Bob the CPA: This is Abacus. I'm Bob the CPA. My guest today is Amber Setter. She's a CPA and certified professional coach. Today she works at PwC providing coaching through their Leadership Center of Excellence. We'll talk about how a coach can help you develop personally and professionally, why she moved on from technical accounting work to become a coach ...
Amber Setter: The technical work wasn't for me. I could do it but it really took a lot of my energy and it didn't have me feeling fulfilled.
Bob the CPA: ... And the three things you need to know about yourself to grow personally and professionally.
Amber Setter: Where are you at today, where do you want to be in the future, and how do you get there?
Bob the CPA: All this coming up on Abacus. Let's go.
Learn everything you need to know to have a successful and fulfilling accounting career. Whether you're on the partner track or you're making your own path this is Abacus.
Welcome back to another episode of The Abacus Show where I bring together some of the smartest people I can find to share their experience and help you become a top performer. This is the final episode of season two, but I do have some good news for you. If you're looking for a job right now or considering a job search soon you'll definitely want to check out the premium members-only area of my site at Cpatalent.com. I've created some great in-depth video training courses, downloadable templates, and workbooks to help you with the most difficult areas of your job search. Take a second today, go ahead and visit Cpatalent.com/members to see everything that's included, and you can watch the first lesson of most of the courses for free. Head on over and check it out. All right, that's enough for me. Let's get right into the interview with Amber Setter.
All right Amber, welcome The Abacus Show.
Amber Setter: Thank you. Thanks for having me on.
Bob the CPA: Today we're going to be talking a little bit about coaching and how that can help you in your career no matter where you are and what stage of your career you're in, but I was hoping before we get into all that if you could give us a little background of maybe your career story, how you got into coaching, and what exactly a coach even is?
Amber Setter: Yeah, great question. A little bit about my background. I like to call myself a CPA who works with hearts and not numbers. I started my career, got my undergraduate degree in accounting, worked in assurance, worked in tax, did a couple busy seasons, and realized that the technical work wasn't for me. I could do it, I was smart enough, but it really took a lot of my energy and it didn't have me feeling fulfilled. I took a step back and I thought, "What do I really like? What are some of the activities I enjoy?"
Being very involved at that time with Beta Alpha Psi, I was an alum, being involved in the firm's recruiting activities, that was the stuff that lit me up. Really helping people choosing the right career, the right line of service, the right area for them to live in. That's sort of what coaching is really helping people thrive in their lives and their careers, so that was my first career transition out of the accounting work. I've held numerous roles in learning and development including managing CPE and delivering employee onboarding programs as well as soft skill or non-technical content, and through that just really got more and more enjoying helping people thrive and helping people develop and that's when I decided to enroll in a coach training program.
To your question, what is coaching? It's funny because I tell people that LinkedIn doesn't even know what coaching is. I don't know if you've got your profile up and LinkedIn sends you job matches. It has sent me opportunities to be a soccer coach, which is definitely not what I do. Coaching is different than mentoring. I think a lot of times you hear, coaching and that is a way in which we call coaching and a lot of times in organizations you have a career coach, but those types of relationships tend to really be about your performance and tend to be giving you feedback on the past, maybe talking about career opportunities, but there's a lot more mentoring and telling.
Professional coaching, whether you call yourself an executive coach. I work in a group called the Leadership Coaching Center of Excellence at PwC. Certified professional coaches have a process that's really designed to help somebody understand what's going on with them. "Where are you at today, where do you want to be in the future, and how do you get there?" The process of coaching is much more as coach I am asking powerful questions. I reflect back to people what they're saying, what they're not saying, and then I help them stay accountable to what they want to do, because a lot of times when we want to make big shifts forward and unleash our potential we got to get out of our comfort zone and human beings don't like to be uncomfortable. That's the real power of coaching.
Bob the CPA: Now that you ... I know when you were on your own you probably had a different way of finding clients but now that you're within a large organization how do you decide who you work with within the organization?
