Industry Trends

Why All Accountants Need ICF Coaching at Some Point

Gusto Editors  
Two businesswomen using laptop in boardroom meeting.

Have you ever considered hiring a coach?

The truth is, the accounting profession is not an easy one. It can be challenging to overcome mental health struggles at the same time you’re pursuing your goals for your firm. You want to make progress and move forward in your career, but you may not know where to start or how to stay motivated. Coaching can be the solution you need to overcome obstacles and thrive in the accounting profession.

We here at Gusto are dedicated to helping you succeed and overcome all kinds of challenges in your accounting career. That’s why Gusto’s Editor-at-Large, Caleb Newquist, and the head of Gusto’s accountant community, Will Lopez, hosted this special episode of our On the Margins: LIVE series. Non-practicing CPA Amber Setter joined them for the discussion.

Amber Setter helps individuals and groups in the business and accounting world incorporate consciousness practices into their career lives. As a coach for CPAs, she merges her awareness of psychology, healing, and meditation techniques, and expertise in the accounting industry. Her ultimate goal is to help her clients lead happier, healthier lives. 

Caleb and Will aired this broadcast in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, but their insights are equally relevant to accountants in general. You can watch the entire video on YouTube here. While you’re there, you can also subscribe to our YouTube channel for more informative content about the accounting industry.

What is ICF coaching?

Beautiful female financial adviser talking to a client.

If you’ve never heard of professional coaching before, the word itself may conjure up images of Little League coaches out on the ball field or college football coaches yelling at referees. The truth is, coaches are for everyone. There are coaches for people across all professions, including accounting. Amber Setter offered insight into why coaching is important for accountants:

“The accounting profession, whether it’s in CPE or a traditional business degree—we don’t teach people about how to be a human and how to have a human experience and how to connect with others … and how to lead organizational change or individual change. … That was really a catalyst of—how do we develop the whole person and the profession and not just the technician?”

Amber Setter

Coaching doesn’t have to be about athletic ability. At their core, coaches are there to help people perform better, and that can apply to sports, work, relationships, and many other aspects of life. In the accounting world, coaching can be an essential part of helping you reach your professional goals. Coaches can help you identify what you want and the actions you need to take to achieve it. They can point you in the right direction and offer encouragement along the way.

“When you talk about relationships … how you do relationships and you understand and you talk to your clients more frequently and [ask them] what do they want and how do they want to help their family—that is what coaching is, so that’s what I do today. I talk to accountants about their feelings, their goals, their hopes.”

Amber Setter

What are your feelings, goals, and hopes for your accounting firm right now? Have you taken the time to check in with them lately? If not—or even if you have, but you’re looking for a little bit of help—it may be time to look into coaching.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that the best place to start is with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) when you’re looking for a coach. The ICF offers accreditation to professional coaches like Amber to ensure that clients are receiving quality coaching services. Much as doctors, educators, and athletic coaches require certifications specific to their fields, coaches should be accredited by the ICF before they are eligible to be hired by your firm.

Coaching vs. therapy

At first glance, coaching may sound very similar to therapy. The goal of both coaching and therapy is the same—to help you live a better life. Additionally, their strategies are similar. Coaching and therapy help you identify problems and overcome problems, discover goals and help you achieve them, and offer encouragement and motivation on the journey. So is there really a difference between the two? 

It turns out that there is a difference, and Amber broke it down for the audience. The key is whether the process is past-oriented or future-oriented. Take coaching, for example:

“So the difference between coaching and therapy is: Usually coaching is … ‘Here I am, and I need to figure out where I [will be] in the future, and maybe I know what I want to do, and maybe I don’t know, but I know the status quo is not great. So coaching is: Where am I today? Where do I want to be? And then designing a plan infused with accountability for getting there.”

Amber Setter

Coaching is uniquely future-oriented. It’s about knowing where you are and what’s not working right now and creating a plan for change. It’s goal-oriented and helps you move forward toward those goals, whatever they may be. Therapy, on the other hand, is more past-oriented:

“Therapy is often more, ‘Here I am today, things aren’t working. What do I need to look at in the past about my upbringing, my childhood, the toxic workplace I was at in the first part of my career that keeps getting me stuck?’ … That’s usually an easier way to think about it, past versus future orientation.”

