Today we are joined by partner, director, and advisor at Anders CPAs, David Hartley to discuss how he has found success and happiness in his career by taking risks and embracing uncertainty. You’ll hear about David’s professional career journey, the catalysts for change early on, and how he handled changes he encountered along the way. We also talk about why we as leaders have to accept that we do not know all the answers and instead focus on being a facilitator for problem-solving.
David also shares his view on why it is critical to be open to learning, staying up to date with technology, asking questions, and staying true to yourself. We then dig into how to handle changing circumstances, manage your mental health, and why self-care is essential. Finally, David shares a piece of advice for professionals hitting the five-to-10-year mark in their career.
Key Points From This Episode:
- David talks us through some of the pivotal points in the beginning of his career.
- How to work your way through life change.
- Why it’s okay not to know all the answers.
- The importance of facilitating a group as a leader rather than dominating problem-solving.
- The importance of embracing the newest tools and latest technologies.
- How to navigate constant change.
- The importance of asking questions and being a sponge in the beginning of your career.
- Why you don’t need to know everything and why it’s imperative to ask questions to learn.
- The themes that came out of the new partner presentations David’s company has just done.
- Why we need to manage mental health in the workplace.
- The importance of being authentic to the things you enjoy early in your career.
- David shares some advice about self-care for professionals hitting their five-to-10-year mark.
[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast. Helping middle market professionals connect, grow, and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.
[00:00:21] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Branch Out podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today we’re joined by David Hartley, a CPA and business executive who is helping redefine the role of the CPA. Dave leads the advisory services practice in Anders CPA and Advisors, a top 100 CPA firm based in St. Louis, Missouri. Dave shares his experience ranging from Big Four audit and consulting, to Chief Information Officer for a public company. And during our conversation, we discuss how to embrace uncertainty, take risks, and accelerate your career growth. I hope you all enjoy
[00:00:58] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.
[00:01:05] AD: Dave, welcome to the Branch Out Podcast. I’m looking forward to our conversation today.
[00:01:09] DH: Thanks, Alex. I appreciate it. It’s great to be here.
[00:01:11] AD: Dave, why don’t you share – actually, I’m going to preface this, for our listeners, our conversation today, and Dave and I were just chatting about this before we jumped on is around change, transition, learning, uncertainty, and those are maybe a handful of words, I’ll throw out that we’ve come up with and said, this is what we want to focus on. Dave, I think you’re uniquely positioned to share some perspective around this given your less than traditional career path in what you’re doing.
So, with that said, can you take us through the high levels of your career? And what’s led you to where you are today? And then let’s jump into talking about change?
[00:01:49] DH: Sure, I’d be happy to. Yeah, my career path has been a little nontraditional, let’s call it. So, I actually started, I’ve now been doing this for over 30 years, which is crazy. And when I started, I had a very wise mentor that told me in college, study accounting, because it’s the language of business, and you need to understand that, you don’t have to be an accountant. So, I said, “Okay.” I did that, pass the CPA exam, started at Ernst and Young. I did Big Four for almost a decade. And then I started with audit, and then I pivoted pretty hard into technology. So, I did technology for a decade, and then I actually Led technology for a public company for six years. And then after that, I did virtual CIO work. So, helping middle market companies with technology strategy, and those types of things. And then three and a half years ago, I got an opportunity to go to Anders CPAs and Advisors in St. Louis. At Anders, they asked me to head up the advisory practice.
So, the firm had made a strategic decision to grow the advisory side of the firm. They asked me to be a part of that, and I think that really was being part of a CPA firm, overseeing a technology service line, CFO outsourcing, just all those different services. I think all of those experiences over 30 years, have prepared me for the role that I’m in today. So, it has been an interesting journey, it certainly hasn’t been boring. I look back on it and I had my original plan, I think we all do, and the actual was much different than the plan. But at the end of the day, where I am today, I mean, I wouldn’t change a thing.
[00:03:17] AD: It’s awesome that you can say you wouldn’t change a thing and that you ended up where you should be. Your coming around, you had a plan and it didn’t go according to plan. I think for anyone who’s ever had a plan, they realize that it doesn’t usually go according to plan, especially something like a career. Can you look back, when you were either coming out of undergrad or starting your career in those first five years, where did you think you were going? What did you think the future held for you and talk about some of the pivots that happened along the way?
[00:03:48] DH: Yeah. So actually, I didn’t know much when I got into this. My parents were fantastic, but they weren’t professionals. I grew up in a smaller town. So now, that metropolitan area, so when I graduated from college, I came to St. Louis, and that was moving to the big city. I was kind of learning as I went. And when I went to Big Four, and I’m like, “Okay, well, then I’m going to be an audit partner at a Big Four firm.” That was the plan. And I did audit for about two and a half years and I realized that I did not enjoy it at all. But that’s when I started to take the technology side of what I do and bring that in, because they needed people at the time. E-business was starting up and they needed people that understood the audit approach, but could also speak and understand technology.
