Thank you, Jeremy. As always, happy to be here, especially on my birthday.
Yeah, happy birthday to you! A nice birthday celebration episode here on The Upstream Leader. And this is the final episode of our first season, and over the past 23 episodes, we’ve done a lot to get to know a lot of people in the profession and outside the profession. But as we’ve looked back on it, we’ve really reflected that we didn’t do a whole lot to help you get to know us.
So we’re going to take a slightly different approach with today’s episode. We’re going to ask each other some of the questions that we typically ask our guests, and we’re also going to talk about how we approach leadership and embracing change, which, there’s a lot of change in the accounting profession right now. And leaders everywhere are seeing everything change just as business is going on, and trying to figure out how to navigate that.
So that’s going to be our focus today. And since I’m the quote unquote, “official host” for today, I’m going to kick it off by Heath, asking you, tell us a little bit about how you became the leader that you are today?
Well, Jeremy, first off, I’m a little disappointed, I thought you would lead off with maybe singing “Happy Birthday” instead of just saying that to me, but I am sure we would possibly lose some of our audience.
So Jeremy, it’s a deep question and as you and I have talked, we could probably spend multiple episodes really talking about this. And there’s two things: one, just, you know, from a personal standpoint, really embracing faith and how that can play into leadership and helping others. But the other big one, and when I think from a professional standpoint, and I’ve heard other people say how their families have influenced them, but I grew up in a very small town—family owned business. And then a lot of my parents’, their great friends were very active in the community with small businesses, whether that was banking, a small local CPA firm, school superintendent.
And I go back to something Dennis said in his podcast episode of “life is your leadership class.” And I look back on that, and I learned so many valuable lessons. It’s about entrepreneurship—what small businesses, medium sized businesses, what they go through—and that really shaped me for the future. My dad always told me, he said, “Do something different than what I’m doing.” But when I look back on that I’m actually doing a lot of the same things, just in a different profession. And I love that—I love the thought of helping others and looking for ways to give better.
And I’ll point out one more example, and then I’ll ask you the same question. Our next door neighbor was one of my parents’ great friends, and he ultimately was he was my grade school principal, and then was very involved in my school and other schools in the community. And in a discussion, I remember this very vividly, I was in college. And he said, “Heath, if something doesn’t feel right in your gut, like, listen to that, listen to your gut and go with some of those instincts. Because more often than not, you’re right.” And that’s just it’s really stuck with me throughout the years. And once again, we could probably go on for a long time about this. But Jeremy, I’d like—
—Before you ask me, I want to know, how did you embrace that? Because that’s really easy to say, I’ve heard a lot of people say that when you’ve got the gut feeling just go with it. It’s a whole lot easier to say that than to do it. How did you learn to actually embrace that?
Well, Jeremy, at the time, it was actually about a girlfriend and a relationship that I was in. And I think it was maybe 24 hours later, I ended up ending that relationship. Looking back on that, it was probably a pretty good move at the time. But you know, it’s really stuck with me, and whether that’s personal decisions, or embracing change, or professional decisions—you know, there’s always that nagging, you know, that pulling at your gut. And, you know, as we’re talking, I try to think back whenever, you know, I went down that road, and I don’t think I’ve ever been wrong with that gut feeling. It’s just that sense of, you know, when you know, type mentality. So I hope that answers your question, Jeremy.
I’ll allow that, yeah. I guess that’ll be good enough.
Yeah. All right.
It’s a tough one.
Jeremy, what’s molded you throughout your life and your professional journey as well?
We were talking about this earlier, when we agreed that we were going to ask each other these questions, and I still don’t know exactly what the right answer is. But what I keep coming back to the most is I operated for far too long, personally and professionally, pretty well 100% out of a fear of failure. And we don’t have near enough time in an episode as to go to the “why” I operated under that mentality, but let’s just say I did.
It was really during college that one of my one of my mentors, still a mentor to this day, talked to me about how mistakes and failure, it really, it makes you a better person—that when you accept the fact you’re going to make a mistake, you’re going to fail, you’re going to have something that doesn’t go the way that you thought, that isn’t the end, that you can grow from that, you can learn from that, and in a lot of ways, we were talking about it, as far as you know, being marketable on the job market. He said, “A lot of times, that’s what makes you more marketable.” He said, “I can get you recruited by somebody a whole lot better with a few mistakes and a few blemishes than I can if you have this perfectionistic view,” which, it’s interesting, as someone who operated out of the fear of failure, I viewed perfectionism as really a strength. And it was only through that, and then a few other times, you know, during my professional career that I realized that perfectionism, for me, was not a strength. In fact, it was largely my greatest weakness, because it led to that fear of failure.
