OK, a bit of a provocative question as I am inferring that all Accountants according to modern myth are ‘grey’ people. I have always felt as an accountant myself no affiliation with this image of being grey and have taken every opportunity to prove otherwise to my colleagues.
This week, I had the opportunity to have it confirmed for me again when I spent the morning giving a workshop about Developing Your Ideal Career Image to a group of Chartered Accountants from the Thames Valley. I can quite safely say that the quality of the characters present and the images that emerged were far from being grey. Each individual may have been united by their common qualification and profession but their experiences and outlook were all quite distinct.
So what happens when as I have experienced before, the requirement and expectation of those around me to fulfil the grey mould as a senior Finance professional in business? There is a tacit implication that a grey person is steady, conservative and secure. Good qualities to have if you are entrusting this individual with the financial controls and security of the business. However, these are less useful qualities when your business is going through substantial challenge, change or growth. Do you have be a Jekyll and Hide character showing two faces dependant on the situation? Or do you go for the stereotypical one as that makes everyone else around you more comfortable if not a little frustrated?
As an Executive Coach I have the perspective that being the complete individual you are, in all circumstances, is the best option. Not always easy to fulfil when there are pressures and expectations to be otherwise, but certainly the most useful and least energy sapping way of being. I say least energy sapping, as this is one of the most recurrent themes I work on with my clients. Clients spend endless waking and sleeping hours trying to worry through how they are supposed to act, how it may be perceived, what may happen etc. All this ends up being a distraction to actually getting the job done and being more present when working with colleagues. Being more present with colleagues allows a more honest dialogue which provides a better quality understanding. Depth of understanding is vital to being able to manage the wider strategic consequences of actions and decisions in business.
So, as a radical suggestion, when you feel that you may be being categorised as a stereotype of your profession, I would recommend that you choose to be no one but yourself. It sounds easy, and I know that it isn’t, but it’s very valuable to do. Next time you feel tempted, just relax and try to be honest with yourself and others. It’s a much more powerful and productive way of working.