So, by putting those things together, it was like, “Oh, okay, I see that now, maybe the path that I was on, this is going to be a better fit for me. So, I did that and that was that was great. But then when I was a senior manager, and we started talking about partner, I looked at the partners at the time, with all due respect, and they weren’t having any fun. I looked at what they were doing and I was like, “I don’t know that that’s what I want to do. I thought that’s what I wanted to do, but now I’m not sure.” And so, I did make a couple of pivots and go in different directions, and each one of those I learned something about myself. For a while I hung out my own shingle. I was an e-business expert, and this was around the whole dot com days and everything. I realized that I hated working alone. I completely miss that Big Four environment.
So, as much as I thought that I knew what I was doing, and that I could control all the variables, things surface that just took me in different directions. And then of course, there’s things that you just don’t plan for, whether that’s family or things not working out, or all sorts of things. So, you kind of take all of that and put it together. As much as you’d like to control things, sometimes you just have to go along for the ride.
[00:05:36] AD: Let’s use that as a good transition to this idea that change can be hard and transition can be scary, if you will. But I think for all of us and for our listeners listening in right now, I think we can think about times where either we have gone through something, some major level of change, or we know major change is coming, or we have a big decision point to make that is likely to bring change in. You’re making a pivot or wanting a different trajectory. All of that brings a massive level of uncertainty into our life. How did you deal with that? How do we work our way through that?
[00:06:13] DH: So, I would say at some point, it’s better than others, in terms of there were some things that I kind of initiated, understood, and I sort of knew what I was going to do. And there were other times where that wasn’t necessarily the case. And I think as you just progressed through your career, your comfort level, as much as I would like to say that your comfort level goes up with more experience, I think as you move into leadership positions, and you realize that you’re responsible for setting the tone for leading the direction, for people looking at you, sometimes change is even more difficult as a more senior level professional than just starting out.
I wish that I could say that I had the secret recipe for how you handle that. And I think the reality is that, I don’t know anybody that really feels comfortable doing it. But it’s just something that if you’re going to grow and you’re going to mature and you’re going to advance in your career, you just have to do it. I think probably the most important thing is that you have to learn to be okay with being uncomfortable and not knowing all of the answers.
[00:07:16] AD: Okay with not knowing all the answers. I think that’s a really important part. I really needed to learn this gentleman’s name. So, I’m going to quote someone tonight, I don’t know their name, but he’s an astrophysicist that does a masterclass class. Anyone who’s watched the masterclass stuff. He has a quote that just really stuck with me. I’m going to paraphrase it, but it’s the, “The area of your knowledge grows. The circumference of the unknown of your ignorance grows as well.” Right?
[00:07:45] DH: Yup.
[00:07:46] AD: I think that’s when you really, you think about that, the point you’re making is, you may think that as I grow my career, it’ll just get easier. I’ll know more. I’ll have – that’s I don’t think, really the case. In my own life experience, the more I seem to learn, the more I realize, I don’t know anything. And when you come to grips with that, and start realizing that the job isn’t to know everything, and the goal isn’t to know everything. The goal is to be good at problem solving, analyzing risks, analyzing opportunities, and doing your work, being good at some element of what you do. There is a part of having technical expertise or certain knowledge, industry knowledge that can be beneficial for you. In my experience, and I’m curious if you’ve seen this in your own career, but oftentimes, it’s less about the specifics that you know, and much more about your tenacity to work your way through the unknowns that really drive the longer-term success.
[00:08:43] DH: Yeah, I totally agree. And I actually think I’m a more effective leader, the less that I know. When I get into situations, and a lot of times, I think, as you get in your career, you get more sort of confident in your views. And you feel like that if you’re in a room, if you’re the most senior person, then you need to be the one that’s kind of leading the way and showing everybody what to do. I find that when I’m in situations where I’m in a room, or we’re solving a problem, or dealing with an issue that I don’t have much experience with, I think I’m actually more effective, because then I’m really pulling the best out of everybody else in the room. So, instead of focusing on myself and my contributions, my real contribution is getting the best out of everybody else in the room. Sometimes knowing if somebody is dominating a conversation, or how can you manage the room and get people in the right spots, I think that’s really our responsibility as leaders is to get people in the right spots, and then set them up for success and then provide them with support along the way.
So, it’s not that you have to be the one out there blazing the trail and everybody follows behind you. It’s really that we collectively as a group, have to figure out where we’re going and then we have to figure out together, how to get there. That’s really one of the things that I think can really help especially people who feel like, and especially in the accounting industry. A lot of times, accountants really struggle, because the way that you’re raised in accounting is that there’s only one answer. If you don’t get that answer, you’re wrong, and you have to be the expert on everything. It’s like, well, whether, from the CPA exam, whether it’s tax, or whatever it is, you have to be the expert. And I think the more and more that you get into your career, you just realize, “I can’t be the expert on everything, and I have to start relying on other people, and really focus more on facilitating a group, rather than really being the person that’s going to be the subject matter expert, or the person that really is the expert that’s driving the train.”
[00:10:35] AD: You hit on, I think, a really important part of leadership as a whole. But anyone, and sometimes, I think leadership is thought of as the very senior leaders only. But I would argue that most people throughout their career and in some form of a leadership position, maybe not in your first day as a junior associate or just starting out. But as you grow through, you do lead people and you lead what we – I think you even lead clients oftentimes. I would actually argue that some of the most successful firms and organizations are those that lead their clients really well, in through situations. What you said there was that you as the leader, it’s not about you have it all figured out. And that’s contrary to what I think sometimes popular belief is about a leader. Like, “Dave, you’re the leader, you should know it all. Dave, you tell me what to do.”