And it was really hard to overcome that. It took a lot of—I always was of the mindset, “I’m gonna have a plan for the future.” My college advisor, I still talk with her, and she’s still an advisor, a mentor, I got to college, and she’ll still tell you the story that I walked into freshman orientation and said, “Here’s what I’m going to be, when do I start my accounting classes?” And she said, “Well, a normal student is this.” I said, “That’s great. When do I start, because this is what I want to do, and I have the next five years planned.” I got to the firm that I started with out of public accounting, you can talk to my Managing Partner, the very first week I said, “Okay, here’s exactly where I want to be in my career, twenty years down the road.”
And I realized all of that was born out of this fear of failure—that if I had a plan that took care of everything, failure couldn’t happen. What molded me so much is the realization that it can, and it will, and it’s okay—embracing that, and understanding that it’s okay for that to happen is ultimately how I had the confidence to start my own company, to join Upstream, to do a lot of what I’m doing now—was figuring out how do I shift that mindset from fear of failure, to accepting the fact I can’t plan everything out, I can’t control everything, there’s a ton of uncertainty. But until I take action, I’ll never know exactly what will and will not become certain.
Jeremy, a couple of things you said there, I’m gonna go just a little deeper on if you’re okay with that. And whenever you said you had your five year plan or a twenty year plan, I think having a plan is good. But you know, as I was hearing you say that, you were almost focused on the end instead of the journey. And I think, you know, that idea of failure, no matter who you are, you’re going to experience that.
So something else you said of the perfectionist. Because when you think about what we do from a career or being a perfectionist, I don’t know if there’s really a rule around that, you know? What does that mean? Because I try to focus more on progress and not perfection. And one of the things when we talk about embracing change—you talked about perfection, and I found myself doing this, and I’m sure there’s others who do this, you start doing the comparison game.
Where someone else is at or what another person is doing, or Partner A did this, and you start that comparison. And to me, that’s somewhat of a losing game. So you talked about “where I want to be in twenty years,” maybe share a little bit more on the journey on how you’ve learned to embrace failure, except, I don’t even know if I like the term failure. It’s more of a learning moment.
It is. I view that as, if I learned from it, it can’t be called “failure.”
I like that.
Simply put. If I learn something from the action, even if it’s a mistake, it’s epically bad as my kids might say—as long as I learn something, and I move forward as a result, it can’t be failure. It’s only where you make a mistake, and refuse to learn from it, that it can be failure, where you get defensive, and you start saying, “Well, this is why that was actually right or wrong.” And you try to defend the position rather than use it as a learning opportunity. In my view, that’s how I’ve redefined failure. And that’s really important as you think about a career progression.
As far as the comparison side of it—we work with a lot of firms, right? Across North America, probably three or 400 different firms and I can’t tell you how many different firms will say “Well, according to the benchmarks, we’re here.” And you know me, I love data. I am a data junkie, I’ve got plenty of books.
Been there, done that.
Yeah, I love it. Benchmarks don’t define who you should be. And interestingly, as we think about the future of our profession, and I know this is something you very strongly believe, if we try to be the benchmarks today, we’re not going to be the successful firms tomorrow. If we try to be the benchmark leader today, we’re not going to be the successful leader of tomorrow. And that’s where my path—where I focused on the end—was the challenge. I was stubborn. Many people that know me would say I still am. And that’s okay, I get that I do get a bit strong-headed on things.
But the way that I look at that, I did not let the journey be adaptable. And that was where my plan went wrong. Right? Having a destination, I’m 100% on board with you there, you’ve got to have a vision for the future. You know I’m a very strong believer in having a vision of where you want to go.
