Welcome to Episode 1 of The Upstream Leader. Our guest today is Courtney DeRonde. She is the managing partner of TDT CPAs and Advisors, a boutique advisory and accounting firm for small businesses and nonprofit organizations. She and her husband Brian live in Des Moines, Iowa along with their three children, M’lynn, Brady and Callen and their whoodle, Oscar.
Courtney is with us today to discuss the intersection of energy management and productivity. As Managing Partner she goes beyond focusing on firm vision and strategy—she’s also dedicated to balancing the billable hours with productivity and team member wellbeing.
So why is this important? When this episode goes live, we should be within a couple of weeks of the most extended tax season in history coming to an end. Team member energy is low and burnout rates are high, which makes today’s discussion even more critical for firm leaders. Courtney has been working to prevent burnout, maintain her team’s energy and improve productivity since before the pandemic began. In fact, at a meeting of managing partners in early 2020, I heard her share an idea that shocked the rest of the managing partners in the room. We’ll get into that shocking idea during our discussion today. Courtney, welcome to The Upstream Leader.
Thank you, Jeremy, I’m so honored to be your first guest.
And we’re excited to have you. It’s a fun topic that we’re going to be talking about today. Energy Management, productivity, billable hours—all topics that are very common in the profession. But before we get into that, I’d like to start off with a slightly different question, and that is, how did you become the leader you are today?
So I’ve actually been at TDT for my entire career. So my evolution, as a leader, and as a professional, has really all been through the lens of TDT. But when I think back about how did I become the leader I am today, I think it started in elementary school, when I remember vividly in fifth grade, Mrs. Harrington saying that we’re gonna have a class president. And I was like, “Oh, cool, you know?” And she comes to me at recess and says, “Courtney, I think that you need to be thinking about what is your platform you’re going to run on for class president,” and I was like “What? I wasn’t even going to run for class president, what are you talking about?” And she encouraged me.
From there on out, you know, I was on student council, I was class president for several years during high school, I’ve just always been naturally drawn towards leadership. Personality-wise, I’m an Enneagram-1, I’m very conscientious, I’m very responsible and organized. So I think that people look to that and say, “Oh, well, surely she can, you know, pull this together, figure this out.”
For me, I am driven by the need to improve myself and others and the world around me, which, if you want to do that, you have to have some level of influence, to be able to make those things happen. Otherwise, you can spend a lot of your time being frustrated by the things you see that could be better, but not having the ability to do anything about it. So I think that’s really what drove me was one, continuously from way back to elementary school, constantly being encouraged by others, to step up, and by this part of my personality that is driven to improve myself and the world around me.
So talk a little bit about your journey through TDT. From where you began to the managing partner role.
Yeah. So when I started, we were a much smaller firm, and everybody did a little bit of everything. So we were primarily tax and accounting, and then we also had a small audit practice that only a couple of people worked in, and I got to do some of the auditing in the summer and I loved it. I love being out of the office for one thing. I loved working in a team environment. I liked the work. I liked that it was more steady and less compressed. And so I mean, I spent probably the first five or six years of my career doing both, which included the compressed tax season.
But as I grew in my career, I was able to be part of developing an actual audit practice within the firm, and building a team that pulled back from doing any other tax or accounting work to only doing auditing and determining what type of clients we want to serve, what are our specializations, what are the tools we use, how do we manage engagements, how do we develop people. And from the ground up, it was like, “Well, if this is what you want to do, we trust you and we’ll put resources around helping you to create this as a separate business unit within the firm.”
And so as a young manager, that’s what I got to do, and so I got to not only serve clients and be in that environment, I got to develop a whole team of people and see them, as my career progressed, develop into managers and then partners. I mean, some of the people who I recruited and hired, back then, are now audit partners in our audit practice today. And so that was part of my evolution, was getting into developing and leading a business unit.
