In this interview, we delve into the concept of purposeful leadership and its important impact on organizational success. CEO,  Matt Lescault shares his insights on his journey and the importance of surrounding himself with knowledgeable team members. We also discuss the significance of a clear company vision, effective communication strategies, and maintaining consistency with core values. 

Can you share your thoughts on the power of purposeful leadership and how it has shaped your approach as a CEO?

The concept of purposeful leadership revolves around guiding decision-making, particularly with a focus on the organization’s core purpose. It involves defining what you aim to achieve on a daily basis as an organization and how you lead your team to align with the set ideals, values, and culture. Because, without a clear sense of purpose and direction, an organization can easily become fragmented, pulling in various directions.

Reflecting on my own experiences, I remember how, in the early stages, we attempted to diversify our services, dabbling in marketing, development, and management services. As the ownership team, we found ourselves stretched thin across these potential opportunities, which detracted from our core competency as an outsourced accounting firm. The true power of purpose lies in staying true to who you are meant to be. This approach leads to greater success, whether that’s measured in profitability, expertise, satisfaction, or being recognized as a thought leader in your field. The significance of purpose is ultimately about delivering precise and exceptional service.

What key experiences or lessons from your journey as an entrepreneur have been most influential in your current leadership style?

My learning journey has been gradual and ongoing, a continuous process that persists to this day. I embarked on the entrepreneurial path during the final year of college, and truthfully, I was quite clueless. I decided to start my own company, hire a team, and essentially learn on the fly. What I quickly discovered was that I was bringing on people who possessed more knowledge and expertise than I did. This was a pivotal lesson I learned early on – the importance of surrounding yourself with individuals who are more knowledgeable and intelligent than you, and then actively listening to them. This principle has become a cornerstone of my leadership philosophy as I continue to lead and expand my organization into various segments, such as small business, entrepreneurship, and mid-market business.

In essence, when you hire individuals with more experience and potentially greater intelligence, the key is to listen and not solely rely on your own perspective. This approach has greatly influenced how I approach decision-making, allowing me to step back and let others contribute to the direction we take in many aspects.

Why is the company vision important? And can you explain your process for creating a compelling vision and then aligning your team behind us?

This question holds a great deal of significance for me because, until quite recently, I hadn’t fully grasped the profound impact a company’s vision has on an organization. As the owners, we did have a basic understanding of our company’s vision, but we hadn’t effectively communicated it throughout the entire organization. While we all understood that we were in the business of outsourced accounting, striving to provide organizations with solid financials, it became clear over the past couple of years that everyone had their own interpretation of what this meant.

I’ve observed various outsourced accounting firms, some focused on getting the job done as cost-effectively as possible, and others emphasizing speed. While these factors don’t directly represent a company’s vision, they shape its culture and influence the vision. What we aim for is to have a team that collectively aligns with our overarching approach as an organization. We aspire to serve as guides for our clients, equipping them with information and empowering them to make informed decisions. We want our clients to view accounting as a valuable service rather than a mere commodity. When everyone on our team shares the same vision and mindset, our clients, our staff, and our entire organization can move forward cohesively.

This is the crux of the matter – cultivating and uniting our team around a shared vision, one that resonates with each member on a personal level. It’s about motivating and driving them individually, understanding what inspires them as unique individuals.

Could you share some strategies or best practices you’ve found valuable for communicating effectively with your team and stakeholders?

As a business owner with an outgoing, extroverted personality, I’ve always been someone who enjoys talking a lot. It’s a common trait among many business owners, but over time, I’ve come to appreciate the value of learning to be more reserved in my conversations. One strategy, among many, that I’ve found effective is the art of pausing and allowing silence. It can feel a bit awkward, especially for someone like me who’s used to talking non-stop. However, by intentionally stopping and waiting, I compel the other person to engage in the conversation.

I’m not perfect at this yet, but I’ve certainly improved. It’s a departure from the typical scenario where entrepreneurs tend to dominate the conversation, leaving others as mere spectators. At the end of such meetings, people might have heard a lot, but they haven’t had the chance to truly contribute or engage. So, in terms of best practices for effective communication, I’ve found that pausing and encouraging the other person to share their thoughts is crucial. This strategy aligns with my belief in the importance of listening.

How do you ensure that your company’s actions consistently reflect its core values, and how has this impacted the company’s success?

Maintaining consistency between a company’s actions and its core values can be challenging, and it’s an ongoing effort. It’s not something that’s achieved once and then forgotten. This is a common challenge that we’ve faced, and I believe many other companies experience as well. We may articulate the core culture and values of our organization and then inadvertently let them fade into the background.

A recent incident highlighted this issue within our company. We have a set of core values posted on our internal website and forum, comprising eight key principles. However, when I asked someone about them, they hadn’t even seen them. It made me realize that, as the owner, I might feel like I’m repeating myself when I emphasize these values. But for others, especially new team members, it’s a fresh and reassuring message. This has been a personal struggle for me because I prefer not to repeat myself; I like to say something once and move on. However, it’s crucial to remember that our audience evolves, and what seems repetitive to me may be entirely new and essential to someone else. Consistent communication and emphasis on core values are vital, even if they feel repetitive from my perspective.

How do you handle difficult decisions as a leader, and what factors do you consider when making tough choices that impact your organization?

I often find that the most challenging decisions are the ones people want immediate answers to. These decisions are particularly significant to them, and they seek quick resolutions. From my perspective, the worst decisions are those made hastily, without adequate consideration of their potential consequences.

When I encounter such decisions, I have a process that I follow. First, I strive to gather as many perspectives as possible. This involves seeking input from those directly involved and also individuals who are uninvolved but can provide valuable insights. I give myself time to truly understand the potential impact of the decision.

