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Coaching, CPA, Leadership

Note: this article was originally published in the Minnesota Society of CPAs Public Practice e-Newsletter.


No matter what your role is, the first few months of the year are likely to be crunch time for one reason or another. If you’re in public accounting, April 17 marks the finish line for the annual race known as tax season. For CPAs in industry, the finish line may be closing your year-end, completing the audit, or filing quarterly reports if you have a year-end other than Dec. 31.


Unfortunately, it’s easy to get caught up in survival mode this time of the year. But don’t settle for mere survival this year. Instead, use these three self-coaching techniques to thrive during your busy season.


1. Revisit your ‘Big Why’


One approach to thriving this busy season is to revisit why you became a CPA and why you do the work you do. We are all motivated at our inner core by what I call the Big Why. It’s a sense of purpose that gets us out of bed in the morning. It’s what enables us to push through problems and difficulties on the way to achieving our goals.


You may have chosen the CPA profession because you like to generate financial reports. Perhaps you became a CPA because you enjoy talking about financial data with others in a consulting role. Or you saw becoming a CPA as a step toward starting your own business someday. Maybe, it’s because you viewed it as a good career path and job security. Or a solid paycheck to provide for your family, send your kids to college and enjoy nice vacations.


Likely, your Big Why is a combination of reasons, both selfless and selfish, which is OK. Some of those reasons may have changed over the years. Whatever your reasons for being in this line of work, it’s a good time to write them out. Jot down a few bullet points or write a short paragraph. Capture the essence of your Big Why in a way that propels you toward the finish line.


Once you revisit your Big Why, create some visual cues to remind you of it during crunch time. That might involve keeping pictures of your kids or grandkids on your desk or changing the background on your monitor to a scene from your favorite vacation spot.


2. Build natural rewards into your work


In their book, “Self-Leadership: The Definitive Guide to Personal Excellence,” authors Christopher Neck, Charles Manz and Jeffrey Houghton distinguish between external rewards associated with work and rewards that are inherent in the activity itself. Paychecks, raises and promotions are examples of external rewards. These rewards are important but don’t generate the same deep satisfaction that comes from doing tasks that are intrinsically rewarding.


To the extent possible, arrange your work to devote as much time and attention as you can to activities you enjoy. You may be able to delegate or assign less pleasant aspects of the work to others (bonus points if they find those aspects enjoyable). When you have no choice but to tackle both pleasant and unpleasant work, concentrate on the enjoyment you receive from the pleasant parts.


For example, you may not enjoy preparing audit schedules but get fulfillment from meeting to discuss them. In that case, focusing on the how the schedules will be discussed at the meeting makes the preparation more palatable and the overall work more rewarding.


Another natural rewards strategy is to find a pleasant place to perform challenging tasks. That’s one reason I frequent my “branch office” (aka the local coffee shop). Tackling a difficult writing project seems less daunting in a warm, friendly environment with my favorite cup of coffee. As I make progress on the assignment, my confidence builds, which enables me to complete the work sooner and with greater satisfaction.


3. Improve your self-talk


We all talk to ourselves. It may be in the car, while we shower or as we move from one meeting to the next, but we all do it in some way. If not out loud, we regularly carry on conversations with ourselves in our heads. Unfortunately, we often fall into the trap of negative self-talk, or using what Neck, Manz and Houghton call “sappers.”


“Sappers are destructive self-talk: they prevent you from achieving your goals and feeling good about yourself. They serve as self-fulfilling prophecies, because what you tell yourself every day usually ends up coming true,” per the authors.


The research bears this out. Effective use of self-leadership strategies such as positive self-talk increases self-efficacy, which is our perceived ability to successfully navigate challenging situations. Higher levels of self-efficacy lead to better performance and effectiveness. Compare the following examples of self-talk:


“I’m nervous that the client is going to ask me a question I can’t answer,” versus “I’m well-prepared and will give a good presentation to the client.”


“I always have trouble reconciling book and tax income,” versus “I’ve learned a lot about reconciling book/tax differences and I am getting better at it all the time.”


“I tend to freeze up when I deliver bad news to my boss,” versus “I’ve done my homework and I am ready to give my boss the information she needs, even though some of it is bad news.”


“I back down when confronting my direct report over poor performance because it makes him feel bad,” versus “I care enough about the development of my direct report to help him improve his work.”


Which self-talk statements are more likely to lead to a successful outcome? In each case, it’s the second statement, which serves as a reminder for us to constantly be aware of what we tell ourselves. So rather than going through this season saying, “I don’t think I can pull this off,” coach yourself with self-talk such as, “Busy season is a challenge, but I’ve been successful in the past and will be this year, too.”


Practice, practice, practice


Developing these self-coaching techniques takes practice. Set a daily reminder on your calendar to use them. Pause for positive self-talk before entering important meetings and conversations. Schedule a weekly review and record your progress. Find a partner to work with you, be it a coach, mentor or peer who can encourage you and hold you accountable.


