Why accountants will never be be rock stars

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One thing accountants don’t subscribe to much is the concept of  personal self improvement and development.Despite the book shelves in the business section of book shops groaning under the weight of “how to succeed “ books very few are likely to be picked up by accountants. As a believer in the fact that everyone can improve I have looked at reasons why accountants don’t figure too strongly on self improvement publisher’s radars.

If I was a footballer and blessed with a prodigious talent would I not need to train to improve as I was already pretty good? David Beckham, Christiano Ronaldo and Eric Cantona are all well known for spending more time practicing than the rest of their team mates. Gary Player summed it up when asked how come he is so lucky and answered he didn’t really know but the more he practices the luckier he gets! Why is it not normal for accountants to do the same?

The answer to this may have something to do with psychology. Accountants and other professional such as lawyers and doctors would be described by psychologists as having high levels of achievement motivation (High AMs) and tend to approach tasks anticipating a successful outcome. This contrasts with those individuals who have low levels of achievement motivation who tend to anticipate an outcome of failure and therefore often avoid tasks because of a fear of failure (High FF).

High AM’s would have confidence in their abilities and if not able to complete a task would persist and try again until successful. In contrast the high FF’s would avoid the task altogether because of the possibility of loss of face. Another interesting fact which was observed was that the High FF’s would keep their career choices at an uninspiring level or aim for something that would bring amazing rewards e.g. fame and stardom – or far more likely failure – the consequences of which would be judged in a more sympathetic way as the likelihood of success was so low. High AM’s would never choose this option and opt for realistic but challenging careers and hence end up as accountant and lawyers.

The self help book market is on the whole aimed at unfulfilled and frustrated types with high fear of failure and low self esteem types. Not all but many pedal the believe that unrealistic dreams are possible e.g. how I made millions on the stock market from $1. There is an argument that these books might in fact be setting the wrong goals i.e. avoid sustainable and achievable objectives in favour of unrealistic pipe dreams!

However there is a significant volume of literature out there that could help accountants reset their goals and rethink their roles and objectives in life with works by the likes of Steven Covey and Anthony Robbins being good starting points. I often wonder why it would be perfectly acceptable for a sales manager to have a healthy collection of such books on their shelf but if such books were on the shelf of a finance manager they are likely to be considered to be a bit weird with a tendency for hot coal walking.

Much of what is written comes from the US where the sales function is highly regarded as the key driver of the business. However if we were to more broadly define what a sales person key roles are i.e . communicating and influencing people we are all salesmen and I believe accountants could learn much from what they contain

…be more than just an accountant!