[00:11:22] DH: “What’s the answer?”
[00:11:23] AD: Right. So, two sides of that, as the leader, how do you overcome that feeling of feeling like you have to have it all figured out? But then on the other side, as someone who is aspiring to be the leader, how do you help them think about what type of mentality it takes to grow into that position?
[00:11:40] DH: Yeah. And I think from my perspective, so you’re right, day one, you’re not a leader. Day two, you might be leader, because there’s another person that starting that day, and you have an opportunity from very young in your career, if there’s anybody that has less experience or that you know more about a particular topic with, you have the opportunity to be a leader. I think that’s great for career advancement and those types of things. But it’s also I think, the more that you get into your career, you realize it’s not about you. It’s about everybody else. What are you doing, and I think your point on clients is great. We had an offsite retreat last week, and probably the number one thing that popped up that for us to be the most the best advisors that we can be, we have to be proactive. And I think a lot of that is just with experience or whatever, that we know, things that our clients don’t. And we can assume or wait for them to come ask us for things, because they don’t know what to ask for.
So, more and more, a great outstanding advisor is going to be somebody that actually reaches out and says, “Hey, I don’t know the answer to this either. But let’s talk about this, because I think it’s important for your business.” So, I think you’re right. You can serve in formal leadership roles, but I think every day with your influence, you have an opportunity to have probably more of an impact than most of us think.
[00:13:01] AD: That’s a really important point. I actually am positive who to attribute this quote to. John Maxwell said, “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” That ultimately, if there’s one way to leadership, this kind of elusive term that it’s difficult to describe at times, it really is your influence over others, right? Your ability to influence is probably a better way to say that. Even I’ll retract what I said earlier, on your first day, especially in today’s generation, if you’re a young first time, fresh out of school associate starting, you probably have some influence over someone on technology and how to use certain things, because there’s probably some stuff that you haven’t experienced with that a lot of other people don’t. So, we all have some level of influence. And I think that the mission of a leader is to focus on building that influence and trying to expand that sphere of influence. But if we have that influence, what I hear you saying is, you’re using that to serve others, to find and look for the good. You said, it’s not about you, it’s about others.
So, how have you in your career kept that mentality and really focused on serving others, but also knowing that it’s about leveraging your influence to do the most good, and lead your team and your people in the best direction?
[00:14:19] DH: Yeah. Well, I think a good example of that, and you actually just hit on this which is, so I have the opportunity in my role that when new hires start at the firm, that I’m part of the group that on day one addresses them. Part of what I like to make sure that they understand, sort of the historical CPA for a model is that the power is at the top. And basically, you start with the pyramid, you start and then you learn and you learn and you learn and eventually, you’ll be senior leadership and you’ll be a partner. I think what happens now, and I talked to brand new people that are starting with the firm, and it’s like you know things that we don’t and as you have learned things because you’ve grown up, you’re a digital native, you’ve been trained in different technologies in what we’ve seen, you have something to add immediately from day one.
I think, they kind of look at me, because a lot of times they’re thinking, “Well, I’m nothing until I’m a partner.” And it’s like, “No, no, no, no.” From day one, you have a contribution, you have knowledge, you have things that you need to be working on sharing with others, and bringing others along with you. So, it’s almost like every day, if you’re not teaching somebody something that you know, then you’re doing a disservice to you, and those around you. That theme of lifelong learning, I think as you look at the profession, and how quickly things are changing, I mean, that’s just going to continue. And if anything, the pace is going to pick up and it’s going to become an even more critical piece.
I’ve been saying a lot lately that I think the firm that’s going to win, the team that’s going to win is the one that figures out how to embrace and pick up the newest tools and the latest technologies, and figure out how to accept that change and integrate them into what you do. And I think that is truly going to differentiate the firms that really rise to the top, and those that struggle, especially in a traditionally conservative industry, like CPA firms.
[00:16:11] AD: I completely agree, and I would say professional services as a whole. I think that that’s probably most industries, but specifically, as you said, the traditionally conservative industry of professional service, and speaking specifically around accounting, the ability to adapt, evolve, and innovate is what’s going to drive for change and success. So, let’s tie this all back into this topic of change and getting used to uncertainty, to continuously adopt new things means change, and doing things differently, and going into the unknown, exploring things that you just simply don’t know the answer to. How do you navigate that? Let’s start with maybe, as a as a younger person, someone who’s not maybe making the decision about the specific change you’re about to bring in, but having to deal with the constant change. How do you navigate that?
[00:17:02] AD: Well, I think for me, the biggest thing is to understand why, and that actually, as a young staff person, that was one of the things that sometimes drove people crazy, which is they were used to just telling, “Hey, go on a cash. Go do this. Check on this. Check on that.” I would always ask, “Okay, help me understand why. What am I doing? And why am I doing it?” Almost to the point of people got tired of hearing that from me. But I think if you don’t know the why, then you’re missing out on probably half or three quarters of the importance of the task, in terms of really knowing and understanding.
