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December 3, 2010 > True Leadership is Service

True Leadership is Service

By Alan Olsen, CPA, MBA (tax)

What makes a good leader? Is it self-discipline, intelligence, the ability to inspire others, or is it something else? Perhaps a better question might be; what makes me a leader? Far too often we seek leadership qualities in others, only to be disappointed. Each morning, the mirror reminds us of at least one person whose motives should meet all of our expectations. There is no limit to what an army of these individuals can accomplish; they simply need to take that first step. Before they know it they'll be making the world a better place, leading by example and developing within themselves the very qualities they once sought in others.

During difficult economic times, community service and civic involvement provide outstanding leadership opportunities. One person transcending his own circumstances to help another is the most effective solution for many of our social and community problems. In most cases, the infrastructure for service is already in place. It costs cities and communities nothing, and volunteers can target the highest priority needs or individuals who require immediate attention. Whether you have highly valued skills, or just a willingness to help, chances are there is a local organization that desperately needs your help.

As far as training to become a leader is concerned, two distinct avenues come to mind. First, you simply roll up your sleeves and get to work. Second, no institution better trains young people to become the community leaders this country so desperately needs than the Boy Scouts of America. At a young age, my parents taught me the importance of helping others and being involved. But this concept did not really become part of who I am until I earned my Eagle Scout Award; it's been a habit ever since. Best of all, service is infectious; now, at my place of work, most of my colleagues are heavily involved in their communities.

Leading by example is rarely easy or convenient. As you would expect, our accounting firm is extremely busy in the spring; yet in March and April our employees were heavily involved in multiple community activities. The administrative staff took time out of assembling tax returns to hand out "Book Buck$" prizes to school children. We had tax accountants filling out five dollar sponsorship forms for the Tri-Cities "Ducks for Bucks Benefit Race." One particular employee threw himself energetically into the Fremont Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Fremont program. Other members of the firm participated in the "Stamp Out Hunger" Food Drive. Though difficult, individually and collectively, all of us have benefited and grown tremendously through these efforts and experiences.

Through volunteer service, one begins to develop true leadership qualities that help the community become a better place for us all. Some people are natural leaders while others have to work at it. But the crucial lesson is that anyone can lead by example. And service is the best way I know of to achieve leadership development for a strong business and community.

Alan is managing partner at Greenstein Rogoff Olsen & Co., LLP, a leading CPA firm in the San Francisco Bay Area. With more than 25 years of experience in public accounting, he works with some of the most successful venture capitalists in the world, developing innovative financial strategies for individuals and businesses.

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