Patricia WilsonPatricia Suflita Wilson, the mastermind behind a global internet and social media phenomenon, knows what it takes to be a true leader. Come hear her inspirational message at the IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) Annual Conference & Expo (ACE2018), to be held at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis from June 16-20.

Wilson is the former CEO of Make-A-Wish in Northern California, one of the largest Make-A-Wish chapters granting more than 400 wishes per year for children with life-threatening medical conditions. She is best known as the leader and inspiration behind the transformation of San Francisco into Gotham City so that cancer patient Miles could become “Batkid” for a day.

A popular TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) speaker, Patricia is sought-after for her inspirational insights on leadership, philanthropy, social media, and public relations. She’ll share her leadership insights in her keynote session titled, “Leadership Lessons from an Accidental CEO.”

You emphasize the importance of leaders setting the right tone from the top. As someone who has led a variety of organizations, are there challenges in determining the right tone for different teams and situations?

Yes, but some themes are always the same. You need to form a complete assessment, and you need to understand the organizational goals and core values. You also need to listen. Assuming you’re in alignment, you can be an effective leader and set the tone. Integrity, authenticity, and honesty are always required. One thing I’ve noticed in many different organizations is a failure to recognize the importance of the quality of the team you assemble. A brand can only get you so far … the real value in any organization or company: the staff.

Hiring is often cited as a pain point for many organizations. In your experience, is building and retaining a high-performance team more science or art?

I’m very nervous hiring, even more so than when needing to fire! The wrong hire can wreak havoc on an organization. So is it science or art? I think it’s a little of both. You need to make sure someone is qualified – and “hungry” – for a position. But the right culture fit is very difficult to screen for until you witness firsthand how someone responds to adversity and other challenging situations.

What’s the difference between managing and leading?

Leading is out in front. There are few “best practices” because you’re in uncharted territory. You need to convince your team (whether that’s internal or external) that the path you recommend will produce the results you all want. A good leader doesn’t lead with their ego but with a passion for the mission, first and foremost. Management is slightly more easily defined: You manage within known protocol, goals, and the like. That’s not to say good management is an easy job – it’s just more easily defined and less “outside the box.”

Why is conflict often good for organizations? Can you give an example of how you and your team turned a conflict into a positive outcome?

Healthy conflict is always good. I genuinely welcome different points of view, as the end result of some debate and evaluation is often a better idea. And best of all? It’s no longer “your” idea but “our” idea and manages to identify champions and make others passionate.

For example, once the #SFBatkid went viral, I had one board member who was pressuring me to turn it into a fundraising effort. That went against my core values. So while the wish went viral and attracted worldwide attention, I strongly believed this shouldn’t be our answer to the Ice Bucket Challenge. This wasn't a fundraiser, it was a wish, and we needed to stay true and maintain integrity. I think if we had sold out and tried to make it a fundraiser, people would have abandoned us. In the end, it was wildly successful and positive because it was authentic.

For finance and accounting professionals who are increasingly being asked to help shape business strategy, how do you embrace a mindset of “Thinking Big” about new initiatives while also staying focused on managing risk?

First of all, I hope to inspire professionals to serve in a volunteer leadership capacity. I promise they will get back more than they give. The networking and learning outside your own organization also give you extraordinary perspective. In my experience, finance and accounting professionals can be very creative. You need to give them permission to share the creative ideas – first. Once we develop an idea, we can decide on acceptable risk. To lead with risk minimization eliminates any hope of “Thinking Big.”

I still remember joining a public television station with negative capital. It was ugly – even making payroll was a challenge. And I endeared myself to the finance team by involving them in my ideas to improve revenue. They were my biggest cheerleaders. Finance and accounting professionals have integrity and they care. I don’t think they are involved in business strategy decision making often enough.

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