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Why I'm speaking out against the trolling that comes with thought leadership


Heather Smith, thought leader finalist at this year's Australian Accounting Awards, encourages accountants to actively take part in public debate and lively discussion - but shares her experience with the dark and "distressing" consequences of having a voice online. 

By Katarina Taurian 12 minute read

We see a thought leadership gap in the accounting profession, which is why we actively recognise and champion those who are willing to take on that role. What do you think, is there a gap?

It’s possible that we only hear the loud people who are bold and brash, and are not taking enough time to hear the softer voices. They have a lot of relevance.

Sometimes the concept of thought leadership can become waffle, and there’s not a lot behind it. That person might like the sound of their own voice, and they just keep talking.


Something we’ve seen, and been a target of, is the vitriol online which comes along with having a public voice. What is your experience with this?

What you won’t be aware of is that I have been viciously trolled. It took me down, it really took me down, for quite some time.

Applying for the thought leadership award was my symbolic act of saying: I’m out of this. I’m [moving] away from being emotionally disturbed by the trolling that happens. Unfortunately, it still does happen, but I’m not going to emotionally wear that.

It upsets me when people in the industry want to write and they want to create, but they’re deterred because they feel it will be impacted by someone who is potentially older, and potentially knows more than them. Rather taking someone aside to work through something, they will publicly attack, and that’s not helpful.

The great thing about social media is there are lots of different ways you can share your thought leadership. It can be small answers to questions that are helping people, along with the bigger voices. Sometimes the big people who are shouting don’t see that.

All things considered in this environment, how do you define thought leadership?

Perhaps it is someone who is putting ideas out there to help people. Or, someone sharing their own thoughts who is further along on the journey, and helping other people take that journey. It’s challenging the status quo of where we are currently at, and challenging the industry.

[For me] I tell people as I see it now, and hopefully help people along on their path.

In fact, I like the concept of an accounting activator, rather than a thought leader. Someone who can inspire people to do something and believe in themselves.

I’m encouraging everyone this financial year to take three hours out of their time to contact their local school, and the accounting teacher there, and tell them how fantastic it is to be an accountant. Tell them what an amazing career they can have.

There are not enough students coming through, because they’re reading all the hype about AI, and worried that their jobs are going to be taken over. What it actually means is accounting jobs are going to become a lot more interesting!

If you or anyone you know is in need of support, you can contact: 

Lifeline, 13 11 14,
Suicide Call Back Service, 1300 659 467,
Kids Helpline, 1800 55 1800,
MensLine Australia, 1300 78 99 78,

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Katarina Taurian


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