By Belva Anakwenze
Given the current state of life as we know it, finances are top of mind for everyone right now. The accounting industry, known for its quick burnout, is included in that conversation. My career started in corporate America, working long days and nights, to ensure the company’s months would fiscally close on time. In addition to the long hours as month-end neared, I felt like a cog in a wheel and undervalued.
Before I decided to leave the corporate machine, I saw numerous peers promoted into leadership roles for reasons like length of service or technical skill. Obviously, technical skills are necessary in a role of leadership, but just as important is emotional intelligence. Very young in my career, it seemed insulting to report to individuals without the interpersonal soft skills to actually lead, inspire and guide human capital in an organization.
As I began to envision my next chapter beyond the corporate machine, I vowed to honor that I was more than my work product or career choice. I approach everything in my personal and professional life by looking at the whole person. I support small businesses to lend to the growth of local entrepreneurs and communities. When I was looking at schools for my children, I wanted an environment that nurtured them socially and emotionally. I have carried this with me throughout my entrepreneurial career.
My greatest test as a leader came in my years as an income tax franchisee. My partners and I operated five locations and dealt with a myriad of obstacles. Some of our challenges were high employee attrition due to seasonal employment, specialized skill set and more. In addition to the core staff, we also hired an array of positions that all needed to be filled at the same time; store managers, experienced tax preparers, outdoor sign wavers who danced and brought visibility to our stores.
We struggled as business owners and leaders until we began to understand that our staff, regardless of role, were not a monolith. We began to lean into the interpersonal side of our staff members. We got to know our employees as the humans they were outside of work. We took the time to understand the personal needs of our high-performing employees. Taking the time to understand the motivators in our team members’ individual lives allowed us to meet them where they needed us.
One person may have been motivated by money, while another would be looking for professional development, and another would be looking just to be seen as a member of the team. Others may have been looking for simple concessions that allowed them to start their shift 20 minutes later than normal one day a week or a host of small asks that could make the world of difference in their personal lives.
Diversity is diverse in the true essence of the word. There was diversity in life experiences, thoughts, desires and more that all led to each person’s unique lens through which they approached life and their job. The diversity in the needs of staff allowed me to grasp the true diversity of a team. I began leading with care and affection, as a mother would.
As leaders, we have to meet those who we lead where they are. That does not mean inserting our wishes or desired outcomes on them, but truly understanding what our team members want, how they show up as their best selves and more.
Some of the key lessons I learned from my experience as a franchisee that I still use and follow to this day are:
Understand what motivates each staff member and use that as a reward
- Professional Development
- Work-Life Balance
Our team members perform at their best and desire to exceed expectations when they are valued and rewarded in ways that matter to them.
Give team members autonomy to create their own path
Self-efficacy is the best way to have individuals perform up to their potential. When a team member truly believes in their ability and capacity it is easier to reach specific goals.
Work in collaboration
When developing workflow, especially during change and transition, a leader needs buy-in from the team. Give your team space to offer suggestions, feedback and improvements. They will be open about current bottlenecks and improve business efficiency.
Make your team’s job as easy as possible
Invest in technology, training and human capital to help your team. Duplicative work, inefficiencies or stagnation in workflow processes can be extremely frustrating and anxiety-inducing for your team; especially if they want to do well.
Create a company culture where your team can show up authentically
Be kind and nurturing to your team. Remember we all have lives outside of work that are consuming. Have a physiological safe space, so your staff can show up as themselves. The more accepted they are as individuals, the better they will be at work.
A true leader understands the power of undergirding human capital. The most important thing to remember as a leader is that change is inevitable. It is important to handle changes with grace, dignity and humanity.