And then, when I became a partner, I was immediately elected to our Executive Committee of the firm, and so I got to be part of firm leadership. And that began really a whole ‘nother element of my career and seeing the firm as a business—really through the lens that our clients, you know, see their business. It gave me a whole other perspective outside of service and what we do, to really the first-hand experience of owning and running a small business, and that led me to be on the path towards becoming our next Managing Partner.
So I became Managing Partner at the end of 2020, co-managing partners for the whole year and then took over as Managing Partner November 1st of 2020, and leading up to that, the last couple of years before that, I actually transitioned from client service and being an audit partner, to being our Director of Business Development. So I’ve spent the last couple of years really focused on who we are, how we help, and matching up, you know, the right clients and how we can serve them with the right team members in our firm who are positioned to serve them. That’s a quick synopsis, I guess of how I got to be here.
I appreciate you sharing that journey. I know for a lot of leaders in our profession before they get to Partner, Partner almost seems like a finish line, a destination. But I think the story you just shared right there really lays out well, that Partner is the next step. It’s the next chapter. It’s a new beginning, really, and that’s really where you had a lot of experiences coming out of that, going into that Director of Business Development, being on the executive committee, starting to see the firm as a business, which I believe is a unique thing that many in our profession, almost forget about from time to time. We get so busy in the work, we don’t see the firm as a business itself.
I know there are a number of firms that when we talk, and you and I have been in rooms where we’ve had those conversations, that we have to look at running the accounting firm like running the business, because it is a business at the end of the day, when we think about productivity, when we think about profitability, when we think about recruiting, retention—the same things we’re helping clients with—it’s just now it’s in the accounting profession. So I appreciate you sharing that lens.
Something you mentioned early on, I believe you said it was when you were a manager, you had the ability to help develop an audit practice, which meant that you were doing some audit work. You were recruiting a team, shaping a team, training a team, developing a team, building a practice. You and I both know that is not a small time commitment. So as we think about energy management, time management, productivity, how did you as a manager—relatively early in your career, I would guess—how did you figure out how to work all that together in the hours that you have during the week?
Yeah, so and that actually fell right at the time where I had a young family! Everything, you know, and for any of you moms out there listening, you probably are like me, and you kind of benchmark everything across like when you were pregnant, or when you had your kids, that’s how you can remember when anything happened. And that was when I was when I had young, small children, and so you can imagine, you know, when I first became a partner, I had my third child.
And so that was a huge element of it was, “How do I design a business unit within the firm that I actually want to work in, and recruit people, you know, to be here with you?” So a big part of that was we had the opportunity to say “Okay, as we grow this audit practice, where do we want our clients to be?” And we said, “We want them to be within same-day driving distance. We don’t want to be like all the other audit firms that send people out overnight all week, back for the weekend. We want our audit clients to be within same-day driving distance so that there is limited, or hardly any, overnight travel.”
That was something that we were really intentional about. We’d get opportunities outside of our area, and it could be tempting, you know, to take it and then we’d say “No, you know, unless we can do this remote,” which at that time wasn’t really a big thing as it is now, you know, “we’re just not interested in that.” So that was part of it, was being really intentional about geographically, where we would serve, so that we didn’t have myself or my other team members having to be gone away from their family or their personal life during the week.
The other thing that we looked at was the timing of the work. Tax obviously has the IRS deadline, but with audit, if you do a high concentration of privately held businesses, a lot of them are going to be due, you know, 90 to 120 days after year end, to the bank. Well, if you do a lot of 401(k) audits, they’re due July 31, or extended to October. If you do nonprofits, a lot of them are June year end or September year end. And so we just kept mixing up within those specializations, so we ended up having like multiple seasons. We went from like, HUD audit season with March 31 year ends and private, you know, construction audits. And then we went into 401(k) audit season, and then we went into nonprofit audit season, and we just were able to spread our work almost perfectly even throughout the year. There were a few peaks and valleys, but nothing like the compression of tax season, or like what a lot of other practices have with a heavy 3/31 deadline.
