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Do You Have a Reactive Mind or a Creative Mind?

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Do you know how to develop a creative mind to enhance your professional and personal development?

The world is constantly evolving, and how we respond to changes greatly impacts our ability to work and collaborate with others. As an accountant, you can practice self-reflection and develop a positive mentality toward change to enhance your firm and your ability to serve clients. 

Gusto, along with our partners at CPA Academy, hosted a webinar all about how accountants can develop a creative mind and adapt to unprecedented challenges. Our webinar titled, “Letting Go of the Urge to Control the Uncontrollable,” featured executive coach and inactive CPA, Amber Setter. She shared invaluable insights into how you can grow professionally and personally. You can watch the entire presentation here

How to expand your thinking capacity by exiting your comfort zone

Accountants and other professionals can experience tremendous growth by being willing to exit their comfort zones. When Amber presented her webinar, people were in an uncomfortable space because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Amber observed that in March 2020, the pandemic forced people out of their comfort zones: 

“[Many of us were] smack dab in the middle of our comfort zones … in February 2020. … I’m going … into the office every day. My kids go to school. [It was] just, kind of, normal life. What happened with COVID is we went from [normal life] to [the unknown]. Boom, way out in the unknown, it thrust us all out.”

Amber Setter

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed everyone out of their comfort zones because people had to meet new challenges involving the shutdown and combating the spread of infection. 

Stressed woman going through bills, looking worried.

Amber noted that people often willingly exit their comfort zones and grow from new, challenging experiences. For example, it may feel uncomfortable to take on a new career or move to a new city, but people recognize that they grow in those types of challenging situations. On the other hand, when people don’t willingly leave their comfort zones and external circumstances force them into discomfort, they often fail to realize their ability to grow: 

“When we get out of our comfort zone is when we grow, but it’s about how we relate to that experience of being … in the unknown. When we’ve chosen it to take a new job, we’re often like, ‘This is awesome. I’m growing,’ but when life thrusts us out of it, it’s like, ‘This is not awesome. This is terrible. I hate it. I hate it.’ … We can grow when we’re out of our comfort zones.”

Amber Setter

You don’t have to make a conscious choice to exit your comfort zone in order to grow. Sometimes, external factors outside your control force you to adapt, and you can still grow in those challenging moments. You can grow through gaining perspective and focusing on your development in times of adversity. 

“Stretching yourself, taking on new projects, relationships, things in your life, setting a goal to do a physical activity like a marathon—those are good things, right? But it’s also learning how to expand your capacity. … The metaphor that I have here is [to] imagine how it is when you take a rock and you drop it in the water and you see that there [are] those incremental ripples. Imagine that’s your comfort zone just rippling out … and growing bigger.”

Amber Setter

You can expand your thinking and capacity to handle changes by shifting your perspective when experiencing discomfort. Rather than focusing on what’s outside your control in any given situation, such as a pandemic, you can focus on your internal growth and ability to take on new challenges. 

Creative and reactive leadership

Amber transitioned from discussing internal growth in times of adversity to detailing one of her coaching tools called the Leadership Circle Profile, which outlines two stances: a creative stance and a reactive stance. She said that people can evaluate whether they’re reactive or creative based on the efficacy of their behaviors.

“It’s [for] helping people see how they’re operating in life. … When I use this with a leader, I do this to help them identify [whether] their behaviors [are] effective or ineffective. … The top half is effective. These are called ‘creative competencies.’ … These are skills that I bring as a leader, and on the bottom half are the ineffective, automatic ways of being that are driven by the automatic ways of thinking, and these are what we call ‘reactive tendencies’ like our knee-jerk reactions.”

Amber Setter

Amber’s Leadership Circle Profile includes the creative and reactive stances. According to Amber’s Leadership Circle visual, a leader with a creative stance is, “Driven by purpose, acts with integrity and courage, leads with vision. Enhances their own development and improves organizational systems.” A leader with a reactive stance, on the other hand, is, “Driven by unexamined inner beliefs and fears. Emphasizes caution over results, self-protection over productive engagement, and exerting control over building alignment.” 

