Elizabeth swing dances her way to better business relationships
Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner joined a bunch of coworkers at swing dance lessons in order for all of them to be able to dance at one of their weddings. She enjoyed it so much that she continues to take lessons and is even known to be dancing at the standing desk in her office as she moves through a problem. And if Bobby Darin’s Beyond the Sea comes on, you better be ready to see her in action.
In this episode, Elizabeth and I talk about how similar change management and dance are because even the smallest of movements can make a big difference. Demonstrating skills developed from outside interests above and beyond technical skills is even more important now, especially with automation and A.I. entering the workplace. She says, “We, at the core, are humans and we need to connect on multiple different levels to have the most effective relationships.”
Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner is the Controller at Litera Microsystems outside of Chicago and is a very active member of both the AICPA Council and Illinois CPA Society Board of Directors. She’s also an Executive Board Member of SWING for kids.
She graduated from the University of Illinois with her BS, Accounting and Finance and was recently named one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in Accounting by CPA Practice Advisor.
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Welcome to Episode 150 of the Green Apple Podcast. This is John Garrett, and I can’t believe we’ve made it this far, 150 different professionals known for a hobby or an interest or a passion outside of work, making them stand out like a green apple in a stereotypically boring red apple world. To put it another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and” as in my guest, Elizabeth who is both an accountant and a swing dancer. It’s going to be so much fun to hear how she actually got into swing dancing with a bunch of coworkers. So it’s clearly made for more productive relationships in the office.
I’ve got a quick favor to ask, if you like the show and are listening on iTunes or your favorite Android app, don’t forget to hit “subscribe” so you don’t miss any of the future episodes and maybe even leave a rating or a review that really helps get the message out there and allow new listeners to find the show. One person actually called it recently the least businessy podcast ever which was awesome.
Now, I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. This week is absolutely no different with my guest, Elizabeth Pittelkow Kittner. She’s the controller at Litera Microsystems and was recently named one of the 25 most powerful women in accounting by CPA Practice Advisor.
Elizabeth, thank you so much for taking time to be with me today on the Green Apple Podcast.
Elizabeth: Thank you, John. I’m delighted to be here.
John: I’m so excited to have you on the show. Congrats again on the CPA Practice Advisor award that you won. That’s the Powerful Women in Accounting. That’s awesome.
Elizabeth: Thank you.
John: Yeah, really, really cool.
Elizabeth: Thank you. I’m really excited about that award.
John: Yeah, absolutely. It’s so neat too to see that list and quite a few of them been Green Apple Podcast guests as well. It’s just exciting to see successful people that are normal real people that have passions and interests outside of work which is really neat. One thing I love to ask everybody and I’m always so fascinated by is just what made you want to choose accounting in the first place?
Elizabeth: I am a sixth generation finance person in my family.
John: What? That’s crazy. Sixth generation. Wow.
Elizabeth: Yes. I always knew that I wanted to go into business and I was leaning toward finance when I started college because my dad was in finance for so long. When I attended college, I liked my accounting classes just as much as my finance classes, so I decided to major in both.
Elizabeth: And I have loved working in accounting because of the work that I do and the people that I’ve met. It’s been an incredible experience. So I started out in public for about five-and-a-half years on the audit side and then I went into industry. I worked in the supply chain business and then I moved over to legal software which is where I am now.
John: That’s fantastic, really fantastic. Sixth generation.
John: That’s wild. Like yeah, like you have to do it. You have to. But when you’re not the controller, you have things that you do outside of work. What are what are some of those, that passions and interests that you love doing?
Elizabeth: One of my favorite things to do outside of work is swing dancing.
John: Nice. There you go.
Elizabeth: I started swing dancing in 2013. I had two colleagues that met each other at our company and decided to get married. They were both interested in having a big jazz band at their wedding and wanted people to know how to dance to genuine jazz bands, a 19-piece jazz band. They told me with about five months to prepare that I had to come with some skills in jazz dancing. So I took swing dancing after work with some of my colleagues. We’d hop on the train to our dance studio. We started out taking an hour lessons at a time and then we ended up continuing it even past the wedding for several years and we were taking three hours a night at least one night a week, and that was our after work activity.
John: Wow, and you did it with coworkers even after the wedding.
John: But you didn’t have to anymore really.
Elizabeth: Which was a blast. And we would do it at work for practice. We would do it at lunch and we would get people engaged and teach them steps and we had so much fun doing it as a company.
John: Yeah, that’s really cool. That’s so crazy, because at no point in your undergrad, accounting or finance did they tell you to learn swing dancing because it’ll make you a better coworker, right? They probably should.
Elizabeth: They didn’t. It’s so important to have things outside of work that you’re passionate about, because it makes you a much happier person. You’re able to connect with people on deeper levels. You’re going to foster overall more productive and meaningful relationships when you have these outside passions that you talk about at work.
