Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Five lessons in leadership from Mongolia to Antarctica (or, What I did on my summer vacation)

On a recent trip to the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, my husband and I and a group of 25 other people participated in an Astronaut Leadership Experience Program through the International Space School Education Trust (www.isset.org).  I learned some important truths about myself on the trip, but it was a recommendation at the end our excursion that inspired me.   Hazel, a magistrate from Wales, introduced me to the book Shackelton’s Way:  Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer by Margot Morrell, Stephanie Capparell, and Alexandra Shackelton.  This book is a roadmap for effective leadership.

Many know that, against all odds, Shackelton didn’t lose a single crew member during the grueling Endurance expedition to Antarctica.  Shackelton’s Way tells the story of Shackelton’s leadership journey and how he embraced practical leadership principles that ultimately saved his crew.  Five of these principles resonate with me as I continue on my own leadership journey.  They are:

Lesson 1:  A leader knows that optimism is contagious and important to productivity and harmony.  Shackelton was an optimist and he insisted on optimism from his crew.  The authors observed, “Shackelton kept malcontents close to him to contain their effect and to try to win them over.”

Lesson 2:   A leader uses celebrations and good humor to unite his team and create loyalty.  Shackelton was intentional about celebrating holidays and honoring birthdays, and he believed in balancing work and fun.  One of his crew wrote, “it was a rule to hold a concert on Saturday nights and this rule was seldom broken.”  Shackelton’s efforts to unite his crew paid off during the most trying times of the expedition. 

Lesson 3:  A leader understands that all team members need challenging and meaningful work and that sharing the load, including the least desirable chores, breaks down social  and status barriers that create cliques.  A crew member wrote, “I must say that I think scrubbing the floors is not fair work for people who have been brought up in refinement... but it humbles one and knocks out of one any last remnants of false pride... and for this reason I do it voluntarily.”

Lesson 4:  A great leader is selfless.  “Shackelton always put the well-being of his crew first.  He always weighed the cost of a goal against the expense of reaching it.”  The authors’ observation contrasts Shackelton’s leadership style with that of Robert F. Scott --with whom Shackelton had served in an earlier, failed expedition.

Lesson 5:  An effective leader plans, plans, and plans but remains flexible.  The authors note, “Shackelton was bold in his plans, but cautious in their execution, paying close attention to detail.”  At one point in the expedition when the ship could not be saved, a crew member observed, “As always with him, what had happened had happened; it was in the past and he looked to the future...  Without emotion, melodrama or excitement he said, ‘Ship and stores have gone, so now we’ll go home.’”

Many leaders -- from CEO’s to entrepreneurs to the US Secretary of the Navy -- have successfully utilized Schackelton’s principles to lead their own organizations.  The next leg of my own leadership journey includes the GSCPA Leadership Academy.  Rest assured this “roadmap” will be among the tools in my arsenal as I move toward the goal of effective leadership.

Daria Cruzen, MBA, CPA; Manager, Audit Department

Monday, August 20, 2012

A different way to think about “the cloud.”

The cloud (using servers, services, or applications located somewhere on the Internet - a.k.a the "cloud”) is a somewhat polarizing subject.  Many (but not all) IT folks are wary of it for varied reason (security concerns, implementation complexities, fears about what it will mean for their job).  Many executives and business owners are enthusiastic about it because of the many touted benefits (lower cost, better uptime, less day-to-day hassle). One reason for these differing feelings is that many view the cloud as an all-or-nothing proposition. It doesn't have to be this way.

I am not convinced we'll see great success in total cloud migration for the masses any time soon. In many cases the move to the cloud is better as a calculated, application-by-application endeavor - a "hybrid" approach, if you will - with some applications remaining in-house and some moved to the cloud.  Perhaps it’s cloud backup where you begin your migration.  Or maybe it's outsourcing your spam filtering or even your entire e-mail server. Perhaps it’s an online financial or line-of-business application.  

By choosing a specific area that makes sense for moving to the cloud (backup is a great first step), an organization can move, evaluate, and then plan the next step in its cloud migration.  This gradual migration approach permits IT to better address and get comfortable with security and other technical considerations.  It can also give management an opportunity to measure and assess each move before going “all-in.”  Finally, this gradual approach allows an organization’s culture to adjust, which just may be something that nobody is thinking about (but should be).

Craig Rhinehart, Director of IT Services

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Notices from the IRS and State Taxing Authorities

Have you experienced the dread of opening correspondence from the IRS or from a state taxing authority even though you were confident that your return was prepared correctly?  Letters of this sort that indicate that you owe additional tax, and sometimes even penalties and interest, can be very unsettling.

Although to you, receiving a letter like this can be intimidating, the reality is that this type of correspondence is very routine in the course of these taxing authorities administering the collection of taxes.  Many of the letters are simply requesting clarification of an item that you reported, or additional information that is readily available to you.  Most of the notices our clients receive can be resolved by providing the requested information within the time allowed (usually thirty days).  Often, the notices received are clearly in error, and require basic documentation to resolve.

Here are a few suggestions if you receive a notice:

  1. Seek to resolve the issue as soon as possible (note the deadline to respond).
  2. Don’t assume that the notice is correct and pay the amount requested, without investigating further.  Many notices are simply incorrect.
  3. If you paid someone to prepare the return in question, make sure the preparer receives a copy of the notice as soon as possible. (You will also need to sign a Form 2848 Power of Attorney to authorize the preparer to talk directly with the IRS.)
  4. Secure any documentation requested.  Cancelled checks, bank statements and acknowledgements form charities regarding charitable contributions are among the most common documents needed.
  5. Send a letter (or have your preparer send a letter) addressing the issues raised in the notice.  The letter should be courteous, but business-like and should be directed to the issues at hand without providing information to any unrelated issue. (Respond to only the information requested.)
  6. Attach documentation that supports your position.
  7. If the amount of tax is significant, you might consider mailing your letter certified mail or use some sort of certificate of mailing.

We correspond with the IRS and state taxing authorities on behalf of our clients, and find that by following these steps, most issues can be resolved without the need for additional stress or frustration. 

David Payne, Manager, Tax Department