One of the keys to growing and developing organizations is finding and cultivating future leaders. Aristotle provided a helpful clue for identifying leadership qualities when he said, “He who cannot be a good follower, cannot be a good leader.” While not every follower will make a good leader, every good leader should also be a good follower. I recently interviewed Paul V. Breazeale, owner of Breazeale, Saunders & O’Neil, Ltd., a well respected CPA firm based in Jackson. Breazeale emphasized this point about good leaders being good followers as well as a number of other valuable insights on leadership that I will summarize.
Breazeale is a Mississippi native and grew up in Neshoba County. He earned his undergraduate and master’s degree from Mississippi State University. After working for 11 years with KPMG, he founded his own firm in 1981. His firm does not attempt to be “all things to all people.” Instead, they prefer “giving premium quality services to a select group of mostly small to mid-size businesses and upwardly mobile individuals.” In addition to the leadership he provides in his firm, Breazeale has been an active leader in the community. He has served as chairman/president of a number of professional and community organizations such as the Mississippi Society of CPA’s, the Mississippi Baptist Foundation and the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly. He also served as chairman of the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges and is presently serving on the board of trustees of Hinds Community College and as a member of the Mississippi Ethics Commission.
Breazeale believes that the best leaders are those who are deliberative and who are good listeners. He recommends that future leaders learn by “on-the-job” training and should volunteer for responsibility. Breazeale said, “I generally start out as treasurer and then serve in other leadership positions.” This goes back to the idea that good leaders are good followers. Good followers know how to work with the team, do what needs to be done, and be trustworthy. Leaders who simply want the title and fanfare of leadership typically make poor leaders. I am always suspicious of leaders who crave the power rather than being passionate about serving the cause.
In contrast, true leaders know that it is about servanthood and leading by example. Breazeale noted that “leading by example” is the way he addresses a fundamental challenge for most leaders – how to motivate those you are trying to lead. He shared a practical example of this with me. When he is involved in a community fundraising project, he knows that it is imperative that he first make his contribution before asking others to do the same. Another way of saying this is that you can’t just “talk the talk, you have to walk the walk.”
Breazeale’s son attended West Point as a cadet, and Breazeale shared that to support his son he memorized the Cadet Honor Code which reads that, “a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” He noted that none of us can really be leaders unless we follow this high standard of conduct. This is really about maintaining integrity and consistency as a leader. Leading with integrity is not a one-time event, rather it is a day in and day out way of conducting yourself. One other thing I noted about Breazeale is that he is a lifelong learner which is a trait I have found in almost every successful leader I have interviewed. Professionally, Breazeale has to do this to remain on the cutting edge of the ever changing tax code. However, he also is a voracious reader who reads on average a book a week. Leaders like Breazeale are the backbone of our community, and I hope other young leaders will look to examples like him about how to not just succeed in business, but also in life.