Leadership learnings, culture and making it fun

Wally Gruenes’s story

As managing partner of the firm’s Central Region, I have the pleasure of leading over 1,200 tremendous professionals serving clients in nine states.

Wally Gruenes in team volunteering eventTeam volunteering in action
Joining Grant Thornton in 2008 has been the best choice of my 38-year career. I love working with my teammates and watching them grow as they take on additional responsibilities and develop their leadership skills. I believe that career advancement is accelerated or limited by your leadership skills.

A couple of years ago at a presentation on leadership to accounting majors at my alma mater, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, we began by singing the Illinois school fight song. Some students were initially reluctant to join in because they felt they couldn’t sing. So I told them “we can all sing — perhaps others may judge us as ‘poor’ singers — but we can all sing.” You may be concerned about how others judge your singing. It’s an important point that relates to leadership. You often must take actions for which you are judged or criticized, but that is no reason not to take that action, even if not executed “perfectly.” There is never a wrong time to do the right thing.

Responsibility, relationships, resultsLeadership isn’t gained by being given a title — it must be earned. It is the responsibility of a leader to develop relationships with teammates and demonstrate that they can deliver results. It is also a leader’s responsibility to develop future leaders through mentoring and providing opportunities for those future leaders to take risks in a safe environment. You may even have the opportunity to develop the whole person by sharing your “life lessons” and listening to his or her stories. You don’t necessarily need to be a “charge-the-hill” leader. But you do need to have a desire to help people to thrive and succeed in their lives, which is the highest calling of leadership.

Wally Gruenes radio interviewA Dallas sports radio show broadcasting from our office
When people understand that you are there to help them and the firm succeed and not for your own personal interest — they will trust you and your leadership. It is also important that leaders set the right example through words and actions. People are watching and taking note. They want to see desirable behavior rewarded and out-of-line behavior addressed promptly and professionally. Both reactions send a powerful message. People learn leadership skills by the example their leaders demonstrate. And the better leadership skills our people possess the stronger the team, the firm and the firm’s culture become.

Supporting the culture and setting the toneI’m having more fun than at any other point in my career in large part because of the culture at Grant Thornton. My number one goal for this fiscal year is to be at “curious” or above on the mood elevator every day. So far, so good!

I know that work/life balance is an important matter for our people; frankly, that was also true when I was a new staff person in 1980. One thing I share with our team is that although I have experienced work/life balance over the course of my career, it was almost never in perfect balance at any single point in time. Sometimes it was tilted to work and sometimes it was tilted to life depending upon the specific circumstances. But over the course of my career, it has been reasonably balanced.

A great aspect of our culture is that our people and leaders tend to be humble. Our teammates all work very hard, and as leaders we need to express our appreciation at every opportunity.
Wally Gruenes as Jon SnowTaking on the annual meeting
My way of showing appreciation often incorporates humor to keep it light and help create a more enjoyable work environment.

Leading in personal activitiesI’m a strong believer that a sound mind and a sound body help to achieve a balanced, healthy life. I served as a board member for five years at Back on My Feet, a charity that works with people experiencing homelessness. One of the services Back on My Feet provides is an early-morning running program with residents of homeless shelters. The program teaches discipline, self-respect and organization. One resident with whom I was running told me how much it meant to him that his brother was there to see him finish his first 5K. But about halfway along, he pulled a calf muscle and thought he’d have to quit. However, instead of quitting, he chose to walk. When he got close to the end, his cramp loosened up and he was able to proudly finish with his head held high. It was such a great feeling to witness how impactful this achievement was for him.
Wally Gruenes representing GT in a raceRepresenting the firm as an endurance athlete
Wally Gruenes in family raceRacing as a family

I also serve on the board of the American Heart Association, supporting its mission of promoting heart health, and am involved with two other charitable organizations focused on improving the lives of people in the Dallas area. I have been incredibly fortunate my entire life, and supporting these organizations that help other people improve their lives is a pleasure for me, as is supporting my Grant Thornton colleagues.