Coach yourself to the finish line of your best busy season ever!


Jon Lokhorst, CPA, ACC, is an executive leadership coach and consultant, partnering with CPAs, CFOs, and other leaders who face massive change in their industry and recognize the need for a new leadership model to navigate those challenges.


Don’t want to go it alone? LET”S TALK about partnering to make 2018 your best busy season ever. Schedule a complimentary strategy call via my online calendar or contact me at


Photo credit: Copyright: <a href=’’>alphaspirit / 123RF Stock Photo</a>




Coaching, Productivity

As we turn the calendar to 2018, it’s time to set goals for the new year. But first, a quick question: How did 2017 turn out for you? Did you achieve your goals? Or was it another year of disappointment or unfulfilled potential?


Perhaps you’re searching for a structure for goal-setting that really works. Or, you simply want to freshen up your approach. Or, maybe you’re looking to add another tool to your toolbox for working with others. This article is for you. Here are five steps to achieve your goals in 2018.


1. Get clarity on your personal foundation


Setting big goals is pointless if you don’t have a strong personal foundation. I like to say, “You can’t build a skyscraper on a foundation designed for a garage.” Your personal foundation comes from four key elements:


Vision: Where are you going?

Purpose: Why is this important?

Mission: What are you doing?

Values: How will you act?


Clarity on these questions provides direction as well as the perseverance to keep moving forward when obstacles come your way (which is inevitable). If you don’t have statements of your personal vision, purpose, mission, and values in place, take time to develop them now.


(To work on your personal foundation, subscribe to my free email course, Build a Strong Foundation.)


2. Shorten your year


Many annual goals are doomed from the start simply because twelve months is a long time. Complacency and procrastination set in when the finish line is too far off. Changes in circumstances can derail progress or make your initial goals irrelevant or less important than when you first set them.


Use a quarterly cycle to overcome these pitfalls. The shorter time frame brings the finish line closer and increases your ability to focus on desired outcomes. It allows you to recalibrate when major changes come your way. You get a fresh start each quarter, which increases the number of goals you can accomplish in a year.


(For an entire system based on this concept, I recommend “The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months” by Brian Moran.)


3. Create process goals, not just outcome goals


We’re often told that the best goals are SMART goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. To illustrate, let’s use a goal we often see at this time of the year—a weight loss goal:


I will lose 10 pounds by March 31, 2018.


Although this goal meets the SMART criteria, it’s unlikely to be achieved if it stands alone. It’s simply an outcome goal, what you hope to accomplish in the end. What’s missing are the steps it will take to be successful. That’s where process goals come in.


Pairing process goals with outcome goals dramatically increases your likelihood of success. Process goals provide the action steps, habits, or behaviors that are necessary to achieve your desired outcome.


Continuing with the weight loss scenario, here are three examples of process goals:


I will consume no more than 2,000 calories per day.

I will limit desserts to no more than one per week.

I will exercise for 30 or more minutes at least 5 days each week.


What makes process goals powerful is that you have more control over the process than the outcome. Outcomes are vulnerable to external circumstances and conditions that you can’t control. But generally, the right actions and activities lead to the right outcomes and results.


Now let’s apply this concept to a common business scenario, a goal to increase revenue. Here’s an example of how you might pair process goals with an outcome goal for the quarter:


Outcome goal:


I will increase revenue by $5,000 per month by March 31, 2018.


Process goals:


I will make 10 calls to potential new clients each week.

I will spend 30 minutes each day interacting with potential clients on LinkedIn.

I will ask each of my current clients for a referral before January 31.


Clients who use this structure report a higher rate of success in achieving their goals. And in cases where the goal isn’t met, clients say they got closer than they would have without following this process.


4. Establish a weekly planning and review process


I recommend scheduling a weekly self-meeting to review these elements and plan for the week ahead. Start by reading your personal vision, purpose, mission, and values statements. That serves as an important reminder of the big picture: where you want to go and why.


Then, review progress on your outcome and process goals for the quarter. Some can be evaluated with quantitative measures (i.e., number of contacts, days, dollars, etc.). Others are more subjective. A red-yellow-green grading system may suffice in those cases.


Finally, transfer action steps from your process goals to your calendar. That’s right, schedule them. Setting aside time during the week to work on these priorities increases your chances of getting them done. Many clients find it helpful to schedule recurring blocks of time each week to focus on their process goals; otherwise, their calendar is consumed by tasks and meetings that don’t move them toward their goals.


5. Get a coach!


The entire goal-setting process is tailor-made for partnering with a coach. Your coach will help by asking questions that bring clarity and focus. Your coach may spot gaps or weak links in your process, or help you explore possibilities you hadn’t considered. He or she adds the all-important element of accountability.


I’m going to share my goals with a coach throughout 2018. What about you?



This article was first published on the Noomii blog on January 2, 2018.