Matt Adair: Leadership Lesson From the World's Worst Accountant

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I was the world's worst accountant.

After college, I went to seminary for a year. And then after my wife and I were married, I took a year off. I was also working in campus ministry and chose to spend the first year of our marriage barely seeing each other as we juggled multiple jobs to make ends meet.

So I used my undergraduate degree in accounting and was able to land a job as an accountant in a medium-sized in office in Birmingham where Lindsey and I lived at the time. I started in October, and on the last day of tax season, I was informed that the firm was hiring two new tax accountants and that my services were no longer needed.

Why? Because I was the world's worst accountant.

Almost twenty years later, I look back and can see several reasons why my career in accounting was doomed from the start. But the big one I'm about to share with you is a problem I regularly encounter in my coaching and consulting work with leaders.

Ready? Here it is.

I failed as an accountant because I didn't want to be part of the firm's mission.

No, I'm not talking about a mission statement. I'm talking about the core work of accounting. Debits, credits, deductions, exemptions, filing, planning...all of it.

I didn't want to do it. Not because there is something wrong with accounting, but because there was something wrong with ME in accounting.

I didn't want to do it because their mission wasn't my mission. Their passion was not my passion. 

Now, as I write that last sentence it sounds both pompous and preposterous. Especially coming from a 23-year-old who caused more problems than I was worth. And, truth be told, I never said or even thought about the differences in the firm's mission and my mission.

I just knew that I didn't want to be an accountant. And the firm didn't want me to be one of their accountants. So that was the end of my stellar 6-month career as the world's worst accountant.

Your Leadership Lesson

Leaders who last - in a job, in a career, in a particular industry - have at least an implicit sense of mission. They know what they're good at and they enjoy their work.

It's even possible that they see their work as part of a larger purpose - understanding why they enjoy the work that they do well.

Embracing your mission - the work that God has given you to advance his kingdom - is a critical component of what I call vocational health. If you want your leadership to last, you need a healthy perspective about your work.

Knowing your mission is a step in the right direction.

Do The Next Right Thing

If you have spent time in the past 30 days thinking about changing jobs or careers, here is a simple exercise to help you diagnose what's troubling you.

First, do you want to change careers? 

Second, do you want to work in another organization?

Third, do you want different responsibilities in the organization who currently employs you?

This might appear counter-intuitive. Why start with the most complex of the three questions - do you want to change careers? What I have found with my clients is that beginning with the "nuclear" option forces them to focus on the location of the actual problem.

If I say I want to change careers, why spend time focused on a different job with different responsibilities? If I don't want to change careers, but I'd like to work in a different organization, why spend time tweaking my job description? If I don't want to change careers or employers, but I'd like to change aspects of my current job, then I'm pursuing real change but nothing like switching jobs or starting a new career.

Make sense?

Look, getting clarity about the mission God gives you is not the only aspect of vocational health. Equally important is the ability to maximize your day through productivity and multiply your efforts by developing other leaders. 


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Matt Adair is a coach with CourageToLead and is the lead pastor of Christ Community Church in Athens, GA. He loves helping pastors live and lead healthy lives and ministries. Emphasizing the importance of simple and sustainable systems, Matt has helped hundreds of pastors experience breakthroughs mentally, physically, relationally, spiritually and vocationally.