So I say those are the two biggest things in terms of, “How do we balance this?” was setting some boundaries. I think that was on the grand scale, and you know, I could do that, because I was able to influence “Who do we serve, and where do we serve,” and all of that. But even on a micro level, setting boundaries personally—anybody can do that. And for me, probably where that became the most pronounced for me was when—so my second child, Brady, he was a premie he was born ten weeks early. He spent 63 days in the NICU, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t. And then I had to work remotely because he couldn’t go to daycare. And then when I had my third child, I was a high-risk pregnancy, and so I had to set boundaries, to guard my blood pressure from getting too high, and to make sure I had plenty of time for rest and rejuvenation. So even personally, I had to set boundaries and stop saying, “Oh, I can do that tonight. I can do that this weekend,” and letting things flow into the time where you should have margin to rest and rejuvenate and be with your family, you know, outside of work.
I want to press you a little bit on that from two different perspectives. As a new Partner, many would probably argue that was pretty easy for you to do because you’re a Partner, and it’s easier to maybe set boundaries when you’re a Partner. Now as a Managing Partner, it’s relatively easy to set boundaries, because you’re the Managing Partner.
Take us back to when you were a manager, and you were setting those boundaries. Talk a little bit about how you approached setting those boundaries with the leaders in your firm at that time, and maybe at the same time, thinking back to today, if you had someone that was going to approach you and the firm and say they needed to set boundaries—and we’ll get into that because I know you actually encourage that—how can someone go about that? For any of the leaders that are listening that are thinking “Sounds great, but I don’t have the ability to set boundaries.” How can they go about that?
Yeah. I’d say one thing: be effective, be productive. Like if you set boundaries, and you don’t get your work done, or clients don’t rave about the service you provide? It’s gonna be hard to prove that this works. I mean, same thing happened to me back, you know, when I had my first child, and I wanted to work remotely. I work from home part of the time. It was like, “Oh, let’s see how that goes.” If you’re good at it, if you’re effective at it, it’s hard for people to make a case against you. So I would say, you know, build your business case around, “See, I can. I can do this. I can still get my work done, I can still answer team members’ questions, I can still serve clients really well, even with these boundaries.”
I’d say that’s one thing. You have to be really effective, which means you have to be very focused, and proactive and organized. I think that’s why things get out of bounds is because we didn’t plan for it, right? It’s like, “Oh, geez, I didn’t know that was gonna come up today. I guess I’ll do it tonight.” But the more that you can put energy around knowing what you have to do and having processes in place to be as proactive as you can be, then you can actually effectively get things done within those boundaries. But if you set boundaries, and then you just kind of, you know, willy nilly go about your day and take things as they come and react, you’re not going to be effective. Truth is you wouldn’t be very effective, even if you worked more hours. It just takes more hours to be ineffective. It just takes more of your time. So I think in order to be effective in less time or within boundaries, it requires switching from being reactive to being proactive, and having some very clear systems and processes in place, so people know what to expect, and you’re not wasting all this energy, trying to decide every day or every week or every season, “How do we do this? What do we do?” things run like clockwork. And that’s within our audit practice, that was what we had to do. In my own life, that’s what I’ve had to do is figure out routines, systems, people who can help, delegate to, in order to be effective.
So I’d say that’s the number one thing is, if you’re going to do this, figure out the tools you need in order to be effective at doing it, and it’ll be hard for anybody to argue against it.
Yeah. And what you said there is make the business case, don’t make it a personal preference, make the business case for why it makes sense for the firm. If you’re effective, if you’re productive, somebody may say, “Well, I don’t think that you can do that, but you’ve proven it.” I think back to a team that I led when I was with a firm, and I had an individual on that team, you could ask almost anybody that had ever worked with him, they would think he probably worked 25, 2,800 hours. And at the time, that was not even remotely the case—in fact, he worked the least hours of anybody on our team, but he got the most done of anybody on our team. And it was that perception that always the hardest worker out there. He was the most effective person on the team, he was the most productive because he used the time that he had deliberately, proactively, like you mentioned.
