How CFOs can accelerate owning their seat at the table

03/08/2024 15:30:00 +0800
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I was contacted by a client recently. They had their global leadership conference in less than a month, and they had a couple of their lined-up speakers pull out at the last minute. The message went on:
The request for help from my client
One question from me ('what's the theme?'), and response from her ('modernising for growth') and I was able to immediately go back to her with the recommendation of a friend and colleague of mine. As a professional speaker, I have hundreds of exceptional speakers that I can suggest or recommend to my clients. But in this moment, and with only a couple of pieces of key information exchanged via Messenger, I knew instantly who to recommend.

This is the power of a unique personal brand that people know about.

Are you your organisation's best kept secret?

The question of personal brand arises almost immediately when I talk with CEOs and their CFOs. It usually starts off with a comment around 'executive presence' and through the conversation elevates into 'personal brand' (and often, the brand of the finance team in general, but that's a topic of another article).

"I've never really had a personal brand", I consistently hear from said CFOs. "But I'd really love it if my CEO would come to me sooner when considering new transactions. I still feel like I'm being brought in too late."

Are you being brought into the "right" conversations?

One of the things I'm noticing across the board this year is that companies are at a pivot point. December year-ends and half years are done, results are released and budgets final. It's time to get down to business and delivering on the strategy.

Many businesses are at a point where they've weathered the COVID-19 storm, have survived the economic headwinds and are now on a trajectory of accelerated and/or aggressive growth. This requires a shift in mindset across the whole organisation: from merely reacting and responding, to being proactive and leading the growth path.

But here's the thing. Shifting an organisational mindset is like moving the rudder on a boat. You move the rudder and there is a delay in the boat turning in that direction.

The role of a CFO in a context that is focused on survival and enabling their business to react and respond to shocks is quite often that of a 'Chief Fixing Officer'. You're kept within arm's reach of the most senior people in the business and the Board because you have a gift for making problems go away.

Contrast that to a CFO who is leading an organisation focused on growth – well this CFO, whilst still has the capability to make problems go away, has the ability to focus on the bigger picture. Known for their respected insight, they find themselves in the 'inner circle' of the CEO talking about forward thinking opportunities and obstacles...before they arise. Stakeholders value these CFOs' work because they possess an impeccable personal brand and reputation.

9 part model of powerful executive presence to assist finance leaders in building their personal brand
Personal brand is a critical component of the Respected Insight accelerator
CFOs need to pre-empt the shift in wind direction

Being lauded as the magician in the business because of your remarkable ability to fix problems means you run the risk of being overlooked when your CEO is finding someone to talk to about a potential strategic opportunity. They see you as the 'fixer' not the 'creator' or 'value-generator'.

At times, and with robust scenario planning, CFOs are aware of impending business shifts.

What they often don't have an awareness of, is how they need to respond in order to ensure they still own their seat at the table (and aren't left behind at the kids table).

Obstacles to awareness

Even the most self-aware CFO can miss this. CFOs typically love their job, and really enjoy getting immersed in the challenge of opportunity. They get into flow and everything else becomes white noise. What signals are we missing in the noise?

The other main reason CFOs miss the signal is that they're still being showered with praise by their CEO. So for awhile, things seem normal. But then you sense that other conversations are happening without you. When you sit around the executive table, it feels like you're missing some information everyone else has.

There must be another table.

A CFO's job is to ensure they're always at the right table, and they own their seat.

With respect to the introduction of my client and to my speaker friend, Suzanne, within 8 hours, they'd spoken and within 2 days (noting one of those days was a Saturday), the internal approval process was complete, Suzanne was booked in for the conference.

As a result of Suzanne being clear on her unique personal brand, and the fact she shows up consistently aligned with that brand, I immediately knew she was the perfect person to speak at my client's event. Within 2 business days, she went from unknown to not only known, but booked in for their major global leadership event.

A great personal brand gets you in the door and at the
Respected insight relies on a great personal brand.

Are you clear on your personal brand?
How often are you proactively sought out for hidden insights by your stakeholders?
Does your CEO appreciate you for the reasons you'd like?

Love to hear your thoughts...

Author: Alena Bennett

Alena works with leaders and their teams to connect technical and leadership skills so they can deliver to deadline without killing their people.
She is a mentor, trainer, facilitator and coach. Contact her today on [email protected].
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 ⓒ 2023




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