What’s the Why?

As firms wrestle with Baby Boomer succession, the differences in attitudes, thinking and motivators between current and future leaders can sometimes be great. More often than not those differences or gaps are major contributors to the absence of future leaders who are on deck and ready to step into the shoes of the retiring partners.

It’s pretty easy to spot a firm where it isn’t working well and major changes have to occur for the firm to survive in an internal succession plan. Taking a little bit different approach, the balance of this writing will focus on a firm where it is  working, where the current and future leaders have figured it out.

This is a client of mine in Washington state; three current partners, one new partner coming in January 1 and one on deck. I interviewed Bob who is one of the “older” three partners and Lydia who will be the new partner. I wanted to know “what’s your why”; said a little differently: why do you do what you do, what do you want your legacy to be, what’s important to you, what drives you, how do you define success, etc.

Lydia is already very successful and on top of her game. Here is what she told me about her “why”. Although her career is very important to her, she does not want it to be her legacy. It’s as much or more about family and community. She wants the opportunity for personal growth and leadership and she wants to mentor and bring her team with her.

Lydia lives life in the “now” – she wants to do it now – not 30 years from now. She wants to be rewarded now based on her performance and results; not how many hours she works or how many years she has put in. Her drivers are taking ownership, feeling needed and contributing to make a difference. She loves what she does, she wants to be always learning and she wants to win!

Bob is 58 years old and is one of the leaders of the firm. He has been instrumental in creating an environment where Lydia can thrive and be successful. What is interesting is that in the case of Bob and this firm they didn’t have to fix it or try to change people to make it happen. It’s just the way they are and the way they look at things. Here are some of the answers from Bob to the “what’s your why” questions.

Bob used to be a grinder but he realized several years ago that clients were actually people who he enjoyed spending time with and that there was life outside work. The balance is now more important to him. He still loves the work and the trusted relationships. He seeks continual self-improvement and he promotes change inside the firm.

For Bob, it’s less about the money and more about feeling the satisfaction of getting “it” done with the team. Bob believes he has a lot to offer from his experience and he enjoys coaching and mentoring the younger people in the firm. He wants to be relevant and a significant contributor to the firm right up to the end of his career. If/when the day comes that he isn’t, his words were “please tell me”. Bob’s goal is to go out with grace.

So that is the short story of Lydia and Bob. Two very successful people from two very different generations in the same firm. Lydia exhibits many of the traits of the new emerging leaders in firms and we should try to learn from her “why”. Bob may be somewhat atypical of many of the current leaders in firms today; we should seek to learn from his “why” as well.


About the Author

Adamson SuitPort_0242Gary Adamson is a CPA and the President of Adamson Advisory, specializing in succession planning and consulting for CPA firms. He can be reached at (765) 488-0691 or gadamson@adamsonadvisory.com. For more about Adamson Advisory, visit www.adamsonadvisory.com or follow the company at www.adamsonadvisory.com/blog and www.twitter.com/adamsonadvisory.