And at that point, it didn’t become a personal preference. It was, “No, he gets more done, so that’s why he has the ability to work fewer hours is because he’s getting more done than you are, and you’re working 600 hours more we can have that conversation. It’s a business case, not a personal preference.”
You mentioned systems, you mentioned routines. And I knew when I asked you to join us on the podcast, we would have to go this direction. I know you’re a Michael Hyatt fan.
I’m a Michael Hyatt fan as well. He has numerous books that lay out some of those processes, those routines, those systems. You mentioned being proactive and intentional. I’ve got to think that how intentional he is, in laying out his processes—I know he has the ideal week, and a number of other systems influence that. Am I correct in that, and if so, talk a little bit about some of the systems and processes that you use. We need to have them—what are some that you think would be beneficial for leaders?
Yes, you’re absolutely right. People probably think that I am like some kind of paid promoter of Michael Hyatt, because I’m such a raving fan. I’m not—full disclosure, I’m not—I’m just a raving fan.
So reading Michael Hyatt’s book, Free to Focus, had a huge impact on me personally, and how I viewed productivity and energy. From a personal standpoint, prior to that, the systems that we had in place to run our audit practice efficiently, were really built out of engagement management—you know, audit efficiency. They were all driven by the need, or the desire to have that steady workload, and to avoid these frantic deadlines and surprises and upset missed expectations and things like that. From a personal standpoint, I hadn’t really taken that level of intention and being proactive as I had in the work, and so this was kind of a gamechanger to me. I’d been very focused on the professional aspects and not as much on the personal aspects.
So “free to focus” is the premise of the book, and they have another book coming out too, that focuses even more on this, about what they call the “double win”—succeeding at work and at life. And so some of the tools that they talked about in that book that I have implemented personally, and then within my leadership team, and then cascaded out to the firm—you mentioned the ideal week, there’s what they call a freedom compass. Essentially, the premise is, different activities require different levels of energy.
So we talk a lot about project management or time management; not a lot of people talk about energy management. And one of the things that really stood out to me was how much energy I waste switching gears. So I used to jam pack my calendar full of anything that came up and I just like shoved it into the nooks and crannies of the calendar, but I would end up being exhausted, because part of the time I’m switching gears from what I’m doing. Now, if you’re in client work, heavy client work, maybe there’s not a lot of switching gears, but if you’re switching from one engagement to the next, or if you’re picking up and putting down, or you get to a certain point, and you ask the client for information back, and then you move on to the next thing, and then they send it to you, and you’re like, “Oh, okay, I’ll get back to that and finish this,” that’s switching gears, and that wastes energy.
So that as a concept informed “the ideal week,” where you’re really batching the types of work that you do, and the level of energy or the mindset that it takes to do it. So for me, I know I’m going to be different than some people that you know, within your listening—but some of my job involves leadership, you know, working in the managing partner role. Some of it involves meeting with prospective clients, talking to them about how we can help, presenting proposals. Some of it is writing content—I write blog posts, I write information that’s educational, and presentations. Each of those things kind of takes a different mindset to do, and so I try to batch my tasks and even my days, so that I’m not wasting energy changing gears just based on what I’m actually doing.
So laying out an ideal week, and then we even took it a step further of syncing our ideal weeks up between our leadership teams, so it’s not so hard to find time to meet with each other to collaborate on things, because we’ve got similar tasks batched in the same timeframe where we know we might need each other’s help. So that’s one of the tools. I mean, I could go on and on.
Yeah, I love what you just said about not only using the ideal week, but synchronizing that across the leadership team. Because we’ve got multiple leaders that are needing to collaborate, and we know the benefits of collaboration at the leadership team is what really drives growth and innovation and so many positive things. Love the idea that you all have synchronized the leadership aspect to where you can work together when you’re in that same mode rather than trying to figure out “Okay, well, you know, I know Courtney does leadership on Monday, this other leader does leadership on Tuesday, now we’ve got to figure out a way to pull Thursday into the mix, and that’s going to disrupt everything.”