The key step in my decision-making process is to pause and wait. I allow the decision to percolate in my mind. I revisit it and think it through, a process that feels very human to me. There’s often a moment when I’ve given enough time for the decision to marinate, and a sense of calm washes over me. This is when I know it’s the right time to make the decision.

It’s important to clarify that this doesn’t imply procrastination in decision-making. It’s about giving ourselves the appropriate time to assess the effects of a decision. Some decisions can be made in a matter of hours, others require days, and some even weeks. The goal is to avoid impulsivity and instead make well-considered choices. It’s not about burying our heads in the sand or avoiding the decision; it’s about truly analyzing it and understanding how it may impact various stakeholders, akin to a cascade of falling dominoes. Each domino represents someone or something affected by the decision, and we need to comprehend the potential chain reaction.

What strategies do you employ to keep your team motivated and focused on the company’s long-term objectives?

I strongly believe that what truly motivates people is the desire to engage in meaningful work, whether they’re working remotely or in a physical office. They want to wake up each day and contribute to work they value while feeling appreciated by the company. Personally, I don’t rely on rah-rah speeches or extravagant sales kickoffs filled with loud cheers to motivate our team. Instead, I believe in creating an environment where our staff feels heard, even if they don’t always agree with the direction. Providing the “why” behind our actions and fostering an atmosphere of trust and security is paramount. With these elements in place, we can collectively move forward in a way that benefits all parties involved.

It’s crucial to recognize that motivation often stems from the team as a whole, rather than individuals. In essence, I can’t single-handedly motivate an entire team. Team members motivate each other, and my role is to cultivate a cultural environment that encourages collaboration and teamwork. This collective motivation trickles down, fostering a culture where everyone is inspired to work together effectively to accomplish shared goals. When considering the question of who motivates employees, I believe it’s a collective effort within the organization. Leadership plays a vital role in supporting and guiding this effort, but no single individual, including myself, can solely define the strategy, as it should be reliant on the collective strength of the entire team.

When it comes to talent acquisition and team-building, what qualities or attributes do you prioritize in potential team members to ensure they align with your company’s vision and values?

We’re committed to clearly defining what we expect from our organization in these posts. When we discuss talent acquisition, we’re aware that individuals seek to align themselves with companies that share their core values.

One crucial aspect that sets us apart is our commitment to being 100% remote. While many firms claim to offer remote work, our transparency in stating “100% remote” attracts a specific pool of talent. These individuals resonate with our company because they understand that we prioritize flexibility. We are willing to accommodate their needs, such as taking their children to school, and, in return, they understand the need for flexibility, especially when client demands arise in the evening.

Team building, for us, comes as a post-acquisition element. We recruit highly skilled accountants and CPAs who are already well-versed in debits, credits, and accounting principles. While we don’t train them to be accountants, we focus on integrating them into our processes and provide professional development opportunities, including industry-specific knowledge and software expertise. From the moment someone joins our organization until they depart, we emphasize the importance of offering a pathway for personal and professional development. This path may involve progression in their role or acquiring new knowledge and skills within the accounting field. We understand that people thrive when they are constantly challenged and engaged in work that makes them think and grow.

What is your view on promoting innovation within your organization, and how do you encourage your team to think creatively and stay ahead in your industry?

I’m a strong advocate for fostering innovation and embracing change. I continually encourage people to think creatively with the aim of not necessarily staying ahead of the giants in our industry—like Deloitte and Touche and B and Y, two of the world’s largest companies—but to be fast followers, keeping pace with these industry leaders.

As a business leader, I’ve learned the importance of balancing my enthusiasm for innovation with a sense of caution. I used to be more inclined to chase after every new, shiny opportunity when the company was smaller, and I could pivot easily. However, I’ve realized that now, such shifts can cause more disruption. My approach to promoting innovation is to be very specific and deliberate. I believe in carefully planning what we want to pursue and ensuring unwavering commitment to the chosen path without deviating in too many directions. We provide our team with a clear goal, focus, and direction while explaining the “why” behind our belief that this innovation will benefit them. This approach aims to position us as industry innovators while maintaining a sense of purpose and direction.

Could you provide an example of a challenge or crisis your company faced and how your leadership helped navigate through it successfully?

I’ve reflected on numerous occasions over our 17 years in business where individuals critical to the organization or in leadership roles decided to pursue other opportunities or retirement. It’s a common scenario where, despite our best intentions for continuity planning, we sometimes take for granted that key team members will remain with us longer than they actually do. One prominent example that comes to mind is a recruiter who served as a mentor to me for an extended period. While he didn’t express a specific desire to retire, he eventually chose to do so. He had been instrumental in guiding us toward new solutions, and I heavily relied on his expertise.

He could confidently say, “Matt, this person is an ideal fit for your firm,” and the majority of the time, he was absolutely correct. His retirement led to a transition, where he introduced me to a firm that offered a superb staffing service at a reasonable cost, but they lacked the intimate knowledge of my company that he possessed. Over a decade, we had built a personal relationship, which significantly influenced our hiring process. I had grown accustomed to hiring individuals recommended by my mentor, and this process wasn’t delivering the same level of talent, leading to increased turnover within our organization.

When faced with this challenge, the leadership journey was multifaceted. First, it involved a personal realization of the value my mentor had brought to the organization. Second, it meant recognizing my failure in not having a contingency plan in place. Third, it required a realistic assessment of market expectations in contrast to what we were experiencing. Finally, I had to develop a new plan and transparently communicate it to the team, who had noticed a decline in the quality of staff joining the organization. In essence, transparency and honesty were pivotal in navigating this challenge both personally and for the organization.

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