So, as a younger professional, that’s one of the things that I would recommend is to always be asking questions. If you don’t understand something, don’t assume that it’s you, or everybody else knows, and I don’t. Ask the question. Feel free to do that, because I think more and more, you’ll find out that there’s a lot of people that just go through life, just kind of taking orders and direction and doing the minimum and getting from point A to point B to point C. I think that people that really rise, and that’s another thing I would encourage younger professionals to do is that in the first five years of your career, be a sponge. Learn everything that you can, take every difficult assignment, put yourself in positions that you may not be comfortable in. But that is how you’re going to learn the most. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I try to get people to understand. Some people, when I say you’re going to work for 40, 45 years, maybe, of your life. So, some people are like, “Oh, that’s awful.” I’m like, “No, no, no, no. You need to recognize when you’re young that the destination is not making senior or making manager, you’re going to be in this game a long time, and it’s really about learning and learning how to apply that knowledge that ultimately at the end of the day is where the payoff is going to come.”
So, as soon as you can, start building your professional network, building your knowledge, being inquisitive, and actually learning why things happen the way that they happen, so that as you get more experience, and then you switch into the true leadership roles, then you can challenge things. Then you can say, “Hey, I’ve been doing this process for five years and it’s terrible. Why don’t we break this process down and look at it and really challenge it?” I think you’ll find leaders that will say, “I had no idea our process was that bad. But now that you mentioned it, yeah, you’re right. We can make some substantial changes.” The only person with that degree of knowledge that can make that recommendation is the person that was in the trenches doing the task.
I talked to my kids about this, it’s like every job you’re in, you should be learning something. So, if you’re working retail, if you’re working fast food, if you’re a brand new CPA, you should be learning something in every one of those roles because that cumulative mass of knowledge is going to make you much more effective as you progress through your career.
[00:19:53] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a connection builders podcast.
[00:20:01] AD: I assume you agree with this. But as you transition into that leadership position, remember the importance of explaining that why. You’ve asked it along the way, right? Because all too often, I think you see firms and in organizations that will struggle, because the younger team member wants to ask some more senior team member why, and the more senior team member wants to say, “Well, because, because I said so. Because that’s how it’s been done that, because that’s your job.” Those are frankly, really terrible answers, describing something and they’re missing an opportunity to help someone learn and grow, and recognize that if you are the person that is in the position to ask why, make sure you’re asking it. Go seek that out. Don’t be afraid to ask that. And as you transition into that role, where you’re the one answering the why, be open and willing, and try to be proactive in describing the why, knowing that maybe when you’re describing it, someone’s going to say, “Well, your why doesn’t make sense. Your why doesn’t make sense to me.” There’s a flaw. We have to talk through it. Those are all opportunities to learn to change, to grow, and to ultimately embrace innovation and change.
[00:21:04] DH: Yeah. We actually just had a firm meeting this morning. The firm basically over the last five years, we’ve doubled the entire firm. And in the last three years, we’ve tripled the advisory practice. So, one of the things that we talked about at the beginning of the meeting today is that there’s 25% of the people in the room, we had about 200 people in the room, about 25% of those people weren’t here in January.
[00:21:27] AD: Wow.
[00:21:28] DH: And you start thinking about that. And I think, historically, CPA firms have been built for you hire somebody right out of school, and you keep them there forever. I think what we’re seeing is that more and more people are coming and going from the profession at a velocity much higher than in the past. So before, you could teach somebody, teach a group of people something, and then you could expect that they would carry it forward. Now, you constantly have new team members that are jumping in and everybody else is further down the path.
But you’re right, you have to be the one that says, “Hey, I know you’re new to the team. What don’t you understand?” Because we’re we probably have a whole bunch of things that we’ve learned over time that we just view as collective knowledge, that you coming in from the outside, you don’t have that. And so, I’m going to make you that much more effective in your role, if you actually understand the context of what you’re doing. And rather than doing a task, you understand the context in which that task fits and here’s why we’re doing that task. If you do that, then at the end of the day, that’s going to make your performance at a higher level. But the other thing is that I think, even more critical now is that from an employee standpoint, they will feel more comfortable and more empowered, that it’s okay to not know everything, because we’re recognizing that that is something that’s happening, it’s changing in the profession. Our teams are constantly morphing and changing. And I think the more that we come up front and say, “Hey, you’re not going to know everything, and that’s okay. But you probably have some knowledge that I know. So, I want you to share that with me and I’m going to share what I’ve learned with you.” And I think that’s how this sort of collective leadership starts to come into play, where everybody truly realizes that on any given task, any given project, you may have a leadership role, and you have to be open to embracing that, and also seeking that out. If you have something to contribute, it’s a shame if you don’t contribute.
[00:23:20] AD: Your common around always learning something every day, always seeking to learn something. The asking question, asking why, understanding the context of the task that you’re doing, as you said, I think is a great way to frame it. By gaining that context, by seeking out and in wanting to understand that the context of what you’re doing, it allows you to not only complete what’s in front of you, that you may already be technically sound, that you may already know how to do well, but it’s going to allow you to do it more effectively, more efficiently and learn the additional elements of that, the outskirts of that, that continues to expand more and more of your understanding of what’s happening.