So I had essentially taken and for those of you that don’t know what an atlas is, it was the big fold out thing that we used to take on road trips, right? But I essentially took an atlas, said, “Here’s where I am, here’s where I want to go,” I highlighted the route, and no matter what happened, I had to follow that route. Rather than embracing something like a Google Maps that says, “Hey, there’s road work up ahead, you need to find a better way.” That’s where my plan went wrong, is it was too rigid. And it was that rigidity that in my mind, told me I could never fail as long as I followed the plan, when in all actuality following the plan would have ultimately led to failure.
Well Jeremy, as you’re talking through that, I would love to hear—you teed up today as sharing a little bit more about ourselves—maybe share a personal example of when maybe you had failure at the time, and it seemed pretty bad, but then maybe turned into positive in the future. And I know I have a couple that I’ll share, but I’d love to hear if you have any personal stories that really impacted you.
You know, I’m trying to think if there’s an individual moment that really resonates with me, but it was just more, a lot of it as I think about it was, for me, it was having to let go of the fact that I could really design a future that was failure-proof. And the hardest part for me, from a personal standpoint, was really letting go of the past, and recognizing that I didn’t have to have a future that was comparatively successful to my past.
And it really stems a lot from childhood. And I grew up in a small town as well. It wasn’t a family business, there was a lot of challenges, family-wise, when I was a kid. And that really started to shape who I was. I always wanted to be in leadership roles. I always wanted to be the you know, the president of the student organization, the most successful in whatever I did. The real thing for me was recognizing that I was doing all of that for the wrong reasons, and it was essentially to protect myself. That’s really where that came from.
I don’t know that it was an individual moment, but it was a collection of moments that really led to that. The conversation with my advisor in college—and I know some people are going to say this is, you know, may sound a bit vain, and maybe it is—but I had a 4.0 GPA going into my junior year, and up to that point, I didn’t remember the last time I didn’t have a 4.0 because I poured everything into academics because to me, that was a safe place where I could thrive, and being at school was that place for me.
And I still remember the class, I remember the professor, he was an adjunct professor, and I still remember my argument—I mean, adamantly arguing. And looking back, no, I didn’t deserve that grade that I was advocating for, and I recognize that, but it was that first moment of what I defined as failure, and it was getting a B in tax. And anybody that knows me knows I’m not a tax person. I’ve always said I have an accountant for that, even though I am an accountant! That was the moment for me though, is the fact that I realized that I had success as an identity, and that’s a really very bad identity to have, because it didn’t allow me to be human in a way—it didn’t allow me to be myself.
And who defines that? That’s the other thing, is who defines that—and that’s you know, I think sometimes we are me personally I can get into that mode, “I need to do more, I need to do more,” and it can be a losing game, a losing mindset.
And Jeremy, you grew talking about your grades, I was not a 4.0 student. But I was very innovative at the time because I found ways to not go to class and still pass. So I was doing virtual learning before it was actually a thing.
Yeah! You’ve always been cutting edge.
Yes, exactly, exactly.
Well, Jeremy, very similar. I go back and share just some things that impacted me along that journey. And it goes, yeah, in my mind, this was very early on, I think I was 14, my freshman year of high school, I had this mindset that I was going to be on the basketball team, I was next door neighbors with the head coach, good friends with his son. And it was a learning moment: change, failure, all embraced in one, but I did not make the team my freshman year. All my friends did, but I didn’t. And that the moment I felt like, it was like the end of the world, like, “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?”
And fast forward, I went out to get my senior year, I was like, I’m gonna go back and go out again. I got cut again. And my freshman year of college, fast forward, I played golf in college, which I know was quite different than basketball. But my freshman year, I refused to redshirt, because I thought “I’m going to be on the team, this is what I’m going to do,” and I never made one tournament.
I went home my freshman year that summer, and I told my dad, “If it wasn’t for golf, I probably would not go to school.” And he took that to heart and said, “Okay, this is what you’re going to do this summer,” and he got me a job at a place, it was not the most glamorous job. In fact, I hated it. I think I started at 6am in the morning, which at 19, that’s not that much fun. But there was someone there that was one of the best golfers in our town. And he and I would go out and practice every night after work. And I went back to school, and I never missed a tournament after that.
So that was one of those failure moments / change moments that, it gave me something to go back and improve myself where maybe I thought I was somewhere, but whenever I reflected maybe, maybe I wasn’t. And so I look back at all that I think we are put in those positions for a reason, and whether that’s then or now in a career, those moments are definitely a learning opportunity.
