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Uncover top lessons from Women in Accounting alumni on their journeys to becoming impactful leaders.

10 mins 27 Mar 2023 by Bronwyn Karaoglu
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Leadership is a rewarding skill but can be challenging at times. Our Women in Accounting have grown into impactful leaders in their companies, in their communities, and in the accounting and bookkeeping industries. Read on to hear from Bronwyn Karaoglu, Ignitions’s Global Vice President of Marketing, and a cohort of Women in Accounting honorees for the top lessons they’ve learned along the way and their best advice for emerging leaders.

Ignition first launched the “Women in Accounting” initiative on International Women’s Day in 2018 as a way to honor and recognize women who are paving the way for a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive industry. Our exceptional community of Women in Accounting are experts in their fields, business leaders, mentors, and activists whose diverse experiences are full of valuable advice and takeaways for future generations. As we continue to celebrate women in accounting, we’re thrilled to share a sampling of their knowledge and wisdom.

“Leadership is hard, and I’ve certainly made some mistakes along the way, but I’ve learned from them, and they have helped me develop further into the person and leader I am today.”

- Bronwyn Karaoglu, Global Vice President of Marketing for Ignition, where she leads a team of 20 marketers worldwide.
For Bronwyn, leadership is a privilege – one that both her role and her team afford her. “So I treat it as a priority to develop, maintain, and – I hope – pay forward to the next set of leaders in the making,” she says.

Be inspirational

From our Women in Accounting honorees, lessons on leadership run the gamut. For Inna Korenzvit, Founder, CEO, and Principal Accountant at KORE Accounting Solutions, “A leader is not the one who gets in front of a forming line. Rather, to lead is to inspire through actions, ideas, and empathy, and to guide others along a new and better path that they would not have gone on without you,” she says.

“Be decisive”

“The most important leadership lesson I’ve learned is to be ready and willing to make a decision,” says Michelle Vilms, founder and CEO of Vilms Consulting. “In my work, I often encounter difficult choices, related to either complex technical questions or fundamental business trade-offs. Sometimes they can be clarified by taking time to gather more information, but not always. In those cases, it’s critical for a leader to apply her expertise to set a direction to ensure that the team's efforts are serving the client's needs. Decisions empower you to move forward.”

Know yourself, know your audience

Jessica Jones, business owner at Jessica Jones Accounting Services, has come to understand that there’s a difference between a bad leader and a leader that isn't good for you. “We know that we're all different, and we interpret different things in different ways,” she says. “What one person may interpret as aggressive, others may interpret as direct. Evaluating your personal style and considering the differences in the style of others goes a long way in finding your ‘right fit’ in the world.”

Never make assumptions

For Candice Czeremuszkin, Managing Partner at Moore Professional Services Ltd, it took her many years to learn a valuable leadership lesson. Early in her career, she requested to meet with a colleague – the only female in senior management at the firm where Candice worked. “I requested the meeting in hopes of getting some insight into what she felt was key to her success as a woman in the workforce,” says Candice. “I had been anticipating the meeting for weeks, but it lasted no more than three minutes… Her words have stuck with me my entire career: ‘This firm is not comfortable placing you in front of clients because of the way you look.’ At the time, I was a top performer in my year group, a conservative dresser, a diligent worker and had top performance reviews. That simple sentence shook me at my foundation. It would take me years to unpack and understand the lesson that came from that encounter. The truth is, I never asked for clarification – could it be my ethnicity, my age, the way I dressed, my level of self-confidence at the time? I will never know. I also never challenged it. I quietly left that meeting, leaving behind an opportunity for a lesson that could have been in there for both of us and saved myself many years of pondering the meaning behind those words. There are a few lessons that have come out of those three minutes for me, but the most prominent is: never make assumptions! If you don’t have the clarity you need, ask. Don’t always assume that a person’s response to you is always based solely on that interaction at that point in time. There are many factors influencing our days, and as a leader, it’s key to understanding your people.”

Candice’s top tip for emerging leaders: Be open to sharing your experiences – good and bad. “I was once speaking on a panel and in the pre-panel discussion, one of the speakers said they would not respond to any questions that required them to talk about something they may not have done well. Mistake. It’s our bad experiences that challenge us to be better leaders and that become our most teachable experiences. In sharing those experiences, we are able to relate to our teams, to mentor others, to break ground for discussion, and to come up with better paths forward.”

Katie Thomas, accountant and owner at Leaders Online, concurs with Candice on embracing the bad with the good. Her most valuable lesson? “Lean into discomfort,” she says. “We all have projects, engagements, situations, or opportunities that we want to avoid because we don’t feel qualified enough or we’re simply afraid. This is when we need to jump in headfirst and lean into the discomfort. When you do so, you’ll find growth and confidence on the other side.”

For Katie, it’s also important to remember that leadership is not a title. “You’re a leader because of the impact and influence you have on others, not because of a title,” she says. “Everyone can be a leader, regardless of their position.”

Katie’s top tip for emerging leaders:Start by observing the leaders around you. What do they do well? What do they not do well? What skills can you learn from them that you want to improve on or emulate? Some other great ways to grow your leadership are going to conferences, reading books, and listening to podcasts.