Now, the challenge becomes with learning oftentimes, is you have to, I think, on one half I hear people saying, “Well, I don’t want to admit I don’t know, or I don’t want to look stupid. I don’t want to ask a dumb question.” Where the reality is, I think that I don’t necessarily like that there is no dumb question there. I think there’s no well-intended question that is dumb. If you really are asking a genuine question out of curiosity, trying to understand something, I think there’s always space for that. I hear that, I hear the insecurity behind not wanting to sound that way. But recognize that as long as you’re genuinely curious and trying to learn, that you’re not asking a dumb question. And many times, you’ll ask something, especially if you’re in a group, and you realize that four other people in the group were thinking the exact same thing. You were just the one that spoke up about it, right? But you have to lean into that. You have to be willing to ask those questions, and that is uncomfortable, that is unknown, that’s going into an area where you’re saying, “Dave, I don’t know. I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t understand what you’re saying. Tell me more about that. Why am I doing this? I should know this, but I don’t know this. So, tell me why.” And recognize that’s okay.
[00:25:03] DH: That distinction, I think, is important. You’re sort of a well-intentioned question. Because if somebody comes to me, and they haven’t done the legwork to try to figure it out on their own, that’s where learning happens. That’s where I don’t know something, I’m going to go seek something out, and I get kind of two conflicting answers. “Hey, Dave, here was my question. I researched. I’ve got these two things. What do you think?” Then that gives me something to react to. I think that is important that especially in today, you just jump on Google and you put in and you get your answer. I think it is incredible, sort of the access, we have to information. But that’s where I think the critical thinking part of it become, because anybody can find the answer. You have to understand the context, you have to understand where and how that fits. You have to understand that when people are involved, there’s no absolute answer, because all of us are coming from different perspectives and we all have different backgrounds and knowledge sets and all those types of things.
So, I think the willingness to be that person that raises their hand, I think is important. And part of the reason why I think that’s so important is that as you progress through your career, you’re going to know less and less answers. You have to be willing to set the tone for the team to when you don’t know something to raise your hand and say, “Hey, you mentioned this, I have no idea what that is. Help me understand where and how does it relate to what we’re talking about.” I think when you as a leader demonstrate that vulnerability, then your team’s going to pick up on that, and they’re going to be more comfortable just saying, “Hey, you brought that up, I have no idea where that even comes from.” And then you can actually get to a point where instead of people bluffing that they know, and then suddenly, you realize too late when there’s a problem, I’d much rather we have those conversations early on, so that we can have that knowledge exchange, people can feel confident and comfortable in their work, as opposed to feeling like they can’t be themselves and they have to pretend that they know everything.
[00:26:55] AD: You use the word vulnerability. If memory serves, I think I saw you posted books you had read this last summer, Brené Brown, Dare to Lead was one of them, right? Brené Brown, for anyone listening that’s not familiar with her work, she’s a shame and vulnerability researcher that has written a number of books that are all excellent and well worth reading. But she talks, and I can’t remember if Dare to Lead is where she gets in this. I know, it isn’t daring greatly, but this idea of having armor up, and we put this kind of shield up around ourselves to protect ourselves, and we have to know the answers, and we never want to admit that we don’t have something. We never want to admit that we were unsure about something or we don’t know where we’re going, and there’s this need to protect ourselves around that. At times, that can – not at times, I would say more often than not, that can be created by culture. That can be a negative element of culture that cultures have to work on changing that.
But recognize that, I think, what you’re pointing at and what I strongly believe is the vulnerability, the openness, the willingness to say, “Yeah, I don’t know. I really don’t. I’m willing to figure it out. I’m willing to put in the effort to try. I’m willing to do what I can to help solve the challenge. But I don’t know. I really don’t know the answer to that.” That can be very hard to say and feel like you’re admitting a weakness, when in fact, I actually think that the strongest leaders and the strongest individuals tend to be those that are most willing and open to admit and be vulnerable about those areas where they don’t have enough information to make a decision or to know the answer.
[00:28:24] DH: I’d love to sit here and say that I can always take my armor down and everything. But I’ll tell you, so we’re studying the Dare to Lead curriculum at Anders. And the first meeting that I sat in was horribly uncomfortable. The concept of shame and some of the things that she talks about, when I first heard it, I was like, “Whoa, timeout.” And I looked around the room just to get a feel for, “Am I somewhere else on this or is everybody else?” And the room was uncomfortable. So, I went through that session, I learned, I got intrigued. So then, I did start reading the books. And when I read the books, I go through a chapter and I’d put it down I’d be like, “Huh, I don’t know that I agree with that.” But then I had time to think about it and process it. And now, I think I’m a much better professional I am today than before, the last nine months, because I’ve been through this and read some of those books.
I think, it not only helped me, but I think also just sort of getting our younger professionals comfortable with knowing that everybody –we all need to take our armor down. And we as leaders of the firm are working on that. I think that just helps bring that true collective nature, which is one of the things I love about my firm is that, it is a very family like atmosphere, and it is people watching out for each other and taking care of each other and that’s part of the culture. And I think this vulnerability aspect, I think is really helping some of our less experienced folks that feel like they have to come in and act like they know everything to recognize you don’t. It’s okay. You just need to bring your true authentic self, be open and learn from others. And if you do that, and have the smarts and good intentions, then the journey is going to work out for you.