John: Why do you think that those stronger connections and deeper relationships matter so much at work?
Elizabeth: We need to connect at a human level, especially with more automation and AI coming into our worlds. We at the core are humans and we need to connect on multiple different levels to have the most effective relationship. So if we have commonalities, we build more trust with each other. When you trust each other more, you’ll be more effective and you’ll move faster.
John: Yeah, that’s something that actually when I speak at firm events and conferences, I call it the trust rut because everyone’s trying to be the trusted advisor. But we’ve got the advisor part nailed, right? Are you an untrusted advisor? Isn’t an advisor enough? There’s a next level now? Whatever. But anyway, but the trust rut is where the more that you try and be perfect and talk about how good you are at your job and your certifications and your degrees and all that, the lest I actually trust you. It’s like getting a car stuck in the snow and you just gun it and then you just sink down in the snow and you’re not going anywhere. It’s so funny to me, but then all of a sudden you move out there and need those passions and interests and those things that make you human, all of a sudden, then that’s where trust happens right there.
Elizabeth: I agree, and you can see people’s body language change when you are talking about something technical versus when you’re talking about something on a more personal level. They sit up straighter or stand up straighter, their eyes get wider, their heart beat increases, there is so much that’s happening chemically that comes out in both macro and micro expressions that you can tell that you’re connecting with someone on a much deeper level when you’re talking about personal passions.
John: Absolutely. That’s cool that you’re able to see that. For sure, yeah, that’s really, really neat. And so I guess at the wedding, I’m sure this went off swimmingly. Everyone was just rocking out in the swing dancing?
Elizabeth: I felt like I was on a movie set. It was really fun, because different songs would come on and we had practiced different moves and we had enough ability built up even in the short few months that we had prepared to do some really neat things both with our footwork and the turns are really fun to watch. You don’t have to know much to be really impressive in swing dancing. That’s a really cool thing that you can do. So I kind of use it as my secret talent at weddings. When there’s a swing song that comes on, I will get up there and people will be very shocked that I have this ability.
John: Everybody, get out of the way. Elizabeth is coming. Here we go. Everybody, back up. That’s cool.
Elizabeth: My favorite story is that I was at a Toys for Tots fundraiser in December years ago, and they started playing one of my favorite swing songs which is, Beyond the Sea. It’s a really cool song. It’s not too fast, too slow. It really showcases my swing abilities. That’s the one that I request when I want to really show off. So they played it randomly and I got all excited and I had attended it with some of my friends from the swing dance classes. And so we got up and people just dropped their jaws because nobody was dancing before that, and we got up there, and we ended up doing some really cool flips where we were in air. We were doing aerials which is a more dance move, and it brought more liveliness to the fundraiser. We had so much fun. So that’s one of my favorite memories around swing dancing on the spot.
John: Yeah, that’s really cool. That’s really cool. Do feel like any of that has given you maybe a unique skillset that you use in the office?
Elizabeth: Yes. It’s really funny. I do footwork in the office. I have a standing desk which I love. I can adjust it to be either standing or sitting. When I’m standing, I do kickball changes and I do fancy footwork because it’s in my head. I’m either listening to a song or I’m just thinking through a problem and I need to move through the problem. So that’s what I do. I do this this fun footwork. So people have asked me about my footwork. I’ve gotten to talk about my passion for swing dancing and just jazz music in general and the history of jazz and our culture in Chicago has had a really neat blues in jazz culture.
John: For sure, yeah.
Elizabeth: We have some outstanding bands that I will follow and like dancing to. It’s a really neat community that I need to talk about at work.
John: Yeah, that’s great. Is this something that you talked about all along? Well, I guess, you did it with coworkers. So therefore, that was happening. But even when you started straight out of school, did you have a hobby or a passion that you would talk about or was it more focused on work?
Elizabeth: When I started at my first job, we talked a lot more about technical accounting and about the job at hand and we didn’t spend as much time talking about our outside of work passions. I did start to connect more with people when I joined a fantasy football league as part of the job. It was really funny. It was a male only league. So I signed up as Ellie for Elizabeth.
John: Nice. Yes.
Elizabeth: And what I didn’t realize was that it was going to be a live draft. I thought we were drafting online. I showed up to the live draft and the expressions on people’s faces were insane, and I thought that they were going to ask me to leave.
John: That’s so great.
Elizabeth: But overall, they were welcoming. I think I had some colleagues that stood up for me. I was demolished in my first year of fantasy football because they did not want the only female to win. I’ve done fantasy football every year since. It was a great way for me to interact with my clients too. I had a job where the client requested only male auditors.
Elizabeth: Yes. And my firm said, “No, we don’t do that.” And they said, “Well, we think Elizabeth will fit in well.” So they told me that, and I thought, well, thank you for the vote of confidence. But I definitely felt like I was treated differently by the client because they would come in and only talk to my male colleagues.
