Ep. 34: Brian Kush - Coaching Accounting Leaders

December 12, 2019 | 19 Minutes

Brian Kush, PCC, CPA is an executive leadership coach who helps leaders access the Dimension of Possible: an elevated place where you see the world differently. Brian spent the first 14 years of his career serving as a CPA and consultant at both Ernst and Young and AuditWatch. During that time he realized coaching was the best and most natural way he could support and challenge others. Brian has now spent over 20 years serving the accounting profession and is the co-founder of Intend2Lead. He is a Professional Certified Coach through the International Coach Federation and Brian authored the book, Auditing Leadership (Wiley, 2009). In this episode of Count Me In, Brian shares his perspective on the natural leadership skills accountants possess, talks us through some of the common goals accounting leaders seek to obtain, and how to overcome challenges in leading in today's accounting industry. Download, listen, and review now!

Brian Kush: https://www.intend2lead.com/brian-kush/
Top 10 Books for Accountants: https://www.intend2lead.com/top-ten-books/
Intend2Lead: www.intend2lead.com

: (00:00)
This is episode 34 of Count me In, IMA's podcast about all things affecting the accounting and finance world. I'm your host, Adam Larson, and I'd like to welcome you back for another great perspective on the skills needed to succeed in today's accounting industry. For this episode, Mitch spoke to Brian Kush and executive leadership coach and the co-founder of intend to lead. Brian explains the importance of strong leadership and personal development when trying to create a sustainable accounting career. Let's go to the conversation to hear more. 
Mitch: (00:36)
One of the central competencies for our accounting and finance audience revolves around leadership. What natural leadership and coaching skills do accountants commonly possess? And tell us a little bit about what you do to support that skill set. 
Brian: (00:58)
Right, Mitch? So I always think of maybe an overused term in our industry, in the accounting industry is the idea of adding value. however, I feel like accountants are really good at that. I feel like they bring a value added mindset to everything that they do. And so some of the natural leadership qualities that they possess or that I find in a lot of accountants are, they're very good and open about sharing with each other and learning from each other, different in newer ways on how did you do things, you know, it might even just be, Hey here, allergy and, you know, here's what our firm or here's what our organization does. And, and, and being very good about sharing it with others, you know, and trying to learn from each other, whether it's you're in public accounting or if you're an internal audit shop, it's like how can we learn from other entities that are out there and really having that learning mindset in a way where they're sharing well with each other there. They're building upon each other. In some cases. It's brainstorming. I've done a lot of facilitated facilitated work or I've been here, well work with accounts even at different companies or firms. And it's just amazing and it's inspiring to me how well they are, are good. They are an open that they are about sharing new ideas and ways to improve and just really supporting each other in that way. So it's cool for me to be able to see that. I think that's something that accountants naturally do. I think accountants are also very good goal setters. You know, we have to be, and a lot of the, the work that we do, we have to set milestones. So how many of the projects that we're tasked with doing are not easy. They are complex and you have to set multiple milestones. So accounts are good at that when they're somewhat forced to do that and intend to lead. We're, you know, we're a leadership development company and we do a lot of coaching with, with accountants and one of the things we like to do is we like to really work off of that off of the idea of the learning mindset. How can you uncover, you know, what's really important you, how can you learn from each other? And coaching is really about helping someone to learn more about themselves and to move their acts just forward in their life. And so we like to tap into their learning mindset. And figuring out ways that they can progress in it, they can improve. And we like to also tap into that goal setting mindset where it's like, Hey, where do you want to go in your life? What's important to you? And how do we create a road map on how to get there? And that's what coaching is about. It's about, you know, where do you want to go? What are you now, what's the gap, you know? And as a coach, I'm going to help you to create a roadmap and an intentional way for you to move your learning and your actions for us that we can get to where you want to go. And by doing that, you can grow your skills as a leader and grow your influence of others. 
Mitch: (03:50)
Now that's the perfect segue to my next question because I'm curious, you know, kind of being a former accountant now, working with many accountants, what are some of the common goals that you've come across from these accounting leaders? What are they typically attempting to reach and what kind of roadmaps are you putting together for them? 