[00:30:02] AD: I could not agree with you more. Actually, for the last kind of part of this, I want to tie it back into something you told me before we recorded. And you mentioned earlier that you just had this morning, your September meeting, and I believe you said you had a number of individuals that were promoted to partner, and they gave presentations about kind of their journey. Can you share what the theme was that came out of those presentations?
[00:30:24] DH: It was really cool. So, we have, I think, three, four meetings a year now. The September one is when we announced the new partners that are going to be effective on January one. For this class, we had six new partners. They each got up and spoke about their journey. A couple of things were notable. One, it was interesting how these folks that have been successful and have gotten to this point, how much they recognize that it’s really not about them. It’s about all the people that helped them get there. And now they’re kind of recognizing that as I get to where I am in my career, and now as a partner, my job is to bring along the next generation. That was really cool to hear kind of over and over again, and different themes of – people applied it differently, but it was really interesting to hear over and over again, just how thankful they were for people who. Some of them went back 10, 15 years and called out, I specifically remember when this person was in this office, and we had this conversation and a tear was shed, or this happened or that happened, and the impact that that had on that person, now on their career, 10, 15, 20 years later, it was really notable and interesting.
The second major thing I would say, is there was a recurring theme, to seek out challenges, to not just do the easy work that you know that you can do. But when there’s something that the firm or the group or the team needs somebody to take on, raise your hand, even if you’re not, even if it’s uncomfortable, even if it pushes you way out of your comfort zone, several of them said, “I started as a very narrow professional, and I was just going to be an expert in this particular thing for my entire career. But I appreciate all of these people that helped morph me into who I am today.” And that change has just been a constant throughout their career that they’ve dealt with. Several of them even told stories about how they had a plan, and their plan did not go according to plan. So, as a result of that, they had to adjust and shift. And now, based on where they are today, they’re happy, they went through the journey. But there was one piece of encouragement that I thought was really great, which is enjoy where you are today. Don’t, when you’re at this level, I want to get to that level. And I think that’s really prevalent in today’s society, because now it’s like ask for every dollar you can get, ask for every promotion that you can get, and that’s all well and good. But to actually enjoy where you are today, because if you’re not enjoying the journey along the way, you’re going to wake up 30, 40 years later and say what just happened, and why did I do this? That actually, taking the time to enjoy those milestones and just recognizing where you’re at, and sometimes I think the good old days are you have no idea they’re happening. And if you blink, you miss them, and I think that’s just part of becoming a professional and growing in your career, it was really refreshing to hear those stories, and I think just watching the room today, that there were a lot of people that were really taking that in, and realizing that those six people in their journeys, there’s so much that we all can learn from just their journeys to this point, let alone where they’re going to go from here.
[00:33:27] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle market professionals.
[00:33:35] AD: There are a couple things I want to highlight there. Number one, the taking on risks. That’s being vulnerable, in many ways. Taking on a project that might be a little bit outside of your current skill level is, I might fail, I’m taking risk, I’m going on with something and that’s opening yourself up to failure. That’s opening yourself up to the opportunity of failure and it’s a requirement. It’s a little bit different than vulnerability in the context of Brené Brown, but I still think it falls in that same, you’re opening yourself up to an opportunity for something not to go well for you. I think, that’s oftentimes required, if you really want to make strides forward.
Now, this idea, this concept of taking on, I don’t want to say more than you can handle, because I think often, if you’re truly overloaded, it can be detrimental at some level. But for many of us, being pushed outside of our comfort zone and pushed into that next level is really where the growth starts to happen when you truly learn what you are capable of, what you can endure, what you can make it through, what you can overcome, has to do with being outside of that. I’m going to use an analogy. Actually, some close friends of mine, my wife’s, they have a young child who’s currently getting swim lessons, and I I’ve kind of laughing a little bit. I was watching the video of how they do this, and they essentially just throw the kid in the water. Like, “Good luck.” And there’s someone there to like help make sure, but how does the child or the baby learn how to swim, by effectively almost drowning and then pulling himself back up, right? I think that’s so much of an analogy to truly taking that risk and jumping off and having career growth is sometimes you got to jump in the deep end and not know how to swim. And just know that you’ll find your way out. You got to know when to call for help, you got to know when to make sure there’s the right support system and the right individuals around you that can help provide you the resources to be successful. But ultimately, if you don’t take that leap, take that jump and go do it, you’re never going to get there. So, you have to jump into things that are over your head, if you really want to have that upward opportunity.
[00:35:38] DH: Yeah. I think probably, when I go back to when I started my career, mental health and wellness was not a thing. It was basically you’re here, you’re going to work, however long it takes, and we’re going to tell you what to do. And then in 30 years, it will all be great. So, regardless of what happened, or kind of how well you felt or not, then I think it was a problem in the profession. I would say we’re at a very different point where we’re at today. But it is, it’s that delicate balancing act of you do want to push yourself out of your comfort zone. But on the other hand, I think we’re more cognizant today as sort of the wellness aspect of we do want you to put yourself out of your comfort zone, but you will have support. We understand and recognize that you may fail, and that’s okay. As a matter of fact, and that’s one of the things that I like to stress to my teams, which is, if we’re occasionally not failing, then we are not nearly trying hard enough and we’re not pushing the envelope enough.