Amber Setter

Therapy, unlike coaching, is all about the past. It’s about digging into the experiences you’ve had that have shaped you into who you are today. It can be about trauma from your childhood or negative experiences you’ve had in the workplace, but either way, it’s focused on the past so that you can be a better, more confident you in the present and future.

Woman patient had a casual conversation with a consultant psychologist in the office.

Coaching and therapy are both important and highly necessary, but one or the other may be right for you right now. Consider your current circumstances—Do you feel stuck in the past? Is there something holding you back that you need to heal? If so, therapy may be the right choice for you. Or, do you have goals for yourself that you don’t know how to attain? Do you want to shift careers or enact positive change in your workplace, but you need a little help getting started? If that sounds more like you, coaching is exactly what you’re looking for. 

Why coaching could be the solution your accounting firm needs

Take a moment to think about your accounting firm. Chances are, someone on your team is currently experiencing burnout—that person may even be you. Unfortunately, we live in an age when the “busy season” seems never-ending. At the time when Amber discussed burnout on
On the Margins: LIVE, the COVID-19 pandemic caused the IRS to extend filing deadlines, resulting in an even longer busy season.

“When we talk about the ‘old-world way,’ it’s like this mentality that people have just been operating like, ‘Oh, well, I’ll take care of myself after [the] busy season. … Oh, and then by the way, [busy season] got extended more and more,’ so we’re never actually taking care of ourselves.”

Amber Setter

Have you ever told yourself, “I’ll take time for my mental health when the busy season is over,” only to forget about it soon after? Many accountants have, but unfortunately, this can snowball into burnout, which often leads to employee turnover. That’s the old-world way of thinking, and we’ve seen the problems it can cause for mental health in the industry. When one of your accountants leaves your firm as a result of burnout, that leaves you in the challenging position of having to quickly recruit and hire someone new to take their place, and that’s an expensive process.

However, there’s good news: Coaching can be the solution to this problem. By hiring a coach to help your employees mitigate their work hours and avoid burnout, you can reduce turnover and save thousands of dollars.

“If you replaced [the] role of somebody making $180,000 on the cusp of partner, that’s going to cost $40,000 for a headhunter. A coach for a year maybe is going to be $20,000. … The old-world leaders are like, ‘Coaching’s too expensive. Mental health—go take care of that on your own time,’ and a new-world leader is going to say, ‘Actually, I can make that investment that’s going to cost half as much money [and] is going to keep my people. … They’re going to produce better results, and my clients are going to be happier, and my team’s going to be happier.”

Amber Setter

At the end of the day, while coaching is a significant investment, it’s much cheaper than the cost of hiring a new accountant. By investing in coaching for yourself and your team, you can improve your satisfaction at work and create a healthier work environment. You’ll actually be able to see improvements in your productivity and client satisfaction—everyone wins.

Learn more about implementing ICF coaching at your firm

Coaching is an essential part of a healthy workplace environment. An ICF-accredited coach can help you and your team identify and achieve your goals, thereby maximizing your potential and productivity. Coaching is unique from therapy for its orientation toward the future and emphasis on actions driving toward goals. By hiring a coach for your team, you can reduce burnout and employee turnover. And though it does come with a cost, coaching is significantly less expensive than hiring a new employee.

If you enjoyed this episode of On the Margins: LIVE and you’re interested in learning more about how coaching can help your firm succeed, feel free to check out the International Coaching Federation’s website, and if you’re interested in working with Amber, you can find her on LinkedIn. Additionally, don’t forget to check out Part One of this article series, “A Love Letter to Accountants During Busy and Stressful Seasons,” for a little extra encouragement.

Looking for more ways to enhance your accounting firm? Consider 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.

Updated: May 17, 2022

Gusto Editors
Gusto Editors

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