The mark of an ed­u­cated mind The pub­lic fo­rum of pub­lic ac­count­ing

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Accounting Today - - Opinion - By Dar­ren Root See MIND on 7

How of­ten do you read an ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion-based ar­ti­cle that be­gins with a quote from Aris­to­tle? It seems like a stretch, I know, but bear with me, be­cause this sin­gle quote just may be what trig­gers a whole new way of think­ing for you. It cer­tainly did for me.

“It’s the mark of an ed­u­cated mind to be able to en­ter­tain a thought with­out ac­cept­ing it.”

How can pos­i­tive change ever oc­cur if we are only will­ing to ac­cept one way of think­ing, un­will­ing to en­ter­tain al­ter­na­tive per­spec­tives? In the realm of change, closed minds will only ever lead to a stale­mate — to the land where dis­cus­sion goes to die.

This brief yet pro­found quote has pushed me to do more lis­ten­ing and less talk­ing. To be open to ideas that I had long since set­tled in my mind. To have con­ver­sa­tions with my adult chil­dren that don’t start with: “When I was your age … ”

There’s a true power and feel­ing of free­dom that comes with the open­ing of one’s mind to other per­spec­tives. Can you see your­self as a per­son who oth­ers come to in or­der to share and vet ideas, be­cause they know you will en­ter­tain new thoughts and ideas?

Ap­ply­ing this phi­los­o­phy to the ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion makes more sense than ever, con­sid­er­ing the ever-present and rapid rate of change. I’ve en­coun­tered many firms that still op­er­ate the way it’s al­ways been done — hang­ing on to out­dated, one-way per­cep­tions that keep Dar­ren Root, CPA, CITP, CGMA, is CEO of Root­works and founder and ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of Lis­cio. Root­works is a mem­ber­ship-based or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to help­ing ac­count­ing pro­fes­sion­als find a bet­ter way of run­ning their firms. Lis­cio is a se­cure shar­ing so­lu­tion that keeps data be­tween firms and their clients. Learn more at root­works.com and lis­cio.me. Subscribe to Dar­ren’s "Bet­ter Ev­ery Day" pod­cast on itunes or lis­ten at root­works.com/pod­cast. them from mak­ing any real changes, and, of­ten­times, pit­ting one part­ner against an­other. Now, for a mo­ment, think about what it could mean to lead with an ed­u­cated mind. What would your firm look like if you be­gan dis­cus­sions by lis­ten­ing? If you opened your­self up to en­ter­tain­ing and an­a­lyz­ing dif­fer­ent ideas?

An­cient wis­dom and mod­ern think­ing

Aris­to­tle’s words of­fer great in­spi­ra­tion, mov­ing us to think on a deeper level about how we op­er­ate our firms — and our lives. It’s the no­tion that by lead­ing with an ed­u­cated mind, we open our­selves up to greater pos­si­bil­i­ties and think­ing that can have a far more pos­i­tive im­pact.

Now, fast for­ward from an­cient Greece to the more re­cent past and the work of Steven Covey (who based his “The Seven Habits of Highly Ef­fec­tive Peo­ple” on the works of an­cient lit­er­a­ture). I want to ad­vance the idea of the ed­u­cated mind and con­nect it with Covey’s Habit 5: First seek to un­der­stand, and then be un­der­stood.

It was Covey’s mod­ern-day phi­los­o­phy (spelled out in Habit 5) that helped me bet­ter con­nect with peo­ple in my per­sonal and pro­fes­sional life. Es­sen­tially, Habit 5 pushes you to first un­der­stand the po­si­tion of oth­ers be­fore push­ing your own. This means re­ally lis­ten­ing, with an open mind, to what oth­ers have to say. It means not ar­gu­ing your own po­si­tion be­fore hear­ing the ideas of oth­ers. It means lis­ten­ing with the in­tent to un­der­stand.

The blend of Aris­to­tle’s and Covey’s ideas is where I find great in­spi­ra­tion. The com­bi­na­tion of keep­ing an open mind and seek­ing to un­der­stand an­other’s po­si­tion be­fore stat­ing one’s own is a winning for­mula to be­com­ing an in­flu­en­tial, ef­fec­tive and pos­i­tive leader.

Imag­ine how dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tions could be, whether with a spouse, em­ployee, peer or client, if you take the time to truly lis­ten to oth­ers’ thoughts. If you’re per­ceived as some­one will­ing to en­ter­tain al­ter­na­tive so­lu­tions and ideas … as op­posed to im­me­di­ately re­ject­ing them or choos­ing to main­tain a pre­de­ter­mined po­si­tion. Be­ing open to new ideas and par­a­digms is the mark of an ed­u­cated mind.

As a ded­i­cated fol­lower of Aris­to­tle and Covey, to­day I find my­self in far more open con­ver­sa­tions with fam­ily, friends, staff, peers and clients about mul­ti­ple facets of life and busi­ness. “First seek­ing to un­der­stand the po­si­tions of oth­ers” has helped cre­ate a rich work­ing cul­ture in my firm, where new ideas are shared and dis­cussed. It’s also opened up lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with clients, help­ing us col­lect hon­est feed­back that im­proves ser­vices and the over­all client ex­pe­ri­ence.

It’s time to start the dis­cus­sion ...

One thing ev­ery­one can agree on is that we live in an era of con­stant change, and with change comes fric­tion. Whether that’s fric­tion caused by gen­er­a­tional dif­fer­ences, the rapid pace of tech­nol­ogy turnover, or ris­ing client de­mands, it’s fric­tion that ev­ery firm owner must deal with. Ap­proach­ing change with an ed­u­cated mind helps to bet­ter un­der­stand the chal­lenges, within their given con­text, and then solve for them.

The fol­low­ing are three ar­eas of fric­tion within firms that I most of­ten hear about from peers. I chal­lenge you to start open dis­cus­sions in your firm around these top­ics, and ap­proach each with an ed­u­cated mind:

Dis­cus­sion No. 1: In­puts ver­sus out­puts.

We are a pro­fes­sion that has largely mea­sured suc­cess based on in­puts. How many bill­able hours can we get out of each staff per­son? How many bill­able hours can I per­son­ally work? But what if suc­cess were mea­sured based on out­puts? Out­puts like rev­enue gen­er­ated, cultural fit and val­ue­build­ing ideas. How much more suc­cess­ful would your firm be with the right fo­cus on re­sults? The an­swer here is likely not one or the other (out­puts or in­puts). In fact, many firm lead­ers feel more com­fort­able with a blended model. None­the­less, this is an im­por­tant dis­cus­sion to have as you work to se­cure the long-term fu­ture of your firm.

Dis­cus­sion No. 2: The im­por­tance of cul­ture.

Where does cul­ture stand on your list of pri­or­i­ties? Some of the most suc­cess­ful firms put cul­ture first be­cause they un­der­stand that if they are to pro­vide a su­pe­rior client ex­pe­ri­ence, they have to build a qual­ity team. And with a rich cul­ture comes su­pe­rior em­ploy­ees. The fol­low­ing are a few ques­tions to get the dis­cus­sion around

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