Keith Barfield is a Partner and founding member of Barfield, Murphy, Shank & Smith, LLC. He is a sparkly-eyed, always-smiling, motorcycle-riding practice developer and we truly appreciate his positive approach to leadership. Keith’s innovative firm, which features a brightly-colored zebra as its mascot, is the second largest locally owned accounting firm in Birmingham, Alabama, specializing in auditing and management advisory services. Keith holds the Certified Information Technology Professionals (CITP) designation and he is the author of the forward-thinking “Barfield on Tech,” sharing insights with start-ups and businesses in the technology industry. He was also featured in the business advice book CEO Speaks – Sage Advice During Turbulent Times. He is active in a number of community associations and is always a willing sharer at conferences and networking events. He took a few minutes to answer our questions as our featured leader this month:
ConvergenceCoaching: Whose leadership style do you most admire and why?
KB: Over the past seven years, I have been most excited by the ideas of Ray Kurzweil. Not many people know Mr. Kurzweil or follow his work. He is mostly known as a futurist and not for being a leader. I think Mr. Kurzweil is a leader because he communicates his vision for the future more clearly than anyone else I know. He has written several books that have refined a concept called Singularity, where the artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence in the future. Thousands have adopted this concept and are actually working to bring it about. In Mr. Kurzweil’s last book “How to Create a Mind”, he laid out the future of artificial intelligence. As a result of such a clearly defined vision, he was then hired by Google to head up their efforts. That seems like pretty good leadership to me.
ConvergenceCoaching: What do you think the single most important leadership attribute or characteristic is and why?
KB: I believe that vision is the single most important attribute of a leader. If you are going to lead, you have to be clear about where you are leading, and have the passion and commitment to get there. John Kennedy had the vision to shoot for the moon. He led our country in that direction and it created thousands of jobs and people with the passion and purpose to attain that goal. I don’t believe we have been that challenged with a shared vision since then.
ConvergenceCoaching: What do you look for in young up-and-coming leaders?
KB: It’s very rare for young people to have lived long enough to develop a clear vision. So, instead, I look for communication skills. The ability to communicate, to sell your ideas, to simplify concepts down to the pure essence that allows anyone to understand your ideas is something you can develop as a young person. Excellent communication skills can create passion for ideas and concepts.
ConvergenceCoaching: How do you develop leadership in others?
KB: I like to give young people plenty of room to try out their leadership skills without hovering or micromanaging. I want them to have room to try their hand at leadership but also provide a safety net in case they make a mistake. I will withhold comments on plans of action unless I think there is a serious flaw in the leadership plan being discussed. I think over-critiquing anyone undermines confidence and can extinguish early confidence. If asked, I will share my evaluation of the weaknesses in the plan, but don’t mind young leaders trying it their own way. I think for this style, I have earned a reputation as the “Most Tolerant” leader in our firm.
ConvergenceCoaching: What advice do you have for those looking to step into a leadership position in their firms or businesses?
KB: My first advice is to spend some significant time thinking about your dream life and how you would like to live it and what you want to accomplish. Then, be sure your profession can provide you that opportunity to be all that you can be. Balance the practical side of earning a living with the rewarding side of accomplishing your life goals. Don’t be afraid to float crazy ideas by your co-workers because one day someone may take your idea and tweak it and create something amazing. Don’t give up on your ideas and dreams, sometimes it just takes a while to realize them.
ConvergenceCoaching: What three words best describe your leadership style?
KB: Visionary – Because I spend time looking at the future and where to strategically intersect it with my plans. Patient – Because great things take time to build and develop. Determined – Because I believe that you should never give up on your dreams. Inspiration can spark the idea but most goals require steady daily progress to accomplish in the long run. In Keith’s answers, you may have noticed vision as a theme. Clarifying your vision, both as an individual and as an organization is crucial to success and forward movement. When was the last time that you sat down and reviewed and/or revised your personal vision? How about your organizational vision? If it has been more than a year, when will you commit to doing so? We hope you enjoyed Keith’s perspectives this month and as always, we would love to hear your thoughts.