not a follower. We can all relate to a leader or supervisor who wants to be liked, which is natural, but there is a difference between a leader who treats people with respect and makes the tough decisions versus a supervisor who is afraid to make a decision or does not hold people accountable or enforce standards. What about a leader who is afraid to give tough love when it is required, or a leader who tells the partners what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear.
We also have those leaders whose staff are all superstars—and who do not give them the ratings they have earned, but rather what the staff feel they are entitled to. We also have those “leaders” who always pass the buck up the chain; any decision that is not popular, they blame the decision on “they” rather than explaining they are a part of “they.” Will you always be liked by everyone? Probably not, but leadership is not about a popularity contest but about developing and growing people. Robert Coles, a Professor at Harvard University said it best, “I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure, which is try to please everybody.”
CMSgt. Omdal concluded with these words:
I believe our people want to be led; they want to be challenged and have leadership who hold them accountable—and we owe this to them. As I depart and look over my shoulder, I see great staff that look like leaders, act like leaders, and are leaders. I encourage you to fight for leadership and not “likership”. Thanks for your continued service and what you do each and every day but more importantly what you will do for our firm and for our profession in the future.
Graphic used by permission of Hugh McLeod
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