Amber Setter: Yeah, there's different approaches in different organizations. In PwC, again I'm in the Leadership Coaching Center of Excellence. We work in three primary programs. One is the discover program, so if you go to the PwC website or you even research it, it's an award-winning program. I think it's fantastic because becoming a senior associate I think is a significant milestone and it's also a really hard one to get to. Coming in to working your first-time professional job, being successful working in a matrix reporting environment where you're not reporting to maybe just one manager, you've got multiple managers and multiple clients.
That particular program is one that every senior associate who's promoted gets to participate in. It's a reward and investment in their future and they receive one-on-one and group coaching in that. I have clients that are assigned to me in that program.
I'm also working in another milestone program for newly promoted managers in the firm. Similar to discover they experience one-on-one as well as group coaching. Then the third area that we work on is with high potentials in the firm, so those who are managers, senior managers, and directors. There's a separate group who does partner leadership or partner coaching I should say. That's not the group I'm in. With the high potentials it's an application process in the organization. The firm's best and brightest. We really want to even get them to be higher performing or higher thriving, happier, and reward them for their contribution through having a one-on-one leadership coach.
Bob the CPA: Could you maybe walk us through a couple of the key differences or key questions you ask people to help them develop at the different levels? Say maybe the senior, the discover program, or if you're working with a high-po manager or something like that. What is the different aspects that you're helping them improve on? Or does it change from person to person?
Amber Setter: Yeah, you know it changes from person to person and there's a part of me that even hesitates to label it, or I should say, correlate it to certain level, because something that I noticed prior to being with PwC I worked with a very high expertise firm with about 400 people in one region and then I spent three years consulting to a variety of sized firms. A senior at one organization is totally different than a senior somewhere else, and that might even be true in the same organization.
I think some of the common themes that might come up is, very early in one's career is, "How do I have it all?" Having it all is different for different people, but I think sometimes people that gravitate towards accounting tend to be pretty smart people, pretty ambitious, hard-working, and driven. Those are the common threads and those are the reasons why I've been in accounting, so to speak, my whole profession, because I love this kind of ... These same qualities that everyone in the profession has.
It's always changing, it's a hard-working profession, likes to learn. Because of that, like a lot of times when we start off, self included, or others start in their career, they get so overly focused on work and then one day they wake up and they're like, "Hmm, I haven't seen my family," or, "I don't have time to be in a relationship and some day I want to get married and have kids." Or, "I haven't taken care of my health."
Really early it's like coaching people to have better, I would say boundary management. To be able to show up as committed to the work and doing a good job but to also take care of themselves, because if they don't they burn out. That's where I get really excited about discover because I've seen so many people that struggle at that senior associate level because they haven't learned how to self-regulate.
Other, I think, things that really come up too is transitioning from being an individual contributor to supervising others and then being responsible for more of the management of the engagement. How do you get comfortable with the non-technical aspects of the job? Empowering others, delegating, loosening the reins and saying, "Okay, other people can do it just as good as I can." Might be hard sometimes for those that are really good at what they do thinking, "Someone else can do this better than me?" Another common theme is how do you really deliver quality feedback that's empowering and doesn't stifle people?
Everything that I think I do as leadership coach is about the humanity of the worker, you know? How do you bring your full self and how do you help others be their full self in the workplace?
Bob the CPA: That's really interesting to me because when I imagine I coach I think of, say, a basketball coach teaching you the proper form to hit free throws. I would think a business coach would almost be, "Here's this specific accounting guidance you need to go learn," and that kind of stuff. You say you're focused almost more on all soft skills. Is that a conscious decision or did you just learn over the years that that's kind of what's helping people the most?
Amber Setter: Both. My progression, I don't think I mentioned earlier, but when I decided I didn't want to do accounting work anymore I was still sort of that accountant type-A, well-credentialed, and had a real yearning to get a graduate degree. When I went looking for programs I was like, "Hm, if I'm not going to get a master's in tax what am I going to do?" Then I went to MBA and when I looked at MBA curriculum I saw I had to take an accounting and finance course. I thought, "I don't want to learn any more about that and frankly probably an MBA accounting class isn't going to teach me anything that I haven't learned in a couple busy seasons."
