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Leading From Anywhere

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Apr 24, 2020

Hope everyone is doing okay, or at least as okay as any of us can be. No doubt the current situation has caused us to face significant challenges.

And local IIA chapters are definitely facing their fair share. In Phoenix, we had to make a lot of important and quick decisions as the situation evolved weekly, daily, and hourly. Our chapter president, Morgan Kroeger, did an excellent job of helping the chapter navigate the insanity that came our way. And she was more than ably assisted by the chapter officers and the board.

For anyone involved in chapter activities, the following story will probably sound very familiar. But let me go ahead and share our travails.

In early March, the Phoenix chapter planned on going forward with our monthly meeting. However, there was already some question about the best way forward, including whether we should hold the meeting at all. To ensure we were doing the right thing, a board meeting was planned. I had two chapter presentations scheduled for the month — presentations that included travel across the country — and, at that time, both were still a go. And I was in favor of our chapter moving forward with the plan to hold the March meeting. Since I wasn’t going to be able to attend, I advised the president of my position and, at that point, she was in agreement.

After that meeting, a second meeting was scheduled. As I say, I wasn’t able to attend the first one but, apparently, there had been quite a bit of discussion on the subject. And, events were evolving. Well before that next meeting (which was only one week later), various board members and officers began stepping up (via email), raising doubts about the logic of holding the meeting. At about this same time, both of my March presentations had been cancelled. In other words, everyone was starting to see the writing on their various walls. In a very short time, the world had changed. And well before that second board meeting could be held, the decision was made to cancel the chapter’s March meeting.

Morgan, as president, did what good leaders do. She got the input, made initial decisions (with the input of the board), and then made the necessary changes.

But I also want to congratulate the individuals (whose names I cannot remember nor find — my apologies) who stepped forward before that second meeting and began raising questions based on new information. It would have been easy to shrug it all off and just wait for that next meeting. But they exhibited informal leadership by stepping forward and helping the chapter drive towards a faster, more correct conclusion.

A perfect example of how success is achieved by people who understand that leadership does not require a title.

On the other hand, here’s two more stories. I’m doing my best to obfuscate the details in such a manner that, even if the people involved happen to read this, they will not recognize themselves. (And I doubt they will visit us here; they are not avid, casual, or even once-in-a-blue-moon readers.) Both of these stories occurred in mid-to-late March. In other words, they happened when we were all beyond-knee-deep in the crisis.

I was talking to an individual who had been instructed that the entire staff would be going back to work the following Monday. Not only was this an unintelligent move, but it also violated certain edicts, advisements, and strongly-suggested verbalizations that had come down from the governor of this particular state. The individual noted that many of the people this person worked with were angry and scared. I asked why the person did not speak up. I believe the immediate look I saw in the individual’s eyes was fear, but the excuse was a combination of “nobody would listen” and “it’s not my place.”

Story two: There was a question about whether an event should be held. There was division within the group charged with delivering the event, but the leadership seemed to think it should go on. The individual with whom I was speaking felt it was wrong. (This individual was correct.) I asked why the individual did not call the leadership team and express this individual’s concerns. The reply? By now, you’re ahead of me on this one. “It’s not really my position to do so.”

Position has nothing to do with leadership; leadership can be demonstrated from anywhere. These stories show how true that is. In the Phoenix chapter, you find the legitimate leader making decisions, but willing to change direction when necessary. And you also see individuals who were willing to show informal leadership by stepping up and ensuring the chapter understood the changes that were occurring and how they impacted the current decision. Compare everyone involved in Phoenix to the two individuals who chanted, “it wasn’t my job/responsibility/position.”

Leadership is a mindset and a willingness to help set direction, even when you do not have the “authority” to do so. It is seeing a need and helping direct others to appropriately respond to that need.

I incessantly proselytize that one of the greatest things about our profession is that all internal auditors, even the brand new, freshly minted ones still trying to understand the difference between external and internal audit, are in the unique position of being able to start acting like leaders. Being part of an audit team, meeting with the heads of internal audit, being provided insights on how it all works, and even being given front-row seats at meetings with important people within the organization (dare we say C-suite?) are all opportunities to learn about and be a leader.

But that only works if the internal auditor is willing to seize that opportunity — to understand situations, analyze what is needed, and step forward to make the necessary difference.

You can either sit back saying “it’s not my job” and watch as mistakes bring things crashing down around you. Or you can step up, be an informal leader, and show you have the knowledge and skills necessary to lead — even if you don’t have the title.

No matter who or where you are, be a leader.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Co-founder and Chief Creative Pilot, Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.