And a common thing between both of these stories is really the fact that we both had to accept the fact that there’s a lot of uncertainty out there, and we don’t have control over what’s going to happen. We are presented opportunities, you’re presented the opportunity to redshirt, and we, you know, sometimes it’s our pride, our ego maybe that gets in the way. I know, I’ve had both numerous times.
A little of both.
You know where it was, you know, I did something and admittedly, it was for the ego side of that. And as leaders, that is something that’s so important from a self-awareness standpoint, is to recognize there’s a lot of uncertainty out there, and figuring out, how do you approach those moments? Do you approach it with the lens of “Well, I’m doing this because it’s more tied to ego,” or is it, “Okay, what’s the thing that’s going to be best for everyone in this situation? Is there something that I’m not understanding? Do we know what we don’t know? Do we have that awareness?” And right now, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the accounting profession. There’s a lot of uncertainty in a lot of professions, coming out of the pandemic, with everything else going on.
How do you take those lessons that you’ve learned over the years that shaped you into the leader you are? How do you use those lessons to approach uncertainty today? Because I’d imagine it’s a lot different now than it was when you were 19.
Yeah, 100%, Jeremy. One of the biggest things and this is gonna sound easy, but I don’t think it’s that easy, though, is those lessons learned. And as I reflect back, change has always been there. You look at your childhood, you look into your professional career—things have always changed. There’s always been uncertainty. You may have a perfect plan of laid out of, this is what my family life’s gonna look like, this is what my career is going to look like, and there are things that will come along and knock you off that path, and I see that and I would be shocked if there’s anyone listening in today that would say, “I’ve never had that happen,” because things happen. And change will happen, uncertainty.
I think that’s probably been accelerated in the past couple of years, and so learning how to, we say “embrace” change, but see it as an opportunity. And the thing that’s helped me a lot is shifting my mindset of it’s very easy to go down that rabbit hole of the what ifs—what if this happens, or what if we merged with another firm? What does that look like? What does that mean in my career? Or, I’m supposed to make partner this year and it doesn’t happen, or my kid experiences something like what we talked about? And you know, as a parent, I want to help them be successful, but I also have to help them learn to embrace change. So I guess number one is just it’s always been there.
And the thing I’ve learned too, is that sometimes it’s very easy to get caught up in the moment of, you know, “Gosh, this is horrible.” It’s easy to get stuck in that moment. And another thing that I’ve learned is, it’s never usually as bad or never usually as good as what things seem to be.
And the other tip I would just throw out there is around that emotional intelligence side of what we’ve talked about before is, sometimes the expectation levels don’t meet the reality of the situation, and that’s when the negative emotions can come in. And just a personal one was, whenever I bought a new truck a couple years ago, the first new vehicle I’d ever had, because we were going on vacation—and we were driving on vacation, I think it was like 12,000 miles on my car at the time—and I started having issues, and I had some pretty major issues. The reality of the situation is my expectation level was here—that there’s no way this should be happening—nhe reality of the situation is, things go wrong. It can happen at anytime, anywhere.
So just starting to get more comfortable with that, and taking those lessons and changing the what ifs to “What can I control? What can I do? How can I plan for it?” And telling yourself too, if you have that fear of Is this likely this is going to happen? Use the past situations to help mold your thinking.
So I hope that helps for our listeners as you’re going through change or embracing change, and in a way now Jeremy, I actually have a lot of fun with change, and how can we navigate, how can we do better? And I think that’s probably more important today than ever.
And don’t let past success keep you from embracing change. That’s another key part. Because that’s easy to do too. It’s easy to get comfortable with where you’re at, but knowing that things could change on the horizon. So I think that’s big in our profession right now. I don’t think anyone can tell us exactly where we’re going to be 10 years from now.
So any thoughts are around that Jeremy, or, I’m going to go back a little bit to something you said around your why or your purpose, your greater purpose. I think that ties into it as well, because it’s easy to focus on what we do or describing what we do. Even with our podcast, you know, there’s things behind it, business case and things that we do behind it. But when we’re remembering our why, I think about what we’ve talked about—just helping others. So how has that influenced your life of embracing, defining your why? And how does that help you with change?