Always be learning

Carla Caldwell, founder of Caldwell Consulting & Training, agrees with this last top tip of Katie’s. “Leaders are readers or listeners,” she says. “Invest in yourself through education. Read or listen to a book each month. Listen to or watch a podcast or video blog. Attend a conference annually. Always be learning, and not just about your tactical skills, but also about soft skills. You’ll grow as a leader as you are exposed to new ideas, people, and perspectives.”

Another lesson that Carla has learned along the way is that being a leader can be lonely. “But you don't have to be alone,” she says. “Find a coach – or a cohort – that can encourage you, challenge you, and cheer for you and with you. They don't have to be in the same industry or city, but they do need to be as committed to the process as you are. Build trust, be vulnerable, and learn with these people. It will change you as a person and as a leader.”

Similar to Katie Thomas’ lesson that leadership is not about the title you hold, Michelle Kvello, director at Lantern Partners, is quick to point out that not all managers are leaders and not all leaders are managers. “Early in my career, I thought they were the same thing, but there are fundamental differences,” she says. “When I think about the best leaders I have known, some of them managed people and some didn’t. What set those leaders apart was their ability to inspire a group of people to act in a unified way aligned to a clear mission. It was the ability to influence without necessarily a direct remit to do so. You can spot a natural leader from miles away!”

Michelle’s top tips for emerging leaders: “Study the leaders you admire to understand what makes them great, but also don’t forget it’s your uniqueness that will craft your leadership DNA. You must find your own way to lead – which comes from a place that is true to your lived experience.”

Also, Michelle says, never be afraid to say you don’t know the answer. “I think it’s impossible to grow as a leader if you’re not open to other people’s advice, knowledge, and experience. If you keep saying you know the answer, people are very unlikely to offer their alternative! Great leaders don’t have all the answers; they just know how to ask the right questions.”

Reimagine leadership

Angela Kenny, Founder of Heal.Thy Money Co, believes women need to reframe how they think about leadership. “Studies have shown that women tend to lose interest in leadership, ambition, and power, not because of taking time out from careers to have a family, but because they believe the burdens of being in positions of leadership and power are not worth the prize,” she says. “We don't need to fit ourselves into the old, broken, and masculine model of leadership. We can create our own version… one that is based on authenticity, vulnerability, inspiration, and truth.”

It’s also important to keep in mind that not everyone has the same “playbook” as you, says Alice Ruhe, partner at SMB Advisory. “The rules you were brought up with and live by may be very different from those of others,” she says. “When we seek to understand this, we can approach issues of difference and conflict from a place of empathy – and with a view to resolution – rather than a place of frustration.”

For Bridget Kaigler, one of the key learnings she’s taken away from her role as a leader is the power of consistency. “It makes things possible when coupled with good deeds, dedication, and diversity of thought,” she says. “Your confidence will increase. Your career will progress. You will maintain healthy relationships. It exemplifies discipline and respect. It’s the affirmation of a true team player.”

More teachable takeaways

It goes without saying that every leader is different; everyone has their own style and personal brand. The thoughts these Women in Accounting have shared demonstrate this! They inspired Ignition’s Bronwyn Karaoglu to share more of the key learnings she’s gained on her own journey – noting that she still has many years of learning ahead of her! Here are Bronwyn’s five teachable takeaways:

Bring all voices to the table

As a leader, oftentimes your voice can be the loudest in the room. But it is this power you must learn to exercise with caution because you are not there to solve; you are there to lead your team to solve. You are there to guide them, ask the right questions, empower, and enable them. Once I could facilitate all voices in a room and ensure they were heard, the outcomes of that problem-solving were tenfold more productive and gained even greater results.

Inaction stifles growth

In teams especially, as a leader, you need to step in swiftly if there is toxic behavior or poor performance. Similarly, you need to celebrate and embrace the wins, recognise and praise. In my experience, giving feedback in a way that both parties like to give and receive quickly is the best way to rectify or amplify the course. If you’re not careful, inaction can cause more damage to teams than anything else.

Understand your people

Every person I’ve worked with is different. As leaders, you need to spend time getting to know your team at a deeper level – at a personal level – and you need to care deeply. If you can understand how the people you lead think – what motivates or worries them – then you can build trust with them, which is worth more than gold.

Leave your ego at home

As leaders, if you haven’t failed or done the wrong thing, said the wrong thing, or forgotten to do something, have you really been a leader? On a serious note, if you’re in the wrong or if you’ve received feedback that a team member is unhappy with something you’ve done, apologize. Leave that ego behind and be vulnerable. As someone brought up in an environment in which failure was not an option, I have struggled with my vulnerability, but I have learned you cannot lead without being vulnerable, as vulnerability is human connection.

Remember your shadow

Remember the shadow you cast as a leader. People look up to you, may mimic your behavior, and sit in your every word. This is a privilege you should never take lightly, so think twice before you speak. Be present, listen, and engage, and always be cognizant of others feelings.

Over to you:

Let's celebrate and acknowledge the inspiring women across the accounting and bookkeeping industry! Nominate a leader or an emerging leader from your current company, a former colleague, or a peer as one of the Top 50 Women in Accounting for 2023. Nominations for the 2023 Women in Accounting Awards are now open until April 5, 2023. We will announce the top 50 winners on May 2, 2023. Nominate here.

Meet the author

Bronwyn Karaoglu

VP of Marketing  Ignition

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Published 27 Mar 2023 Last updated 28 Mar 2023