So, I think that makes people feel comfortable that when they step into those roles, and if something does go wrong, they know that I’m not going to push them out or prosecute them or anything. But it really is part of the process now of how do we handle wellness, how do we handle mental health, how do we handle this constant learning and this pace of change that is unprecedented, new technologies being thrown at us every day, managing all of that, I think we’re in a much healthier place today, I think, than we’ve ever been in the profession.
[00:37:05] AD: This is probably a topic for a whole another podcast. But I do a lot of work around entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial mindset, helping professionals think through how to be more entrepreneurial. Not necessarily as your own entrepreneur, your own proprietor, but just in general, how do you embrace that kind of entrepreneurial mentality? One personal lesson, but one thing I think is really important is recognize that anytime you’re in that entrepreneurial role, there’s unknowns. It’s constant uncertainty. A lot of decision making. A lot of having to do things that you don’t know how you’re doing them, which inevitably, is going to cause stress in your life.
The key, the wellness key is to recognize your personal coping mechanisms. How do you deal with your stress? What are you doing to balance and alleviate your stress, and make sure that those coping mechanisms are healthy, that you’re doing the right things, you’re not going home, and binging on six hours of Netflix and a cake every night, and that you’re finding kind of the healthy ways to release that stress that comes with being in the unknown and uncertainty. If you keep that in check, then I actually think that stress is actually very healthy, right? I mean, going back, human nature is to perform better under stress. If we never had any stress and everything was perfect, we wouldn’t really progress much as a species or as a civilization, right? The stress is what tells people to push and progress and to want to get to a better future. So, it’s okay to have stress. It’s okay to be overwhelmed. It’s okay to feel, at times, I think even burnout is, I don’t want to say okay, you don’t want to get yourself to extreme burnout. But it’s okay to feel like, “Woah, this has been – I’m starting to feel a little worn down. I need a little bit of a break.” And the key, the key under all of that is to recognize when you need to do the things you need to do to take care of yourself, to bring yourself back in. As a leader, your job is to watch that and to monitor that and know that most people won’t actually call it out for themselves. You have to call it out for them and help them see it. If you keep that that healthy balance there, I think that’s how you ultimately get, both as an individual and as a team, that’s how you get high performance.
[00:39:16] DH: Yeah, it’s actually interesting. One of the things along that line is that I think my team finds it very surprising that I monitor vacation balances. And so, I have dashboards where I look at and if I see somebody and it’s not that I’m – I think, initially, people thought, “Oh, I can’t take vacation, because then Dave’s going to notice and that kind of stuff.” And I’m actually going to my team and saying, “Your vacation balance is too hot. What’s going on? You need to take some time and step away and recharge. Let’s talk about that. Do you feel that your obligations are too much that you can’t step away? Help me understand what that is, because I want to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself.” Because to your point, I think that’s a learned skill. I think we all kind of come out of college like thinking, “Hey, I can take on the world, I can accomplish anything.” And you have to start learning those things about yourself. When is it too much? When do you get bored? Like I said earlier, I did audit for two and a half years, and it just wasn’t for me. It just didn’t work. I realized, and I became self-aware that I can’t just do everything. If I put myself in positions where I’m actually doing the things that I enjoy doing, then just my natural strengths are going to come through. If you’re playing in your natural strengths, then that’s where there will always be stress. But the unnecessary stress of not being yourself goes away. I think that makes it a lot easier to manage, but I do think it’s one of those things. By doing those things earlier in your career, when the stakes are lower, that’s when you can learn those lessons before it gets to a point where if you bluffed your way 15 years, and suddenly you’re in a key role, and you haven’t learned those skills, you haven’t learned yourself, you haven’t learned sort of what those drivers are, that’s when the situation can get dangerous.
[00:41:03] AD: You’re going to have to learn it one way or another if you get to that level. It’s easier to learn it sooner rather than later, and at the lower stakes. I couldn’t agree more. And it may be actually a really good kind of ending takeaway from all this. I like that you said this, self-care is a learned skill. I think so much of that is self-awareness and building awareness of ourselves and recognizing how we show up and do the best work, but also how we interact in the best way with those around us. When you’re feeling burnt out, how do you engage with your team, right? I think that’s so important. So, maybe my final question to you on all this is, if you had a piece of advice to someone who is five to 10 years into their career, who feels like there’s a lot of change, and a lot going on. They’re trying to take on risk, but they’re just trying to manage all of that. How do you recommend they ensure that they keep a focus and work to build that awareness around their own self-care, if you will, to ensure they’re showing up as the best version of themselves.
[00:42:04] DH: So, it’s interesting, you mentioned that five to 10-year range, because the other – so not only do you start taking on more responsibilities at work, but at Anders, we’re really sensitive to this. That’s when a lot of young professionals start taking on families. So, they have spouses now that suddenly they could work all night. But now there’s a spouse that’s saying, “Hey, what do you mean, you’re going to work all night? You’ve now got a child.” And instead, you are always rested with plenty of sleep. Now, that’s a luxury that you don’t have.
