I was on a film set working with my directing hero, Tracy Trost (A Christmas Snow, The Lamp) when I discovered a key to great leadership. I was in awe of Tracy. We met for the first time in a hotel lobby at a film festival. I'd had a late night on set and scurried downstairs with my hair wet and no makeup on in desperate search of coffee when I heard my name. I was instantly frozen to the floor.
"That's Tracy Trost!" my brain raced. "Tracy Trost knows my name!" My heart leaped, then sank. "Tracy Trost has seen me in my most bedraggled state and he'll never cast me."
Fortunately, Tracy overlooked that day's lack of poise, and I have since been fortunate to act in two films and two national commercials under his direction. Film sets have possibly the most hierarchical structure in the business world. On a set, the director is king, czar, and emperor.
During lunchtime on set, I noticed Tracy hauling a large trash bag to the curb. I hurried over. As talent, I wasn't supposed to touch trash either, especially in costume, but I couldn't let the director do such a menial task.
"Here, let me do that!" I offered. Tracy ignored me and finished the job. I stared in shock. "You shouldn't be hauling trash; you're the director," I stuttered.
Tracy smiled and asked, "Jami, who's the greatest in the kingdom?" Stunned by his question, I slowly replied, "The servant."
Another role model, Charlie Wright, senior vice chairman of The IIA's Global Board of Directors, surprised me with his servant mindset. As a newer chapter leader, I invited him to come speak at a local IIA chapter meeting. He graciously accepted. What I remember most about his presentation was that this brilliant and dynamic leader focused his presentation not on his own innumerable successes but on the importance of living a life of integrity and serving others.
All of the great leaders I've known have had a common trait: They were first and foremost servants. They weren't focused on status, feeding their egos, or earning credit. Instead, they devoted their efforts to making the organization better and improving the lives of those around them.
This principle is especially true in audit leadership. The role of an auditor is to add value (serve) by helping management achieve its strategic objectives.
I've found that aspiring leaders often have all the requisite knowledge and skills, but their focus isn't in the right place. A leader is rarely made out of talent alone. It's how they use their talent that sets them apart.
In my experience, the best opportunities have come when I was simply focused on meeting others' needs. For example, I love serving as a district representative (DR) on The IIA's North American Chapter Relations Committee and count it among the best experiences of my career. I didn't start out my volunteer path with that leadership goal in mind. I started volunteering because I saw a need in my local chapter, and those years of serving as a chapter leader led to getting to serve even more people as a DR.
While it's critical to set goals, such as achieving that next level of management, it's equally important to understand the motivation behind that goal. If I want to be promoted for the sole purpose of earning a better title, higher pay grade, or more respect, I'm doomed to fail. A great audit leader wants that next role to have increased influence and be better able to serve the organization.
Leadership is far from glamorous. Sometimes it's hauling trash to the curb. Sometimes it's working until 8 p.m. so the rest of the team can go home. Sometimes it's having that hard conversation with senior management by pointing out a significant unmitigated risk. Sometimes it's not taking credit for a great idea, but being satisfied because positive change is occurring.
If you aspire to a higher role in your audit department, it's essential to demonstrate a commitment to growth, develop technical and soft skills, and discuss your goals with your supervisor. But above all, it's essential to commit to serving.
A chief audit executive will be impressed with a technically savvy auditor, but an auditor who constantly offers to help wherever needed — and follows through — is invaluable. As you demonstrate your commitment to supporting your audit leadership and the organization, the promotions will naturally follow.
I encourage you to take that first step today. Find a need in your organization, and offer assistance. As you shift your focus to meeting the needs of others, your influence will grow, and amazing opportunities will come to you.
Jami Shine, CIA, CRMA, CISA, CRISC, is the corporate and IT audit manager for QuikTrip Corp. in Tulsa, Okla.
Want to be a part of Your Voices? Click here to learn how to contribute a blog post.