How CFOs can be the safe pair of hands AND the smartest thinkers

10/20/2023 00:00:00 +0800


I reckon CFOs are paid to think.

What sets CFOs apart from their staff, is not their years of tenure, nor their qualifications.

It's their ability to synthesise and distil their expertise with their years of experience and think at a level that is unique to them and creates insane amounts of value for their organisations.

Sound big? It is!

I said last week that CEOs need their CFOs to be not only the safest pair of hands but also the smartest thinkers in their organisations. And this is exactly what happens when CFOs bring the best of their expertise and experience into their work.

I was working recently with one of my value-driven CFOs, Carol, and we were talking about how she can improve her already good relationship with her CEO. She was beginning to feel like her CEO was moving on commercial decisions without her and wanted to proactively step in before it became a pattern.

There were 2 questions we needed to answer to help create the approach for her:

1.Are compliance requirements and commercial aspirations mutually exclusive?

We had to address the distinction between the traditional CFO view and the CEO view. This was a biggie for Carol, because like many of us, she's had a very traditional path to CFO, including audit, tax and financial control. The attributes of objectivity, integrity and accuracy form the lens through which she looks at the world. But she knew that in the dynamic industry her business operates in, her CEO needed the commercial lens first, supported by objectivity, etc...

So Carol said to me, 'how do I give my CEO the 'right' answer but also giving her the answer she wants?'

Great question.

This took us on an exploration of the grey and opportunities for commercial judgment that sit within the standards and regulations.

2.How can CFOs give their CEOs the 'right' answer while giving them the answer they want?

In answering this question we had to address how she communicated this balance with her CEO. Because of course, Carol could not and would not simply bend to her CEO's will if it weren't the right decision.

This is where Carol's CEO's need for her to be the smartest thinker arose.

As someone who has been in our CFO Boardroom community for almost 3 years, Carol has had the benefit of listening to and learning from our world class guest speakers, learning in a safe environment with other incredible CFOs, she is well read as a diligent reader of the books she receives quarterly, and she knows that being a CFO of the future requires leadership excellence beyond her company and industry. She has a wealth of knowledge!

So I encouraged her to tap into her wisdom. As Keith J. Cunningham says in his book, 'The Road Less Stupid', Carol needed to be the dot connector, not just the dot collector. It's in connecting the dots that Carol would be able to demonstrate her commercial acumen and share the 'CEO view' (if there were, indeed, a difference in the grey). And this is exactly what she did.

She came up with a way to share with her CEO her financial expertise and her commercial acumen. In fact, she shared it with me in a photo after our coaching session:

This approach allowed Carol the flexibility and freedom to lean into her 'conservative' and 'objective/independent' self but also be an inspired commercial leader. She realised these characteristics were not mutually exclusive, but in fact where interdependent and complementary.
And it is this approach that allows value-driven CFOs, like Carol, drive certainty for their organisations and pursue excellence.
Are you being paid to think?

How can you be your CEO's safe pair of hands and smartest thinker?
What's the one thing you can do to be more valuable to your CEO, your organisation or your Board?

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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