Leaders: When your accountant walks the runway, run the other direction

In hindsight, the bedazzled briefcases signaled the debacle ahead.

Let’s set aside the Best Picture envelope nestled inside that caused the ruckus. The topsy-turvy spectacle was triggered by these black attachés—adorned with the golden logos of The Oscars and PriceWaterhouseCooper. These swag-clad beauties were designed to draw attention to the power couple as the accounting partners sashayed down the red carpet.

And therein lies the root cause of the problem.

When your accountant struts the runway, leaders should run the other direction. Auditing is a crucial behind-the-scenes job to help clients safeguard results, ensure integrity, and navigate complexity—not create it.

Can’t you just imagine the pre-Oscars shop talk at the firm? “Let’s push it out on Twitter! Great exposure!” 

But what the firm really exposed is the increasingly blurred, dangerous line between business and broadcasting. In today’s media-obsessed culture, we’re all broadcasters. But just because we can,doesn’t mean we should.

Which brings me to a crucial tenant for all organizations: every high profile role requires an inverse, behind-the-scenes role.

When a leader is out front delivering a significant message, a wingman behind the scenes needs to stay focused on the integrity of the big picture. Both roles—high and low profile—are equally important to influence ideal outcomes. If you forgo half of the equation, chaos can erupt. I give you Exhibit A, the Oscars fiasco.

In the broadcast industry where I spent twenty years, there has always been the on-air “talent” and, on the other side of the camera, what I consider to be the real talent—a crew that’s a small army of producers, directors, floor managers, audio and video staff, etc. Both sides are covered to ensure the success of critical metrics such as timing, content, visuals, and sound.

The C-suite executives whom I advise today also need someone to trust when they’re in the spotlight. A fact-checker. A truth-teller. Someone behind the scenes dedicated to assessing and protecting the big picture as the leader delivers the messages.
If they choose to be active on social media, leaders need a comprehensive plan that supports their business strategy. They need someonee dedicated to managing and monitoring their social streams with measurable objectives.
PriceWaterhouseCooper and The Oscars lacked a modern day communication plan.
When the auditors went Hollywood, the broadcast went south.

Ironically, PWC neglected the checks and balances when it elevated its role to red carpet storyline. No one was there to protect the integrity of its work product when the briefcase-toting partner conducted his own broadcast within the broadcast.
After the debacle, the senior leadership of PWC quickly issued an apology, blamed their Twitter-distracted partner, and announced that it’s banning both partners from future broadcasts.

That’s all well and good.

But I suggest that future accountants ditch the distraction of the red carpet walk and the Twitter-happy #hashtags that hijack the brain. Instead, they should focus their attention solely where it best serves its client, the audience, and its own integrity—backstage, in the wings, as the guardian of the envelopes. No bedazzled briefcase needed.

Now that would be a true Hollywood ending.

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Globally recognized as the leading voice in leadership influence, Connie Dieken helps C-suite and senior executives use scientific insights to elevate their influence and presence.


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