To me, it’s really the basis for change. Anytime there’s uncertainty or trying to figure out why we’re going to do something, you know? What is this change? Does it make sense? I always want to go back to what, why are we even thinking about that? Right? What is it going to help us accomplish? If we do change? What are we not going to be able to accomplish? If we don’t change, really looking at that bigger picture. And it doesn’t just go to change, it’s really any decision. I mean, every decision has a ton of what ifs.
Yeah, I mean, then you want to go back to the why, you know? Why are you even considering that change or considering that decision. And sometimes the why becomes more powerful than the how or the what, and you figure out a way to do that to you know, to follow a passion.
I know, I just talked to Randy Crabtree on the previous episode. And, you know, we talked a lot about the fact that there are going to be things that happen in your life you don’t anticipate, you don’t expect—he shared the story of when he had a stroke, and it changes your perspective. And one of the things that I learned from that conversation with him, and I’d been learning it felt like over the past few years with just some different things that have gone on, personally is, how do you not wait for that life-altering moment, to give you the perspective to evaluate? And that to me is why the why is so important, is you don’t want to have to wait until some moment forces you to figure out your why, because that moment may not happen. You may not be able to reevaluate your why after something, if it does happen, so it’s just always top of mind anymore is “Okay, well, why are we doing this? Why are we looking at it?”
And it doesn’t always have to be “because it’s the right thing to do,” or “it’s the thing that’s going to help me achieve this bigger goal.” And from a personal standpoint, my wife and I, over the past couple years, there’s been a lot more things where you know, our why is “because we think it’d be fun.”
And that’s the best reason there is because our kids are going to enjoy this. It’s going to be a memory and that’s okay. And is it you know, would a financial planner say that it’s the perfect thing to spend $50 on or whatever? Maybe not, but at the same time, not every decision, I’ve learned through this, you know, in evaluating the why, not every decision has to be about the bottom line, whether it’s professional or personal. But sometimes it’s about “Okay, well what’s going to give me the experience that I’m really looking for, maybe to make me a better leader, to impact our team, to make us better our company, to give us memories as a family that we wouldn’t have otherwise had.”
Yeah, Jeremy has a pretty deep thought of what you just described as not waiting for that moment, to just sit back and reflect. It kind of goes back to the Stephen Covey principle: begin with the end in mind. And, you know, we’re kind of joking about birthdays, but gosh, time does go by very quickly. So just even thinking about that, stepping back, and having that reflection, I think is a very powerful thought.
Something else you said, you know, and this is big, big for me for embracing change. But really, any change or reflection, my journey, whenever I felt the most reward is when you know, others have been involved, or you’ve made a positive impact on others. And to me, that makes you you’re part of something bigger than than just yourself. So could you talk a little bit about just the power of, you mentioned, your family, or a network, or maybe others, your peers or mentors, and just how that influences or helps embrace change to think those different perspectives help. But to me, if you have others involved, you’re not doing it by yourself. And to me, that’s a big thing. So I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.
Well, a network is going to give you the perspective that you just simply can’t have, because they’re going to look at it through a lens other than through your eyes, which is the key of a network. And it’s important that your network is not an echo chamber in that regard, because the power of a network is they can allow you—they can help you see things that you can’t see—that as you look at a situation, you evaluate a situation, you’re going to be emotionally invested, and they’re going to be perhaps still invested but differently. And whether it’s family, whether it’s professionally, whether it’s friends, whatever the case may be, they’re going to be able to give you other things to think about.
Now, here’s the challenge: You’ve got to figure out how to hear it, when they share that, right? That’s the hard part, is they’re going to provide you the insights that you don’t have, that you may not want to hear. I know a couple—a few years ago, my wife and I were trying to figure out what was, you know, from a career standpoint for her, what was the next thing that we were going to do. And we had a business idea that we were really excited about and went to one of my mentors, a very savvy business professional, you know, can value businesses, great at business decisions. And, you know, I talked with her about it, and we went through everything. And she said, “I know you’re excited. I know you love the idea. I don’t think it’s the right decision for what you’re wanting.”
And that was really hard. But that’s the power of the network
You could just say “well I’m just going to go talk to someone else.”
