The IIA held its inaugural Emerging Leaders Forum for young auditors in San Diego on Jan. 9-10, 2017. The event provided young professionals networking opportunities, perspectives from various audit leaders, and the tools necessary for career advancement.
The forum began with a presentation on the "Pathway to Leadership" by Paul Sobel, vice president of Internal Audit for Georgia-Pacific LLC. Sobel identified the attributes of highly effective internal auditors, emphasized the importance of leveraging The IIA for career advancement, discussed different pathways to becoming a chief audit executive, and shared key "Dos and Don'ts" of career considerations along young auditors' career journey.
Following Sobel's presentation, Dominic Simonton, director of Internal Audit at Western Digital, provided a communication workshop for auditors. The forum ended with a presentation on "Living Your Leadership Path" by William Michalisin, The IIA's executive vice president and chief operating officer. Michalisin highlighted how the changing business environment leads to new challenges and opportunities. He also discussed the need to focus on strong talent and leadership competencies, as well as the pathway to becoming a trusted advisor.
Throughout the forum, two leadership themes emerged: 1) how internal audit is perceived by the organization and communicates with it, and 2) characteristics of personal leadership.
Internal Audit Perception and Communications
One of the key presentation highlights from the forum that resonated with us is that young auditors need to continue to reframe how the internal audit function is perceived so that our stakeholders understand how our efforts can be leveraged. The internal audit function has to intentionally position itself for success, and that starts with perceptions and perspectives. Once internal auditors have established a trusting relationship with the key contacts in their business, that trust leads to management being able to consider their point of view. When management has the perception that internal audit has a healthy degree of skepticism and independence, and will challenge management when circumstances warrant that, it will engage internal audit in a consultative manner.
Young internal auditors also should consider our stakeholder communications. We should begin each audit and project with the end in mind. We should ask ourselves: Is the objective to enhance organizational value, or to protect it? What are the key risks in this process? How are we classifying and communicating key findings to management upon audit completion? Can management differentiate the gravity and significance of the findings in how we are presenting and classifying them as a pebble, rock, or boulder? If not, how should we change the way in which we present our findings to management?
Young leaders need to focus on relationship building and continuously ask ourselves:
- Who are my stakeholders? Who are my mentors?
- What is my relationship network map?
- How am I developing and expanding it?
Other lessons emphasized at the forum revolved around leadership and personal development. A key takeaway on leadership was learning the characteristics of personal leadership. Leaders must learn to check their ego. Great leaders are self-aware enough to identify their weaknesses. They are able to take a step back and let their people lead. As young leaders, we should be asking ourselves, what are the needs of the team, where is the team going, when will we get there, and how can we help shape that vision? Think strategically: What should be happening two, three, or five years down the road?
Internal Audit Leaders Panel
Another insightful component of the Emerging Leaders Forum was the Internal Audit Leaders Panel, which consisted of professionals from different companies and industries. The panel was facilitated by Luis Padilla, AVP – Internal Audit at LPL Financial, and featured panelists Keith Carlson, director of Internal Audit at Encore Capital Group; Duston Sackett, senior manager in Internal Audit at Intuit; and Meghan Kennedy, Global Internal Audit Supervisor at Raytheon Co. During the session, attendees asked the panelists questions regarding their backgrounds, leadership, and all things internal audit.
An important question asked was, "What has made you successful?" The answers provided were consistent with what we frequently read about in business magazines, business books, and in numerous articles shared on LinkedIn. However, it was valuable to hear about these career traits in the context of real world examples from practitioners in our field, demonstrating ways these characteristics have served and distinguished their career paths.
The key success characteristics panelists mentioned focused on traits such as initiative, tenacity, relationship building, mentorship, strategic thinking, and continuous learning. Highlights included:
- Showing initiative by asking for the opportunity to work on challenging projects and demonstrating tenacity in carrying them through to completion is a significant tool for catapulting your career. Exhibiting initiative as part of your role also goes hand in hand with the initiative required to manage your career, inquire of yourself about what is necessary for you to get to the next level, and remind yourself that you own your career.
- Relationship building and networking are essential to growth and advancement. This includes interacting with individuals from different departments over coffee and lunch, and getting involved in the organization beyond your individual role and department.
- Having strong mentors is an important aspect of personal growth and networking, especially having multiple mentors who are diverse in their roles and focus, ask the right questions, and support your unique career aspirations.
- Strategic thinking and the ability to see the bigger picture are vital skills for auditors to be able to provide value to your department and your organization, while still never overlooking the details.
- "Knowing your stuff" and taking time to learn the specifics of your organization and projects helps build credibility early in your career. To build this credibility, it is crucial to take time to continuously read, research, and develop your business knowledge and acumen.
Attending the inaugural Emerging Leaders Forum was a valuable opportunity that we would recommend highly. The thoughtfully crafted presentations on leadership practices and techniques, and the panel discussions regarding career paths and successes provided much to be learned, absorbed, and acquired. As Benjamin Franklin said, "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."