So, that five to 10-year mark, I think probably the biggest thing in that is at that point, you just have to be okay talking about it. And you have to seek your peers and just say, “Hey, guys, here’s what I’m going through. Can somebody help me out here?” Have you been through this? Whether it’s somebody – I have four kids, and so I have people that are having multiple kids come to me, and we have great conversations. I tell them about some of the things that I’ve learned along the way. I had no idea girls turned evil in middle school to each other. Nobody taught me that. But when I asked about it, I had plenty of people that said, “Oh, yeah, that’s completely normal.”
I mean, all of those things, we have this massive – I think sometimes the day, we feel completely isolated, yet completely connected all at the same time. I think it’s important for you to figure out, where can you get those support sources from, and I think more than ever, you need, especially in that five to 10-year range, that’s probably the first time that you’re going to start experiencing some of those things that you’ve never experienced before, take advantage of people who have walked the path before you. Because I think what you’ll find is those people want to share what they’ve learned, because they don’t want somebody behind them to have to go through the pain that they did. I think you’ll find more and more that when you ask for that help, you’ll get an outpouring of support and you’ll also connect with somebody. I think that’s one of the most meaningful thing about our careers, is that and in that five to 10-year range, is that you’re really starting to build your network. You’re really starting to spend time with people, and you’re really learning others, which teaches you more about yourself. I think that that’s just a really unique time. It’s got definite challenges, but I think that’s where you can start learning some things that will have payoffs. And then ultimately, I think what all of us have to remember is that it is our job and responsibility to bring others along. If we’re not doing that, then there’s a problem in the system that may be a breakdown in culture, a breakdown in priorities. But I think you really have to step back and look at that if that’s not happening, because that’s a very, very dangerous behavior that can easily spoil your culture to the core.
[00:44:40] AD: Tying this back a little bit to the vulnerability comment. I do think that going and seeking out that help from someone else that, “Hey, I want your advice, mentorship”, you have to admit. Hey, Dave, I’m overwhelmed. I have more on my plate than I know how to deal with. I felt like between getting married and having kids in the last couple years, holy cow. How do you do all this? And that being able to and being in an environment that allows for that, but you yourself also having the confidence to let go and say that, to go in and admit that, I think one, it’s very powerful. But your comment about we live in a world where we’re wildly connected, but also wildly isolated. The isolation is the lack of vulnerability, right? The isolation is feeling like, well, I talk to Dave every day for work, but Dave doesn’t know what thing going on with me and Dave has no clue all the challenges I’m dealing with. So, I don’t actually feel connected with Dave.
Versus, I work with Dave, and I’m able to say, “Dave, this is really hard. I feel overwhelmed. I don’t know how to do all this.” And that ability to break that wall down, break that barrier and have that conversation is where that connection comes in, and it not only can change yourself and your own life, it can change the life of others, but just the fulfillment that comes out of that the positive social energy that’s built around that. And for a topic, we talk about on the show here a lot, networking, you want to build a really strong relationship with someone, have a heart to heart. Have a real heart to heart. Don’t worry about talking about business, have a heart to heart, you’ll figure out how to do business later. Those are the types of conversations that I think really do move people forward.
[00:46:10] DH: Yeah. And I think that’s a key responsibility of leaders. And if there’s a tip that could come from that, is that you need to be that person that when you see somebody that you think might be struggling to go in, sit down in their office and say, “How are you doing? Are you okay? I just want to check in on you.” And then you’ll be amazed what you hear, and then how you respond to that. If somebody does become vulnerable with you, how you respond to that, as a leader, I think either cement your team, or really drives a wedge in your team. I think if you want to look at your effectiveness as a leader, look at the strengths of the relationships that you have with your direct reports. The more you know about them, and the more you know their struggles and challenges, and you can help them navigate through that. That’s going to make you better as a leader, but it’s also going to make your team immensely stronger, just because of those connections, both with each other and with you.
[00:47:01] AD: And when you go to ask that question, don’t accept the first answer. Oftentimes, it’s not the real answer, right?
[00:47:06] DH: It’s always fine. “I’m fine. I’m fine.”
[00:47:10] AD: “I’m fine.” Exactly.
[00:47:10] DH: “How are you?”
[00:47:12] AD: “Are you? Well, I’ve noticed this.” You have to be respectful, but you have to poke and prod a little bit to really get there and recognize that as a leader, that’s incumbent on you to put that in, to make sure that happens.
[00:47:23] DH: Absolutely.
[00:47:23] AD: Dave, thank you so much for coming on here. This has been a great conversation today. Appreciate you sharing your wisdom and insights with us. For our listeners, how can we get in touch with you?
[00:47:32] DH: So probably I’m most active on LinkedIn. Check me out on LinkedIn. I do post frequently and I try to share thoughts and insights as part of that. So, definitely feel free to reach out to me that way. Or you can connect with me, it’s my firm, Anders CPAs and Advisors. So, any of those methods would work.
[00:47:47] AD: Awesome. Well, we’ll make sure that’s linked in the show notes below and listeners make sure to reach out. Dave, again, I appreciate you taking some time to come on here today.
[00:47:54] DH: You bet Alex, I appreciate it. I enjoyed the conversation.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
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