Well, right, it’s like, “they’re just wrong this time.” But that’s the power of the network. And that was something that my wife and I going into that decision and told each other as we went in, we said, “Okay, whatever they say we are going to hear, not just get their input, but we’re actually going to hear it, we’re going to internalize it, we’re going to evaluate them with that, rather than just saying, ‘Well, that’s what they said, but they just don’t know all of these other things.’” We wouldn’t have gotten to them if they didn’t have that other perspective. So that’s how I view the value of the network. Your thoughts?
What you said there from a mentor standpoint and telling you exactly probably what you did not want to hear—to me that sometimes that’s hard, but you’re lucky if you have people that will be open, whether that’s friends or colleagues or your parent or whoever it may be. Because it’s easy to find people that will probably agree and tell you what you want to hear.
But if you have, you know, that’s not always an easy thing to do, Jeremy, similar to, you know, I thought I was a shoo in on my freshman basketball team, just because of the relationship. But reflecting back, was I ever going to probably be that great? Probably not. But it really molded me in my future.
You mentioned the hearing of that piece of it too—we’re in a world too, where so much communication happens through social media or email or whatever it may be. It’s easy to jump to a reaction or response before it is to actually have a conversation. And I think as we embrace change, and try to reach for common goals, I think that’s an important piece of this as well, is just tapping into that network just to have a conversation. And it’s okay to think different or have different opinions.
Well, and the power of a network, the power of community, is you have the opportunity to hear what you need to hear not necessarily what you want to hear. Am I perfect at that? Am I great at that? Probably not. There are times where I still don’t hear what I need to hear. Yeah, somebody said it to me.
Hey, you’re human, Jeremy.
It went in one ear, but, and then I tried to, you know, ignore it and send it out the other ear. There are those times—we all do. But when we have that awareness that maybe that’s what we gravitate toward is only hearing what we want, not what we need, now that we have that awareness, we can even inform our network, “Hey, I struggle with this at times. Help keep me in check. Help keep me accountable.”
So we’ve got a lot of different directions in this episode, and it’s been a lot of fun, it’s been great being able to help our audience, you know, get to know each of us a little bit more. And over the next season, that’s something that we intend to do more of—I do want to kind of wrap up the episode in a familiar way as to how we do with others. Is there a resource, whether it’s a book, a TED Talk, a podcast, just something out there, that you think, Heath, is valuable? Whether it’s along these lines or not that, you know, our listeners should check out?
Is it okay, if I say The Upstream Leader Podcast?
Sure, go for it? I think that’s a great one!
No, something that’s probably top of mind right now, and this was a book that Sam gave me—The Way of the Shepherd, and I’m about halfway through it, but gosh,
It’s a great book.
It is an easy read, it’s very story focused, and it’s been great. I found myself just once I started reading it, it was very hard to put it down. And for anyone on their leadership journey, it’s a great book. It’s an easy book to read, it can be very impactful. So I would highly recommend it.
Yeah, that is a wonderful book, I’ve read that myself, I enjoy it.
I’m gonna go with—and I have a ton of business books. I mean, we’re surrounded by them here in the studio where we’re recording this. I’m actually going to go with a non-business book, and I’m going to go with the book The Alchemist. And the author is Paulo Coelho. And I read this on a whim, I’ve had a lot of people recommend it—I’m not a huge reader of non-business books. But I’ve talked to a number of people that have read that, and everyone that I know that has read it said it’s just been completely transformational for them. It’s such an impactful book, but The Alchemist is the one that I would recommend.
I may have to steal that one from you.
Yeah, it’s always here.
Well, Heath, thanks so much for joining me here in the studio today. It’s been nice to be able to do this final episode together in person. And we will again be taking a small break—this will release in early April of 2022, and then we will take a small break. We know tax season will be ending here in the States, and then shortly thereafter in Canada—we’ve got a lot of listeners there. So we’re going to give them a break, we’re going to take a break, and we’ll be back with season two, sometime in May of 2022.
We’ve got a lot of great guests lined up. And as we said, we’re going to ensure that we spend a lot more time as well helping you get to know us and sharing a little bit more about our journeys through leadership as well. So Heath, thanks so much for joining.
Absolutely, Jeremy. I had an opportunity to learn more about you today that frankly, we’ve known each other for probably, gosh, 13 years, maybe somewhere around there? And I learned some new things about you today. I appreciate everyone listening in and if there’s anything we can ever do to help with their journey, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
I agree. Thanks so much, everyone.