Brian: (04:09)
Yeah, Mitch. I think one of the most common goals that they have, it's really a, there's a big emotional part of this, but there's so many accountants out there where they, they want to, they want to feel bold enough to be able to create the life that they want in the future that they want and they want to feel like they have enough power to carve their job around what they want instead of, and let me compare that to sometimes how they feel. And it's usually fear based. It's usually all about struggle. A lot of times they feel like, wow, I've got this job and I've got to carve the rest of my life around my job because everything in my job comes first. And this is the way I've seen my peers do it. Or this is the way I've seen the people that have come before me do it. You know, job comes first. What I need to do comes first and the rest of my life is around that and what I love is we've worked with a lot of people with a lot of big hearts and they want to be bold and they want to create that future as they want it. Not always as how they've seen it. And so what they do is they want to have the boldness to say, Hey, can I visualize the future that I want? If I want to make partner in accounting farmer or if I want to be the CFO, can I become a CFO at this organization in a way where I can create the life I want? And the job of CFO or the job of partner fits into that. And, and so it can be the life I want sort of a life of someone else's or another type of model that's been created for me by somebody else. And that's really challenging for them and that's really, I think at the heart of what their bigger goals are, which is that life that they want and making everything and helping everything to fit into what is it they want. And. 
Mitch: (06:04)
What are some of the challenges that you typically encounter when trying to lead these accounting professionals through this plan that you develop or, you know, down this road? You know, the, the, the challenge is first kind of separating that emotional piece as you said, but once you're kind of on track, what typically happens? 
Brian: (06:24)
Yeah, it's unfortunate, but we've worked with a lot of accountants where they feel overwhelmed a big part of the time. And so they might ask, how do I take care of myself so that I don't burn out even when I'm really busy? You know, and you know, how can I work with my stress? How can I be proactive with my stress? You know, and this is to me in a lot of ways is a foundational challenge because whatever other challenges I made share with you are very common in our industry. This one is going to affect it, you know, so how do I manage my stress? How do I manage my anxiety and all that? And if I can do that well it's going to help me with so many of my other goals and so much of my vision and where I want to go. You know? And, and we always say, Hey, you know what, in order to do that, you have to be able to have a plan. You have to be intentional about it as it relates to managing stress. You can't be reactive. I've worked with too many people that are in their sixties or even their seventies and you know, and, and not all of them, some of them have thrived, but some of them, they're at a place now in their life where, wow, they're, they're actually facing medical challenges and they're facing some issues because they didn't think about stress earlier on in their career. So I feel like the earlier on we can actually be intentional about thinking about these things, which is like what is my self care plan? That sounds like such a basic question, but just asking yourself early on, what is my self care plan? What am I going to be able to do to be intentional about some of the basics in my life? Things like such simple things like exercise and diet and sleep and what are the routines that I can put into my life that helped me to proactively manage stress. You know? And those can be things that are simple like meditation and you know, breathing techniques and, and having the ability to go exercise. And you know, accountants struggle with self care cause they don't feel like they've been granted permission to think about that. Okay. But if you think about your life, doesn't it need to start with that? Shouldn't be that, that the center of everything, you know, which is what is your plan to be able to be a human being. You know, instead of being like a healthy accountant or being a healthy leader at work, let's first ask ourselves, what does it mean to just be a healthy human being and start from that place? You know, instead of always measuring our days by how many hours we're putting into our work, maybe we should think about what's my self care first. And so that idea of managing stress and managing anxiety, that that's a big one. just a few others. I can mention Mitch. you know, one of the big ones is how do I uncover and live into my own authentic strengths, you know, and work into those strengths. So how can I think about the job that I do and make sure that I'm maximizing my opportunities to be my best version of who I am? You know, so asking yourself questions like, what do I do really well? Now what do I enjoy doing? sometimes it may feel fleeting, but we really encourage accountants to really spend time and reflecting about their days and about more what brings them alive. You know, if you had a day and you had a rough day and, and you had another day that went really well, what was the difference in those days? What were you doing? How are you feeling? What skills were you using? You know, in those days where things were going better, where maybe you knew you were having a positive impact on others, you were a contribution to something bigger than yourself. You know? And so when you're able to do that, and then more importantly when you're able to reflect on that, then you become intentional about uncovering what your true strengths, your true talents, your true value is that you bring there. There's a book by an author named gay Hendricks and it's called the big leap. And he uses the term zone of genius. You know, what are the things that you, when you're doing them, you know you're succeeding, you know you're adding value, you know, you don't have to worry about time as much because you know you're doing the right thing. And he calls those years the area of your zone of genius. There are other areas he talks about like your zone of incompetence, the things you shouldn't be doing that you're probably doing or even your zone of competence, things you do okay but others could be doing. And so the idea of Hey, how can I be intentional about reflecting in a way that helps me to uncover my zone of genius? And really in a lot of ways Mitch, that's where we can have our biggest contribution. Maybe where we can make our most money in our life as well is where we're truly adding value. So that's another big challenge that we work with accountants on, which is what is your, your true zone of genius and how do you uncover it and then how do you go and live that more. 
