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Developing the mindset of a tax advisor

Samantha Mansfield  Consultant & Leadership Coach / ConvergenceCoaching, LLC

· 6 minute read

Samantha Mansfield  Consultant & Leadership Coach / ConvergenceCoaching, LLC

· 6 minute read

It is time for a reset. After last year, many of us feel it is time to get back to some sense of normalcy and can list a myriad of external forces we would like to recalibrate.

However, have we done enough self-reflection to determine what needs to be reset within ourselves to be ready for the future? Over the last year, the pandemic and related crises thrust the accounting profession onto the front line as advisors to the economic recovery, affording little opportunity for accounting professionals to fully prepare for this role.

Yet, the accounting profession has been discussing the importance of performing as trusted client advisors for well over a decade, and there are many questions that still need to be addressed. For example, how can accounting professionals build a business model that delivers advisory service? How can they market and bill for advisory services? And how can they best train staff on advisory skills? These are all pertinent and important questions, but there is one aspect we have we haven’t talked enough about: Developing the mindset of an advisor.

A mindset is more than if you are a glass-half-empty or half-full kind of person. Indeed, a mindset is established through experiences and knowledge; and it directs our focus, beliefs, responses, and tendencies. Your mindset will also influence your ability to see opportunities, offer a fresh perspective, earn trust, and problem solve.

That’s why, when we have a goal to become an effective, trusted advisor, our mindset will play a critical role in your success. The good news is that we can change our mindset through effort and intentionality.

Many types of mindsets

The primary mindsets — as identified by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, author of Mindset — are a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Many of us are familiar with the inner dialogue that comes with the fixed mindset, which too often says we don’t have enough knowledge or skills to attempt a new venture. And for many accounting professionals, the fixed mindset can become a roadblock to transitioning into the role of the advisor. Those with a fixed mindset fear looking dumb or not having the answer and can be defensive when their advice is challenged.

On the other hand, those with a growth mindset welcome opportunities to grow and learn; when they fail, they don’t see it as a condemnation of themselves, but as a learning opportunity.

Many accounting professionals perceive that their personal expertise is the key value they bring to their clients, and while that knowledge is very important, being curious and offering a fresh perspective has been shown to offer tremendous value to clients as well.

You can download a copy of the new Thomson Reuters report, Insights for Tax Professionals 2021 here.

In a 20-year study of the success rates of CEOs appointed in their first year compared to those with more experience, Spencer Stuart, an executive recruiting and leadership advisory firm, found that first-year CEOs outperformed the more experienced CEOs in the long term a majority of the time. Part of the first-years’ success was due to their mindset, which included curiosity, adaptability, flexibility, and the ability to confront problems with fresh eyes rather than with rules of thumb, the study found.

Accounting professionals also have a unique set of skills that bring new perspectives and the ability to solve problems, but if they succumb to the mantra of the fixed mindset telling them they don’t have enough knowledge or will fail, they will miss the opportunity to deliver their highest value.

Dr. Gary Klein observed four additional mindsets that would be advantageous for advisors to adopt, including: i) eagerness for discoveries; ii) desire to build trust; iii) seeking voluntary cooperation; and iv) solving problems instead of following procedures. “The wrong mindsets can get in our way,” says Klein. “A fixed mindset about our ability will inhibit our progress. So will a procedural mindset, governed by the belief that adding more plays to our playbook will turn us into experts.” By adopting the right mindset, accounting professionals can help clients navigate these complex times and discover new solutions through curiosity and problem solving. They will also be able to build trusting relationships in which clients will listen to the advice their advisors are offering, and the advisors themselves will achieve the needed cooperation among all stakeholders.

But how does a person change from a fixed to growth mindset, or from a procedural to problem solving mindset? To find that answer, we need to revisit why we chose the career we did in order to spark our motivation. Ask yourself why you went into accounting in the first place. By reconnecting to what gets us out of bed each morning, we can begin to identify how our mindset is getting in the way of reaching those goals. Then, we can a make a plan to implement changes in the behaviors or commentary that’s coming from our inner voice and preventing us from pursuing the activities that would make us more effective advisors.

One suggestion — try journaling what your inner voice says in order to increase your awareness about all the times it is speaking untruths or pushing negative impulses. We can’t silence our inner voice completely, but we can gradually change the negative impact it has on us.

Mindsets develop habits, and habits take time to change. Like changing any habit, we are more successful when we set smaller goals at first. Indeed, smaller adjustments to behaviors are a far more successful way to actually change habits over the long term. For instance, challenge yourself to ask a client a question you wouldn’t know how to solve immediately, or set a goal to make a connection with someone that has expertise in an area that is unfamiliar to you. Tell someone about the changes that you are attempting, and give them permission to tell you when you are slipping back into old mindsets and behaviors.

Clearly, many accounting professionals care about the welfare of their clients and want to help them reach their goals through realistic financial plans. And many professionals admit they think they may not have enough experience, knowledge, or self-esteem to be the kind of advisors they aspire to be.

We have all heard, “It’s all in the mindset.” But now, we can hopefully see why it’s said so often. Remember, we should take the time to reflect on our current mindset and listen for how it is helping and hurting us. Then, we should make a plan to shift our beliefs — because we are capable of much more than we may be currently delivering.

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