That forced me to look in different places and I ended up doing a master's in leadership. I was learning things about organizational culture and behavior and taking classes on how does one develop themself consciously and how do you be mindful when you're developing a group? That was a real catalyst for me because I saw that when I did my accounting program I didn't learn about any of that stuff. I didn't understand organizational change or the dynamics that can be happening, and then when I started to shift my role into learning and development and managing CPE there's not a lot of that either. That was for me very much a catalyst of like, "Wow, if I could bring these types of topics to the accounting profession that it would really be helpful."
That's become my mission, whether it's in my day-to-day work or my activity in the California Society of CPAs and the work that I did in my consulting business of training and coaching at that time.
Bob the CPA: You mentioned I guess learning how to help somebody develop themselves. Short of working with someone like you one-on-one are there any either quick or easy or high impact ways that people can get started just developing that skill of improving themselves over time?
Amber Setter: Yes, there definitely is. I think the first thing is you really have to choose that you want to develop yourself. In our culture we don't really talk about adult development but if you think about when someone's going to have a child, there's all these books. What to Expect When You're Expecting. When a small child is developing there's not intention. They just, they go from laying there to sitting up to crawling to walking and it's just this biological thing that happens, but to develop as an adult we need to choose that we want to do it. We need to choose that we want something greater and stop and say, "Hey, who am I? What's working and what's not working?"
When I had a private practice as coach that's something that's really interesting in the sales cycle, because a lot of times when someone comes to hire me it's usually like something's not working. It doesn't mean that they're failing and they don't have a job or life is a struggle. They're just like, "There's something more. I want something more. I want to reach another height. I want to have more happiness," and so it's conscious.
If someone doesn't want to work with a coach it could certainly be through things like listening to a podcast. It could be reading a book. It could be working with others in a setting where you're holding each other accountable to move your life forward and reach goals. Goal-setting is a really simple way but a lot of times in the coaching process it's like examining when you set a goal for yourself and you don't achieve it, why? I think that's where the real transformation comes into place, because there's ways in which we can get in our way and have blind spots and coaching is moving awareness to those areas that maybe we haven't looked that could be a blind spot.
Bob the CPA: Do you have any frameworks you use for goal-setting, for example? If I say, "My goal this year is to improve as a person," and I get to the end of the year, it's really easy to pat myself on the back and say, "Yeah, I read a book. I accomplished that goal." Do you have any better ways of looking at it or setting goals yourself so that you can be held accountable?
Amber Setter: That's a good question. I mean, the first thing I ... There's some simple goal-setting stuff out there. Like when you said, "I want to be a better person." Well, "Better," isn't specific, you know? What is really specifically a better person look like to you? There's ample resources out there from just a tactical goal-setting perspective.
I think the real more magic to the kind of work that I do is helping people to understand what is the internal voice that's driving their action and being more observant to maybe some of the automatic behavior that they have. What I mean by automatic behavior is if you think about when you're later on today, you're walking down the street and you come up to an intersection, the very likely automatic behavior that all of us are going do is we're going to look both ways before we step into the street and cross the street at that intersection.
Yet, when we go to an intersection of a one-way street most often our same exact automatic behavior is to look both ways, even through we don't need to. There we're being inefficient. If an American goes to London and they go to step out into the street they're probably going to look left and then look right instead of looking right and then left, because traffic's on the opposite side of street. There you might be actually putting yourself in harm's way. Yeah, we can do goal-setting, and that can make a shift, but to really unleash potential is to look at that and examine our automatic behaviors.
Where are they protecting us? Where are they having us be inefficient? Where are they actually having us get in our own way or in a place of danger.
Bob the CPA: Before I let you go are there any other things we haven't talked about that you want to make sure our audience of accounting professionals know about?
Amber Setter: One thing I think that has been, when I had a private practice where I thought coaching was really working for people and making a huge difference, was for people that were struggling to pass the CPA exam. That is a pretty challenging goal for some individuals. If you have the luxury of doing the exam and not working you're probably going to pass. If you look at all the date in terms of candidate performance, the further away you get from school, whether it's the content area or because you're working and you have more life responsibility, the harder it is to pass the exam.