John: That’s crazy.
Elizabeth: When I joined fantasy football leagues and was able to talk about how my weekend went with my points, they instantly changed their demeanor toward me. And I thought, okay, you’re not including me, I’m going to include myself in this conversation.
John: Right, that’s insane. I guess that leads me to something that I think about a lot is how much is it on the individual to be that source of change or to create those connections on their own or how much is it on the organization to have that top down culture that permeates everywhere?
Elizabeth: It’s a question I’ve asked myself in a couple of different scenarios. I think it’s on both parties. I think that you have to have a welcoming culture that encourages diverse backgrounds and ages and thoughts. You also have to recognize when you’re in a situation that is not being inclusive and try to work through that. If you’re not the one that’s being included or if you see if someone else is not being included, we each have a personal responsibility to make an environment better.
John: Yeah, because I mean I did it on accident. People would say, “What’d you do this weekend?” And I was like, “Well, I drove to Louisville, Kentucky and did comedy shows.” They’re like, “Well, you did what?” And so I guess, why do you think it’s our default mode to do only the technical talk and not to share those passions and interests outside of work?
Elizabeth: I sometimes get a feeling that people are afraid to get too close to their colleagues because of tough decisions need to be made. It’s harder to make those decisions. But I think that those situations don’t outweigh the benefits you get from having those more collaborative trusting relationships with people where you can get way more done and sell more and get things done faster and improve things. If you are afraid to say, “I don’t like the way that this is going,” then you probably don’t have the best relationship with that person that you needed to tell. But if you are constantly talking about your passions outside of work and are connecting on a deeper level, there’s that safety there where you can say, “I don’t agree with this decision. I don’t agree with what we’re doing, and this is why.” And you don’t feel like there is going to be this retaliatory behavior back or that you’ll have to take sides on an issue.
So I think people are afraid to engage because there are tough decisions that need to be made in organizations, but I think that’s a short-term view. I think longer term view is everyone’s better when we care about each other genuinely about people. But we have this feeling of we’re in it together and that we’re going to succeed individually and as a team and we’re going to fail individually which affects the team. We’re not going to throw people on an island and use them as scapegoats. We want to have this collaboration, and I think you best build collaboration when you care about people and know what their outside of work activities are and can contribute to a conversation that talks about those outside activities.
John: That’s exactly it. It’s one of the things where those tough discussions aren’t as tough.
Elizabeth: You’re right.
John: If you have other strings if you will that are connecting us. So if we swing dance together and go to lunch once a week together and whatever and we also work together, well when that work string gets tight or it’s maybe broken, we still have these other connections that are — you know, I still care about you, you’re still a friend of mine type of a thing.
John: Yet, a lot of us only have that one string that connects us, and its work. When that gets dicey, then all hell breaks loose. The sky is falling.
John: Yeah, so I love that. That’s really cool that you’ve been able to see that and see the benefits of the swing dancing as a group. That’s really, really cool, really cool. So do you have any words of encouragement to anybody listening that is maybe on the fence of, my dancing has nothing to do with accounting, so why should I talk about it?
Elizabeth: I would say, you absolutely need to demonstrate skills and passion outside of technical abilities. If you were ever to leave a role or a company, that’s not coming with you. What’s coming with you is who you are and what you are outside of work, and you need to talk about what makes you you and what unique skills you have that you’re developing outside of work that can be applicable inside your role, because I think there are a lot of crossover abilities. With swing dancing, I’ve learned a lot about rhythm. I’ve learned a ton of structure, and knowing that small movements make a big difference which has helped me personally with change management. It’s hard for me to learn a new routine in dance, and I transfer that into my job. It’s hard to get onto a new ERP system. It’s hard when you have a new staff member.
But when you continually flex a muscle, in my case learning new swing routines, then that will apply in other parts of your life like learning something new at work or having a new colleague or process that you need to adapt to. So I think the skills are definitely transferable and we don’t put enough emphasis on them in our companies. We need to, we need to talk more about them and figure out what are people doing that we can leverage in the workplace?
John: Yeah, I love that. That’s awesome, really fantastic. Really fantastic. I couldn’t agree more. That was really great, and I love how you said that. It’s not the role — even if you stay within the organization, you get promoted. Now, you’re doing different tasks. You’re using different technical skills, but that passion or interest is always with you no matter where you go, and that’s who you really are. Yeah, that’s where the connection happens. Fantastic, really great. Well, before I get on a plane and fly to Chicago and we swing dance it up and then call an ambulance because I broke an ankle, I’ve got my 17 rapid fire questions. I don’t know if you’re ready for this, but —
Elizabeth: I’m ready. Bring them on, John.
John: Yeah, it’s the get to know Elizabeth a little better. Let me fire this machine up here. All right, here we go. I’ll start you out with a super easy one. More cats or dogs?
