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Learning the ropes: A tale of attending client meetings with a mentor

By Adam Thielen, CPA

Often, the personality types associated with the accounting profession can be pigeonholed into two classifications: the "protectors" and the "examiners." 

Examiners can be caring, honorable and trustworthy, while protectors can be quiet, supportive and sensitive.

For me, I consider myself a protector; while I want to serve the client successfully and build strong rapport with them, doing so does not come naturally to me.

I believe these personality traits can lead to a successful career in accounting, but they will also lead to some obstacles to overcome when an individual begins to advance in their career, and they start being asked to be involved in client meetings. And, as important it is for a newer CPA to show the interest in this growth, it’s equally as important for firm leaders to mentor less experienced staff members through the process because, in the end, it’s a win all around for the team.

Finding the right fit

In my experience at Olsen Thielen & Co., Ltd., career development into a leadership role has been done organically and natural. I would say Olsen Thielen does not necessarily have a set leadership development program that each current leader follows; I think this is OK because everyone learns differently and having a set program may restrict some individuals. While there are courses or seminars out there that assist with leadership development, and I have been to a few, for me the hands-on experience of seeing how a mentor interacts with their clients has been the most beneficial part of my development in this area.

At my time at Olsen Thielen, I have been fortunate enough to latch on to a few of the firm's leaders and gain their trust enough, affording me the opportunity to join them for various client and prospective client meetings.

Focusing on preparation

In those first few experiences, I tried to be prepared for any question on the client’s file that may come up. I spent a few hours (often on my own time) of preparation and jotting down anything that came to my mind. Then, at the client meeting, my mentor would handle 98% of the engagement with the client with what seemed to be very little preparation; I was amazed. It seemed daunting to me at the time that I have 40 years to look forward to in this career field and I am supposed to get to that level of knowledge and ability to engage someday.

Often, I wondered, and still do wonder, whether I will ever be able to get to that level. I am lucky enough to have supportive mentors who have continued to show faith in me and provide feedback on where I need to improve. Over time, and after many "tagalongs,” I have gotten to the point where I feel more comfortable in my own meetings and have seen myself develop immensely from where I started.  My biggest takeaway from the process is don’t be afraid to ask questions of your mentor to gain knowledge of how they felt early in the process; you will likely find they had some of the same concerns.

Building for the future

My belief is the leadership evolution requires responsibility from both sides, the younger staff must show the "want to" to learn and add value to a mentor's client. Equally important, I believe current firm leaders must show the willingness to bring a younger staff along and be able to be OK with some growing pains.

It is, in my mind, that the only way to continuously develop is to make mistakes and grow from them. Developing over time is much more comfortable and rewarding when you know you have the firm and its leaders supporting you along the way. That joint venture and relationship bonding is what makes an employee become dedicated to the firm that helped develop them.

Adam Thielen is a tax manager at Olsen Thielen & Co., LTD. He has more than seven years of experience working in the tax department at Olsen Thielen. You may reach him at athielen@otcpas.com or 651-621-8560.