Peter Northouse, in his newly released book Theory and Practice along with Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal in their also newly released book Reframing Organizations can help each one of us to understand the ways in which we take a role of greater leadership within our own lives and so achieve more of what we want of our own goals. By asking us to examine the nature of the relationships that exist among individuals in our own workplaces (as Northouse does) and asking us to examine how we present us to others (as Bolman and Deal do in their section on the symbolic framing of our actions), I have been able to come to terms with what I have seen as my own shortcomings. Rather than seeing these attributes as failures on my own part, I am now better able to understand them as part of myself that I can use to achieve my ends.
I believe that my story begins in a way typical of a number of other people in business: I was young and a typical "follower." I was busy in getting myself ready for my goal -- working in a Big "8" accounting firm, determined to be a partner as quickly as possible. I prepared myself for this goal by working in the finance department of a bank through out my tenure as an undergraduate (when I majored in accounting, as I believed was expected of me) and graduate studies (where I pursued an MBA, which I also believed was what was expected of me) in Texas.
As I recall, I did not think I have any of the traits of leader defined in the Northhouse's book. Although I did have a very clear career goal in mind and I was building the path in obtaining that goal, thinking na vely that if I finished my study in top ranking and it would be nature to get into a famous accounting firm and get married and be a happy career wife/mom one of these days. I was following the path of least resistance in many ways, and I was firmly convinced that following the rules would get me to be where I wanted to be.
This is a 'flaw" of many young people: The idea that if we simply do exactly what we are told and follow in an established path then we will all receive our just rewards.
After I completed my academic studies and passed my CPA qualifying exam I was offered a job at PriceWaterhouse Coopers. I begin working from the first-year audit staff position. I was determined to do a good job in my then-current position but I was also determined to become a leader and successful at my firm. I learned about many different leadership theories in class and from the readings. However, I do not think I was able to apply any of them at this point of my career, in large measure because I was convinced that the only way to succeed was not to cause too many waves. The firm's culture or regulation expected me to be a good follower and this accorded with lessons that I had been taught (and had learned) since I was in elementary school.
Looking back, I think my team leader (we were assigned to different audit engagements through out the years) at that time was very much a "structure frame" of a person to use Bolman and Deal's model. He did to some extend demonstrate some leadership traits - including confidence, articulateness, and determination. But he also lacked any of the key attributes of a great leader, including humanity and the ability to understand the personally needs of his audit staffs. I did not want to play the gender/race/age card when it came to difficult situations that arose either with clients or between coworkers, but these were clearly a problem for him. I know and I believe what my weaknesses were and are. But I also have a number of strengths (strong technical skills including strong accounting skills, good language skills, fluency in Chinese). But with a big company like Pricewaterhouse, I was not given the chance to demonstrate my strengths.
In such a corporate system, the junior staff members just have to do what was told to do and doing just one section of the financial statement only. You can only do certain section of the audit at each level. In another words, it does not matter how good you are or how fast you can work, you cannot be part of the "upper" echelon until it is your time and you have "paid your dues."
Also, since the company has mostly big name clients: Disney, Broadway Company, there was a certain amount of discrimination towards students whose first language was English. This limited my ability to show my strengths.
As for the company's politics, I guess is the same with all other professions: We are not necessarily rewarded for our strengths or even for doing what we are told to do. From scheduling to promotion, I did feel like wasting my time and effort in fighting the system or the culture of the company even though these policies left me frustrated. That is why I submitted my resignation the minute I was certified by the board of accountancy, which gave me the legal right to have my own accounting practice.
To prove what I do and to fulfill what I have always want to do I needed to have my own firm. The Chinese have a saying about being successful: good timing, good place and good people. It was a good timing for me to move on to have my own practice (I was 30 with two very young kids). I moved to Los Angeles where is very high Chinese-American population. And good people were there to help me: My father provided me with the financial support to buy in the partnership of this local CPA firm. I also have a good partner who concentrates on the accounting service while I work to expand the auditing practice.
Our clients are mostly Chinese and Chinese-American either from locally or internationally (Taiwan, Hong Kong). This is a very special market where both my partner and I can utilize what we know and do our best in servicing this particular market at the right time. The Asian business has been booming since 1990, and I truly believe I was very lucky to get into the market at the right time. We have been expanding our business from two people with one secretary to seven full-time staff members.
For the past 12 years, I learned to develop to be a good leader/manager. I believe I possess the traits that identify a good leader. That is also why I believe a leader can be trained and does not have to be born.
I have learned that I fall in the Human Frame in all the leadership assessment test. This is both true and advantageous for me because accounting industry involves much interaction with people, from the staff and clients to representatives of government agencies. All these people can have valuable contributions to the accounting/auditing process for a leader willing to listen to them. A classical leader who insists on making all decisions on her own, without consulting this group of people misses out on valuable input. I will not make this mistake.
A purposely recruit staff who are Chinese-American women who are married with kids. This is because I try to provide a flexible working environment to accommodate the needs of a working mother. I do not want my employees to go through what I have gone through. Even my company is small, but my partner and I both agreed that within…