Elizabeth: They’re also trainable.
John: They’re also trainable. Nice, okay. Do you have a favorite cereal?
John: Cheerios. Okay, all right. How about more Star Wars or Star Trek?
Elizabeth: Star Wars.
John: Okay. All right, all right. When it comes to a computer, more of a PC or a Mac?
John: PC, yeah. When it comes to your mouse, are you more left click or right click?
Elizabeth: Left click.
John: Left click. You’re so ready. How about, you’re from Chicago. I have to ask. Favor toppings on a pizza. You can load it up.
Elizabeth: Pineapple is my favorite, ham, sausage. It’s like a Hawaiian pizza.
John: Do they do Hawaiian deep dish?
Elizabeth: They will. They’ll do anything deep dish.
John: They will. All right. How about a favorite color?
John: Orange, nice. How about a least favorite color?
Elizabeth: Pink. I grew up a tomboy.
John: Wow, yeah, definitely. All right. How about more Sudoku or a crossword puzzle?
Elizabeth: Sudoku. Numbers all the way.
John: Numbers all the way. There you go. Do you have a favorite number?
John: Nice. Why is that?
Elizabeth: I wore 12 in all my sports growing up.
John: Okay, all right. Fair enough. This is pretty important, on toilet paper roll, over or under?
Elizabeth: Definitely over.
John: Definitely over, okay. When it comes to financials, more balance sheet or income statement?
Elizabeth: I love the balance sheet.
John: How about do you have a favorite movie of all time?
Elizabeth: Yes. Top Gun.
John: Top Gun, yeah.
Elizabeth: There’s a sequel coming soon.
John: How about do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Elizabeth: Yes. I like Candace Cameron Bure from Full House and Fuller House.
John: There you go. Nice. Okay, all right. I got three more. How about more diamonds or pearls?
John: I feel like your eyes twinkled when you said.
Elizabeth: They did.
John: They did. More early bird or a night owl?
Elizabeth: Definitely a night owl.
John: Okay. Last one, last question. Here it is.
Elizabeth: Wait. John, wait.
John: Yeah. What have you got?
Elizabeth: I’ve listened to your podcasts, and I am familiar with this section and I have not seen or heard anyone ask you the questions. And I would love to ask you some questions if you’re up for it.
John: Oh, let’s do it. Why not?
Elizabeth: Okay, all right. Here we go.
John: All right.
Elizabeth: Soup or salad?
John: I’ll go soup on that one.
Elizabeth: Okay. White or wheat?
John: A wheat definitely.
Elizabeth: Favorite activity to do.
John: Favorite activity to do. Does watching college football count as an activity?
Elizabeth: Yes. Favorite other sport to watch.
John: Favorite other sport to watch. I like so many. I guess right now with the World Cup happening and all that excitement, I guess soccer is pretty fun to watch.
Elizabeth: I agree. Pacman or Tetris?
John: Oh, we’re going Pacman on that one.
Elizabeth: Shortstop or first base?
John: Shortstop. Shortstop for sure.
Elizabeth: Favorite thing to look forward to.
John: Favorite thing to look forward to. Cake.
Elizabeth: Drive or fly?
John: Probably fly, so I can spend more time wherever I’m going.
Elizabeth: Good. Batman or Superman?
John: I’ll go Batman. He’s at least a little more realistic.
Elizabeth: I agree with that answer. Good job. So you asked this question of everyone at the end. I’ll ask it to you. What’s the favorite thing that you own?
John: I have a Notre Dame Football helmet that I got a couple of years ago as a gift from Brian Kelly, the head coach, with a personalized message. Yeah, a signed helmet from the head football coach of Notre Dame is pretty cool. So yeah, probably a Notre Dame Football helmet.
Elizabeth: Very cool. I love that it’s personalized and it shows your passion.
John: Yeah, absolutely. All right. Now, it’s your turn. A favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Elizabeth: I have a necklace with my mom’s favorite Bible verse on it. So she passed a couple years ago. It helps me keep her close to have her Bible verse on there, which is Proverbs 3:5-6.
John: That’s fantastic, really fantastic. It means so much, really cool.
Elizabeth: Yes, my favorite.
John: That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much, Elizabeth for taking time to be with me on the Green Apple Podcast.
Elizabeth: Thank you for having me.
John: Wow. That was so much. I even got to be on the other end of the rapid fire questions. So maybe we’ll keep doing this in the future episodes. Who knows? But I loved how Elizabeth said, “We at the core are humans and we need to connect on multiple different levels to have the most effective relationships.” And especially when it comes to AI and all the automation that’s coming to professional services organizations, this is so important. Elizabeth proved that by swing dancing with her coworkers and other volunteer things that she does, and there’s many other ways that she’s been able to connect with people at work to have more effective relationships.
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