That intentionality is wonderful because it’s recognizing that it’s not just your leadership, but it’s others’ as well, and I’ve used the ideal week myself for a number of years. I’d read that on one of Michael Hyatt’s blogs—I don’t even remember when—probably two or three books ago, perhaps, and started to use that. And in my experience; I’d love to get your take on this. In my experience, it allowed me to own my calendar. But I then had to educate people that I owned my calendar—that they did not. And when they saw a “content creation” or “develop presentation for two hours,” they didn’t hijack that and say, “Oh, well, you’re just working on a project. That means you have time for me.” I still remember a partner saying, “Oh, well, you just have that blocked out to work on this really important project that has a deadline this afternoon—you’ve got time for a meeting.”
And it wasn’t just me taking ownership from my calendar. But I then had to educate people that no, I really do own my calendar, and that was even before I was in a leadership role. That was in a manager or even a supervisor role. I believe I was maybe a manager when I started that.
How do you recommend leaders at all levels—again, some are gonna listen to this and say, well, Courtney is a Managing Partner, of course, she can own her calendar, she can be intentional. I don’t think it’s because you’re a Managing Partner that you have the ability to do that. I think it’s because you’re intentional and you communicate would be my guess—that you communicate it really well. How would you recommend someone that is an up and coming leader in the firm, overcome the fear, perhaps, of trying to take ownership of their calendar and being intentional?
Yeah. I think that you have to place equal weight on the promises you make to yourself and your goals, as you place on the promises you make to clients and deliverables. So if you’ve set aside time for something to do something, it’s usually not because you’re just gonna go hang out, and they’re like, “Hey, can you not get coffee tomorrow morning for two hours?” Like that’s not what you’re doing. You’ve got some kind of goal or initiative, or maybe it’s client engagement, but there’s no, you know, set due date yet, and you’ve blocked it out. Guard that time, just like you would guard time that has anybody else involved.
And if you’re in a position where you’re not sure if you have control, here’s what I would say: ask this question. When somebody challenges you say, “Okay, so here’s what I was going to do, and if I, if I cancel that, I’m going to move that until next week, Tuesday. Is that okay? Is it okay if I shift my plan, and then that’s not available until next Tuesday? Would you rather me do this, or that?” Because a lot of times when leaders ask other team members for things, they have no idea what else they have on their plate, or what they’re committed to, and they assume that if you say yes, it means “based on what I already have assigned to me, I can do that without dropping any other balls.” And it’s kind of your responsibility to say, “I actually can’t do that unless it’s okay if I do these other things.” And that might require some collaboration, you know, among leaders, but that’s what I would say is, guard that time.
And for me, it wasn’t so much about pressure from other people. It was pressure from myself, I was the one trying to say, “Oh, well, that’s just, I’ll do that later.” And once I forced myself to really say, “Well, when? When would I do that?” and try to move it around before I would, before I would commit to it. That gave me a lot better perspective on whether or not I really could take that on, without asking the question of, could I move something else, then.
I appreciate that. Thank you, Courtney.
What you just shared there reminds me of a quote that I heard from Michael Hyatt’s upcoming book, Win at Work and Succeed at Life. And it was an analogy that work is a lot like water: It’s very valuable to us, it’s important to us, we’ve got to have it. But unless it has boundaries, and unless it’s controlled—that’s why we use a glass, that’s why we use a water bottle, that’s why we use dams and all these different things to control the water—if we don’t control it, it will spill over into everywhere. And work is the same way. If we don’t control it, it will spill over into every other area.
So I want to spend the last few minutes of our interview here, talking about this idea that you shared at the Managing Partner meeting, now almost a year and a half ago, where I physically saw another Managing Partner’s jaw drop, and say, “I’m pretty sure I misheard you.”
