The AICPA Leadership Academy – Why All CPAs Should Apply

by Dr. Sean Stein Smith, DBA, CPA, CMA, CGMA, CFE, Lehman College – October 20, 2017
The AICPA Leadership Academy – Why All CPAs Should Apply

Although I was only introduced to the idea and concept of the AICPA Leadership Academy within the last couple of years, from the minute I understood what it represented, being accepted into the program became an aspirational goal. After working with several leadership academy graduates on the AICPA Financial Literacy Commission, and interacting with others when I attended and presented at AICPA’s 2017 EDGE conference, my interest increased and I knew this was an opportunity I could not pass up. After submitting an unsuccessful package in 2016 and applying again in 2017 I had to think more deeply about leadership, what it means as a CPA, and how to use that to develop as an individual and professional – something that could undoubtedly have the same effect on you.

My Experience

When I first heard that I had been accepted into the 2017 class of the Leadership Academy, nobody was more surprised than me – my reaction was equal excitement and nervousness. Following the onboarding call, we were assigned some pre-reading, research and discussion prompts to analyze prior to arriving in person. Additionally, and especially beneficial for me and my participation in the Academy, my thought partner was NJCPA member Eduardo Morales. Connecting with him via a couple of emails and phone calls prior to the Academy helped me prepare for the experience, and reassured me that I was not alone in wondering about what exactly the Academy would entail.

Arriving in North Carolina, and during the opening night reception, I was amazed at the breadth of experiences my fellow participants brought to the table. Coming from across the country, and representing a blend of individuals working in public practice (large and small), industry and academia, we swapped stories, jokes and our collective questioning about what exactly the Leadership Academy held in store for us. The next morning, we started getting answers to our questions as well as leading insights from thought leaders, such as: Tom Hood, Gretchen Pisano, Barry Melancon and Kimberly N. Ellison-Taylor.

The week was literally a whirlwind of expert lectures, intense work and collaboration between participants. The topics that we covered during my time at the Academy included leadership training, analyzing our own thought and behavioral patterns, becoming more aware of analyzing the behavior of ourselves and others, and learning how to honestly address our collective leadership opportunities. As if that wasn’t enough, other topics that we discussed included artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, automation, and how to integrate these tools and techniques into both public practice and industry situations. All of this information coming at us in a relatively short timeframe could have felt overwhelming, but the great support of the AICPA staff, the openness of our expert lecturers, and the warmth and support of fellow participants made it an intellectually empowering experience.

Takeaways and Recommendations

It is impossible to summarize the full scope of the AICPA Leadership Academy in one article, but here are some key insights that I can pass along:

  1. Apply for the Leadership Academy. If you are interested in developing yourself as a professional, a CPA and a leader, this program is not one to miss. It took me two attempts to get in and I was nervous, but I would not change one thing about the experience.
  2. The AICPA has your back. Regardless of whether we work in public practice, industry or academia, CPAs are often faced with working on projects and initiatives on an individual basis. The AICPA has a wealth of information, resources and passionate individuals ready and more than willing to help you with your professional journey. Don’t be afraid to ask.
  3. Leadership is a process. Working in our field, being motivated and engaged within our profession, and by the fact that you are even reading this article are clear indicators that you are an emerging leader already. Taking that next step, continuously improving yourself both as a person and a professional, and seeking new opportunities to learn are the responsibility of everyone in the CPA profession.

The Leadership Academy is a great learning opportunity and a once in a lifetime experience that all CPAs should consider. Engaging with and learning from experts and peers allows you to develop in an open, creative and innovative environment.

You can learn more about the Leadership Academy here. Please feel free to contact me directly if you want to talk about the Academy, the application process or some of the specifics of the program.