A lot of people mistake managing for leadership. They think that because they are skilled at keeping the trains running on time, they are leaders. Lara Abrash, Deloitte & Touche LLP CEO and recipient of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ 2022 Most Powerful Women in Accounting, thinks there’s a very important difference between leadership and managing.

“Leadership is really about taking those different pieces of the puzzle and figuring out how to bring them together, so they’re operating at their very best,” she said in a recent episode of Corporate Competitor Podcast. “It’s about setting an inspirational vision, getting people excited, and letting them know they can be their authentic selves.”

Abrash earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and an MBA, but she says she got one of the most enduring leadership lessons from her high school softball coach Frank Catalano, who taught her that leadership was about more than producing outcomes. “He truly took time to care about each of us, and he took the time to invest in each of us, individually, and then as a team,” she recalled. At Deloitte, Abrash has taken the same kind of time to foster a culture of caring and inclusion, albeit for thousands of employees rather than dozens.

In this podcast episode, Abrash, who also manages and plays first base on a competitive women’s softball team, talks candidly about the challenges and rewards of authentic leadership. Highlights include:

• How her son’s epilepsy taught her to be vulnerable in her own life and brought her more deeply into a discussion about diversity, equity, and inclusion and the importance of including others.

• The “massive risk” Abrash took by modernizing Deloitte’s technology capabilities and why she believes “failing should be a necessity for anybody” who wants to be a leader.

• How to turn the tables on work versus play by making your organization a place where people actually build memories as well as careers.

We spend so much of our lives working, says Abrash, we owe it to ourselves to create a collegial environment where individuals, as well as the team, can thrive. “I have a saying,” said Abrash, “Work hard. Play harder. So, I try to make work an environment where people who come together aren’t just doing the work. They are people you actually want to be with.”

Kind of like a softball team.


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