You had just shared that you had been looking into the studies around productivity and energy management and time management and how they all work together, and then made the decision that you were going to cap your personnel’s hours—all team members, partners, everyone included, even during tax season—at 50 hours a week, no more.
I realize this was before the pandemic and I followed up with you, I know, since the pandemic. I’m curious to hear a couple things. One, how did it go? How did you arrive about that? And then what many firm leaders will probably want to know is, how have you reconciled the fact that the almighty billable hour might be kept a little bit lower if we limit our people to 50 hours a week?
So how did it go first of all—last year, 2020, pre-COVID, you know, during busy season pre-COVID, it didn’t go well. You know, people were stopping at 50 hours, but the 50 hours they worked weren’t focused and productive. And so we were like, “Ah, what am I gonna do? Like, we’re not getting things done!” We were relieved the deadline got extended, or we would have been in big trouble!
And so we’re like, “Okay, what do we think about this? Are we wrong? Are the studies wrong?” Because the premise is, beyond 50 hours, you go backwards in productivity. So if you work 55 hours, that additional five hours is actually worse than if you would have worked 45 hours, because you’re just not as effective—you’re too tired, you’re too stressed, you don’t have enough time to rest and rejuvenate. And so we had to keep challenging ourselves: “Do we believe that? We do. Okay, so what’s missing?”
And for us, it was, we didn’t give our team enough training and guidance about what it means to work focused and productively. We had done it as leadership team members. We had done it, we’d gone through the training, we read the books, we went to the seminars, we implemented these practices, but we didn’t take that level of training to our team last year.
So we did. At the end of 2020, we started a series of intensive training. We did full day, half day follow up, half day follow up, monthly, this and that, you know, constant tools, and guidance to actually work more focused and productive within those 50 hours. And here’s what we’ve seen in this first quarter of 2021: Our team members have worked hundreds less hours than last year in total, and more billable hours than last year. Our CFO triple checked the stats because he couldn’t believe it was true—and it’s true.
We are way farther ahead than we’ve ever been in terms of getting work done. Our team members have worked way fewer hours than ever before, and more client work is getting done, and it’s getting done effectively because the hours they are working are more focused and productive. But it took more training around what it means to work that way than we had anticipated. We took that piece for granted. So that’s a lesson learned.
Yeah. And I would imagine if everybody knew how to do it, we’d all be doing it. I don’t think anyone wants to work more hours. We’d love to be more productive, more focused. So that training was the key. That’s so wonderful on those results. Congratulations on that. I’m sure you all are excited and looking forward to Q2 and continuing that because I’d anticipate you’re going to come out of this, whenever the tax season ends, your team’s gonna have some more energy, less burnout and ready to keep going forward.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s, I mean, I think it’s kind of an analogy for even any busy season, if you think about why it didn’t work last year was, because we kind of perpetuated the same habits, and I think that’s the risk coming out of this really long, busy season that our profession has been in, is that if you don’t set some intention around creating boundaries, and changing habits coming out of this, to reset and rejuvenate, you most likely will just kind of perpetuate what you’ve been doing—the bad habits you’ve developed, or the things that you’ve felt like you had to do the hours you felt like you had to work, the way that you do your work is not going to change just because the deadline passed.
You have to really be intentional about what am I going to do differently going forward to rejuvenate from this season, and to try to eliminate such a peak and valley going forward. Because otherwise it’s just like anything else. It becomes the new normal. And you don’t even realize what you’ve become.
So much easier to do what we’ve always done before.
And just keep it going. Courtney, I appreciate that. Do you have time for three quick questions to end in the interview?
Awesome. All right, very first question. What is the one book you believe every leader in our profession should read?
Oh, man, I have to pick one? Well, I would say because we’ve been talking about it, I really think Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt. I mean, there’s lots that I would recommend, but I think Free to Focus would really be the catalyst for a mindset shift around just what has become the norm in our profession that really doesn’t have to be.
Yeah, it’s such a great book. I absolutely love it as well.