That was an area that I was very surprised was a large, large portfolio of my coaching clients. People would hire me when they were failing the exam and I never talked to them about technical accounting topics. I was not a tutor. It was all about, "How do I help you stay accountable? How do I help you stay energized in the process? How do you build resiliency?" Because sometimes for people they've never failed an exam in their life and they're up against this insurmountable task.
That I think a really clear example of, "Wow, how could have a coach help me get through something that's a real struggle?" Then as someone progresses in their career where else are you feeling like, "Man I'm feeling ... I'm having a hard time. I either need to be accountable to get the the next level. I need more clarity because I don't even know where I want to go from here. I'm feeling perplexed." Or, "Where do I feel like maybe I could use some more resiliency or help in the non-technical areas of my job?"
Bob the CPA: Are you still currently working with clients outside of your firm or are you strictly in-house now?
Amber Setter: I'm strictly in-house now, but I have tons of coaches in my network. I even know a couple other people who have a background like myself that are CPAs and also coaches, that understand whether it's the CPA exam or how to thrive in a professional service environment, that I'm happy to connect people with if you reach out to me. I'm so committed to just having people thrive in their career and have a huge soft spot in my heart for those who are accountants. I'd be happy to support people at any time with that.
Bob the CPA: That's a great offer. What's the best way for anybody to get a hold of you? Is it online on your website or LinkedIn or what do you prefer?
Amber Setter: Yeah. You can go to my website right now. It's still live because I have not figured out how to get it down because I'm really not offering services through it so it's out there. LinkedIn I'm on there but if you connect with me on LinkedIn my just request is put a specific reason why you want to connect with me. You can also reach out directly to me at PwC which is amber.setter@PWC.com.
Bob the CPA: Okay. I'll include links to all that in the show notes for this episode also if anybody's looking for it.
Amber Setter: Yeah. Can I add one last thing I thought of?
Bob the CPA: Oh, absolutely.
Amber Setter: The last thing that I would add is if you're thinking that you really want to hire a coach, that it would make a difference for you in your happiness, moving from surviving to thriving, really just unleashing your potential, I would encourage you to talk with someone. A lot of coaches out there are willing to do introductory sample sessions, so you can understand what coaching is because like I said LinkedIn doesn't even understand what it is and it's really an experience better lived. If you're curious about it consider just having a one-on-one sample session with a coach.
Then if you're like, "Wow, that was really impactful and it makes a difference for me," the next hurdle is going to be the cost because honestly, it's expensive. You can consider partnering and having conversations with your employer. Maybe they're willing to pay the cost for you. A lot of times when I had my private practice the company paid for the employee to receive the coaching, or maybe the company decides to subsidize it.
The last thing is that if the company's not, do a cost benefit analysis. Maybe you think, "Hey, I'm not willing to pay this amount of money each month. It seems pretty steep." If you don't what's going to be the cost of your unhappiness? What's going be the opportunity cost if you're not promoted? For myself and my own journey I initially had a coach before I became a coach and it was definitely one of the best investments I ever made in myself, and so if you really want to rise to the top of performance and satisfaction I think coaching can have a huge impact on your career and your life.
Bob the CPA: I do want to just emphasize, you said both performance and satisfaction which I think a lot of people just want the performance and then they think of the satisfaction and the wellness as an afterthought and then that ends up being where a lot of the value is. Definitely look into coaching if it's something you think you are interested in.
Amber Setter: Thank you.
Bob the CPA: All right, Amber. This was great. Thank you so much for coming on and looking forward to talking to you again sometime.
Amber Setter: Sounds good. Thank you.
Bob the CPA: If you're interested in learning more about Amber or coaching or you just want to connect and say hi to her, you can find links to all that over at the show notes for this episode at Abacusshow.com/210.
As always thanks for listening. If you like this episode go ahead, tell your friends, because the greatest compliment you can give me is a referral, either in person or shared on the web.
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