Woman having conversation with female colleague in a coffee shop.

Amber noted that unexamined mindsets and fear drive the reactive stance: 

“The reactive stance is driven by our unexamined mindset, so any limiting beliefs that we have and unexamined fears [are] what drives those knee-jerk reactions. … It’s like, ‘I got a lot of fears, some I’ve looked at, some I haven’t,’ and it’s driving the reactive [stance].”

Amber Setter

The creative stance involves knowing yourself and working on your internal state, both of which improve your ability to lead and collaborate with others. 

“In the creative [stance], there’s a lot of acting with integrity, meaning [that] what I say is important to me. I live by those values. There’s a lot of courage, right? There’s the courage to say, ‘This is where I’m at,’ ‘This is what I need,’ and ‘How do we go in on this together?’ At an individual level, these people are really working to enhance their own development. … They’re doing the inner work.”

Amber Setter

It’s critical to look internally and work on yourself, especially during times of crisis. In our previous article, Amber discussed how it’s crucial that we let go of control over external circumstances that we can’t change. Instead, we can focus on growing and becoming exceptional accountants and better people. Rather than adopting a reactive, fearful stance, you can do the internal work and develop a creative approach to your personal and professional lives. 

The importance of working on yourself

Engaging in self-reflection and working on yourself is critical for every facet of your life. Amber observed that people often disregard working on themselves during busy periods: 

“The most common … objection I hear to professional coaching is [that], during peak periods, whether that means busy season or month-end close, [they say], … ‘I don’t have time to work on myself. I don’t have time to go to the doctor. I don’t have time to get a haircut. I don’t have time for happy hour.’”

Amber Setter

When accountants become busy professionally because of tax season or another reason, they often disregard working on themselves and self-care. Amber noted that accountants and other professionals can improve their work by taking a moment to reflect: 

“The irony is that usually … you’re going to get the greatest value [by] stopping and pausing and saying, ‘Okay, I’ve got this board meeting coming up. How can I be most effective?’ or, ‘I’ve got this really challenging conversation about a technical position that I need to talk through with a client.’”

Amber Setter

Taking a step back to reflect and work on yourself can help you uncover what you need in order to improve yourself professionally and personally. You can also enhance your work by evaluating the best way to perform a task. Often, people fail to optimize their work performance because they remain incredibly busy. 

Female thinking ideas with looking on windows.

When people don’t take a moment to reflect, they often take a reactive stance to address problems. Their underlying fears shape their work and outlook. 

“Our reactive control freak is driven by our core beliefs, which are either things that we’ve examined or things that we’re not conscious of. … Way down deep beneath the surface, they’re carrying hidden beliefs such as, ‘I am powerless. I can’t create the life I want. I’m not responsible for what’s going on around me.’”

Amber Setter

If you live your life without examining your core beliefs, you’ll likely have difficulty creating the life you want to lead. 

As an accountant, you likely undergo intense periods where you feel overwhelmed with your work. It may be difficult, but it’s important to work on yourself and engage in self-reflection during busy periods. You can uncover your underlying beliefs that shape whether you take a reactive or creative stance to improve your work and life. 

Learn more about self-reflection and personal growth

People can experience tremendous growth when they’re outside of their comfort zones, and exiting your comfort zone doesn’t need to be your choice. External circumstances outside of your control may force you to take on uncomfortable challenges, and you can choose to look inward and grow from difficult experiences. Self-reflection is also critical for developing a creative stance, where purpose and integrity motivate you. Even during intense, busy periods, you can still reflect and improve yourself. 

If you’re ready to learn about developing a creative stance, read Part One and Part Three of this webinar series. You can also watch Amber’s entire presentation here

One way you can begin enhancing your professional career is by partnering with Gusto. When you become a Gusto partner, you get exclusive access to tools and resources to support your clients into the future. Streamline payroll and benefits, and start advising your clients in valuable new ways. Join Gusto’s Partner Program today.

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