The Leadership Wisdom of Janet Kyle Altman

For sixteen years, Janet Kyle Altman has been the Marketing Partner for Kaufman Rossin, one of the top CPA and Advisory firms in the Southeast (and one of the top 100 firms nationwide). In this role, she heads up all marketing and branding initatives for the firm, and marketing consulting for firm clients. She is also the Director of Kaufman Rossin University, making Ms. Altman responsible for people-development, which is a priority this firm takes very seriously. To do all this, Ms. Altman leads a team of eight people within that line of authority and another five people with whom she works closely in a related team. While her span of control and range of responsibilities within the firm is significant, Ms. Altman is also widely known outside the firm for her community leadership including serving as Chair of the Miami-Dade Women’s Fund, as well as her prolific writing, lectures, seminars, and work as a facilitator for national and local non-profits. South Florida Business Journal named her one of the community’s most influential business women.

Ms. Altman says, “I practice mindful leadership.” I love this as a starting point because it is at once so simple and so very profound. What is mindfulness? ‘Acute mental focus’ is one definition. ‘Purposefully thoughtful’ is another. ‘Moment by moment awareness’ is another. Mindfulness, as a concept, is so powerful because it is a very immediate way of accessing a very deep resource; a very tactical understanding of a very strategic matter.

Ms. Altman explains: “I believe in identifying goals, assembling the right teams, and creating under-complicated action plans. Establishing that framework and mindfully checking for alignment to our goals and plans helps me to be a strategic and productive leader. When one or more team members drift from the objectives, it is my job to assess, discuss and realign.” There you have the fundamentals of leadership in a nutshell. What is Ms. Altman currently trying to get better at? Like so many of the most effective leaders, Ms. Altman is always working on “patience and listening better.” She says, “I’ve gotten a lot better in both of these areas, but there’s always more work to be done.” That’s mindful leadership!

The Leadership Wisdom of Janet Altman

Begin with the end in mind. What are we trying to accomplish? Then identify which strengths are valuable in the process, and who has those strengths. For big projects, it’s key to have diversity of opinion and style.

Retention planning shouldn’t begin when you notice an employee is at risk. It should be part of the ongoing coaching relationship that begins when you hire the right person.

Truly understanding the employee’s strengths and goals is an important element of the ongoing process. Those goals often create natural paths within your organization; sometimes the strengths show us opportunities we may never have considered.

Discuss, document and hold the employee accountable for training and development activities. Training and development of employees is a very important employer responsibility. Continuous learning keeps all of us productive and contributing. No one’s lifetime learning plan is ever complete, because the world around us keeps evolving.

When there is conflict between employees… Understand the source of the conflict, and refocus the people involved on their work responsibilities. What caused the dispute? Is it just a difference in styles, or is one of the employees behaving inappropriately? I try to use the themes of mutual respect and mutual purpose recommended by the authors of Crucial Conversations.

When employees have personal problems at home
… The employee needs to recognize that you care about them personally, but that your job is to make sure the work gets done. Saying that – specifically and directly, with empathy – is the first step. Don’t let them off the hook on their work responsibilities. During these times, it may be necessary to move closer to the employee, supervise their work more carefully, and maybe double up on the one-on-one time you spend with them. I have found it useful to schedule a second one-on-one meeting with an employee each week, and invite an HR person to participate in some of the meetings.

Flexibility was always important; now it’s completely manageable. I am writing this sitting in the waiting room of a hospital that’s 1,321 miles from my desk. I will get more done today than many days in the office – because I planned properly. Employees are people with lives and responsibilities, and different people work better in different situations. Now it’s not just essential – it’s completely manageable. The key to making this work is tips and training on productivity, both in the office and when working remotely.

Every organization needs a succession plan. As founders age, a newer group of leaders must be nurtured and developed – and often it begins later than it should. As an organization grows, development paths should be created for everyone. High potential employees can be identified early, and should be given attention and opportunity to develop their skills. These future leaders aren’t all the same, and their development plans should include different elements. Frequent exposure to current leaders, the ability to interact with others in their industry and specific leadership and industry training are keys to their success.

I see generational differences as an opportunity. The Baby Boomers I work with have the optimism and drive of a generation that believes we can change things for the better. Generation X brings an entrepreneurial spirit, which I value both inside my team and in my outside contractors. And Millennials help us question everything, and look for ways to make the workplace – and the world – better for us all.

Different people have different needs. Treating people fairly doesn’t mean treating everyone the same. That’s core to our culture. So the input and feedback we get from each generation and each individual plays into the programs we create, our management training, and our daily lives.

Janet Altman is a Management Chief Marketing Officer at Kaufman Rossin, one of the Top 100 CPA and advisory firms in the U.S.