Second question: The way we’ve always done things tends to be a big barrier to change, as you know. As leaders, what is the one way we’ve always done things that you would encourage a leader to change?
I do think this badge of honor that is attached to working crazy hours has to change. I think, one of the things that we’ve talked about within our firm specifically—you mentioned, you know, the jaw drop, and you know, “Surely it’s not for everybody or not during tax season, they’re not partners, right?” It is absolutely partners, because if we don’t set the example at the top, no matter what we say, people will still assume that that must be what it takes to be an owner, to be a leader—you still have to do that.
And so we have to set the example and stop attaching this badge of honor to high hours and to hustle and busy and really think about being effective and focused, not the quantity of the hours.
Yeah, quality over quantity. I think we’ve lost too many wonderful, great people in our profession because of that badge of honor, and they simply said, “I don’t want it.”
Alright, final question for leaders that are looking to improve in this area of energy and productivity management, what would you say is their best next step?
I think to set some hard boundaries around your start and stop time. Like, that’s a simple thing that you can do, and decide “When do you start work, and when do you stop work, and when do you not work?”
So for example, I’m going to be here from 8:30 until five o’clock, and take a half hour lunch, and I don’t work in the evening, and I don’t work on the weekend. Now, there’s certainly exceptions. But that’s my general rule. And it used to be, “Well, if I don’t get that done, I’ll do it tonight. If I don’t get that done, I’ll do it Saturday evening. If I don’t get that done, I’ll do it Sunday evening.” And that is no longer my M.O.
And so decide what that is for yourself. It might be completely different than what I just said, but decide what it is, and then stick to it. And if you can tell somebody else that, tell your six-year-old child that they’ll hold you accountable to it for sure.
They will definitely hold you accountable! That is so true. So true. Courtney, thank you so much for your insights today. Thank you for taking the time to join us on The Upstream Leader. And we look forward to talking to you again soon.
It was my pleasure. Thank you, Jeremy.
What an outstanding discussion that was with Courtney. Really appreciate her taking the time to share her ideas with us today. For all of you listening, I want to provide just a few quick takeaways from that. First, as Courtney mentioned early on in the interview, is to start to see the firm as a business. No matter where you are in your leadership journey, the sooner you can start seeing your firm as a business, the better the decisions you’re going to be able to make.
Second is to grow the business intentionally, which may mean saying “no” to certain opportunities. When she talked about building the practice—they were very intentional in what practice they were looking to build, and intentional about saying “no” to certain opportunities which goes very hand-in-hand with the third key takeaway, which is to set boundaries intentionally, both professionally and personally.
Courtney talked a lot about boundaries throughout the course of the interview and those boundaries being set with intentionality tied very closely to growing the business intentionally, and which opportunities to accept and which opportunities to say “no” to. As you think about energy management, it’s those boundaries that are going to be so important, and for those of you that are early in your career and thinking, “Boundaries are so hard for me to try to set because I’m not in a position of leadership, I’m not a Managing Partner,” Courtney shared with us that your best path forward in setting those boundaries is to talk about those boundaries, request those boundaries, and to be incredibly effective in your performance—to prove that you can work within those boundaries and to be effective in doing so.
And then the final takeaway that really summarizes the latter part of the conversation: she talked about educating. Educating people on what it means to work focused and productively. Educating people about what the boundaries mean. Educating people about what works. And all of that takes place with great communication.
So as you’re thinking about how you can start to better manage your energy, better manage your team’s energy, balancing all of that with productivity, and profitability— which as leaders is also important—keep these takeaways in mind:
See your firm as a business, grow it with intentionality, set boundaries, both personally and professionally, and in doing so be very effective in your performance. And then educate others. Educate them how to work focused and productively; educate yourself on how to work focused and productively; educate others about the processes that will allow you, your team and your firm to be as successful as possible; and managing your energy, your team’s energy, the firm’s energy, and balancing all of that with productivity and profitability.
Thanks so much for joining us today on The Upstream Leader. Have a great day.