Mitch: (11:20)
I think this is a great conversation and I enjoy your perspective on this. So I'm curious, what are some of the other frequently asked questions that you typically receive? Maybe it's from your clients, you know, on the job or maybe your colleagues that are kind of working in the leadership coaching role is just like you. What kind of questions do you get? And then how do you help them come to their own answers? It sounds like a lot of what you do is by posing additional questions. 
Brian: (11:46)
Yeah. Wow. You just described coaching really well. It's not about the coach coming to the answer. It's asking someone questions, powerful, tough questions to help them to come to their own answers, to uncover what matters to them and then go show up in a way, you know that supports what that is. so a couple other frequently asked questions. We get a lot, you know, how can I empower my teams or the people that report to me better? You know, that there's a lot of people that struggle with, how can I help my staff to own more of their own responsibilities? How can I work with my staff and empower my staff in a way so they're doing really well so I can do more of the things that I want to do, you know, so I don't have to like always be reaching out and helping them, solving their problems. So that's a big one, which is people that are sometimes get a little tired of having to be that, that chief problem solver. You know we here in the accounting industry a lot. I have to go fight fires, right? I have to go fight fires, put out fires for other people. And that can be draining. That can be tiring. So yeah, a very frequently asked question, which is how can I better empower my team and do it in a way that allows me to do the things I want to do maybe to live in more of my zone of genius. you know, and, and one of the big answers to that is instead of solving people's problem, instead of putting out the fires, how can you coach them in a way where you are helping them to increase their capacity to solve their own problems? So instead of giving them answers, instead of being that, that awesome solution provider, which is tough because a lot of accountants value themselves on being the answer right? And we're asking them instead of being the answer, can you actually be the questioner? Can you actually be a better listener? Be a better person that asks more powerful questions in a way that you're having them come up with their answers so that guess what? Maybe next time they can do it without you. And that can be challenging because sometimes in a weird way, accountants get value by being the firefighter, even though they complain about it, but they, they, they have other people relying on them and needing them and they get the value of being needed when in a lot of ways, when you want to become a much better leader, when you want to empower others, you need to be the person that helps them to solve their own problems. So we really feel that in today's ever changing world to be that solution to everybody, that's going to be too tiring. What you need to do is you need to coach, you know, always be coaching people in a way where they're thinking they're coming up with sometimes in their own questions. And so that question of how do I empower my people? Sometimes it's about changing your mindset, changing your mindset from being the expert and having all the answers to maybe being a little bit of a beginner and instead asking questions of others, helping them to figure out how they can solve their problems instead of you having to do that solution provider. 
Mitch: (14:53)
Now in our changing world of accounting with data and technology, a lot of the things that are taking some of the roles and responsibilities away from accountants, we emphasize that the true value of the account is their ability to had foresight to the organization. Right? Be able to contribute to these strategic conversations at influence like you just said. So in your opinion, what kind of leadership skills do you see being most valuable to those accountants you work with who have these long successful, sustainable careers? What is it that they possess and maybe what can our listeners work on to ensure that the future of their job is protected? 
Brian: (15:33)
Right. So, as you mentioned, you know, our industry is changing very rapidly and it's that that acceleration, that pace of change is going to probably just speed up more and more. And yeah. So yeah, that question of what are the leadership skills that I needed to be able to do well or thrive in that maybe weren't as important years ago that are now that are going to help me to thrive over the long term, even in a changing environment, it's changing so quickly. And one of the things that we found to be really important, and this can be a little bit of a challenge for most accounts, is instead of always being comfortable with having instant answers, you know, when we're talking about strategy or we're talking about where we want to go or a vision or where our group or our firm or entity wants to go, you know, it's so easy to want to have the answers and have them right away. And for accountants, a lot of times we're valued based on having the answers. But in today's ever changing world where we don't have the answers right away, we feel like one of the most important skills we need to have is being comfortable in the uncomfortable. And by that I mean actually gaining more comfort in not knowing the answers and instead of forcing answers right away because that's what we're comfortable with. We've got to come up with a strategy for our company instead of thinking, Oh, here's the answers right away, here's where we need to go. Maybe we need to sit in more of the questions. Maybe we need to be able to sit in not knowing and to be able to collaborate together in a way where we can say, Hey, you know what? We don't know these answers. Let's brainstorm together. Let's ask more questions instead of instantly trying to solve things in a way that can create new questions in a way that can create new answers and in a way that can create something that's innovative. You know, innovation is about solving old and new problems in new and different ways. And it what it requires is new thinking. And I think new thinking always requires, not new answers, but first new questions. And so a lot of times in our industry we're valued based on the answers we give. I think we need to really challenge ourselves as leaders. We need to value more of the questions that we ask. 
Announcer: (18:00)
This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org