The #1 tactic CFOs use to create space

04/19/2024 15:30:00 +0800
"I am grateful for the inspired clients I get to work with and the beautiful locations I get to work in."

As I reflect on the first quarter of 2024, I have a lot to be grateful for. Despite the challenges and sometimes chaos that this quarter has thrown at me, there have been many moments of delight, joy and hope.

This year, I've found my clients have experienced the same thing.

As anyone who has worked - or even simply booked a call - with me will know, I provide an opportunity for intentional reflection before we get into 'the work'. Reflection is good practice, but for most CFOs, not in good habit.

As I write from the beautiful Kingdom of Tonga, I thought you might find it useful if I were to share the most powerful tactic used this quarter by the CFOs, CEOs and their teams in our sessions: both in a 1:1 and group capacity. I encourage you to to use it, tweak it and make it your own!

The power of journaling
Journaling is arguably one of the 'must do' habits if you want to strive for world class performance. If you were to ask the world's best CEOs, athletes, business owners, they'd all share how that they regularly find space in their busy days for some quality reflection, thinking and visualisation.

However, it's also a practice that many of us haven't done since our 'Dear Diary' teenage years!

I've been journaling for years, and my journaling practice has played an important part in my career and business growth. But its potency as a tool for my clients really didn't hit me until early this year.

was away at yet another beautiful offsite location with a Board and executive team. We were starting 'the work' the next morning, but it was preceded with a dinner the evening before. A great chance for us to catch-up and reconnect in a social setting I couldn't help but notice just how much had happened in each of these individuals' lives in the 2 years since we'd last been together as a group. It was a lot.

As a set up the next morning, I reflected on the conversation and energy over dinner, and I thought 'how could I start today in a way that would serve them most individually and as a team'. I looked at the workbooks and activities that I'd planned and printed for the morning session, and I metaphorically tossed them aside.

Space over structure
The structure I'd planned would not serve them the most. But space would.

So as we opened the morning, I asked them to open up to a blank page. And I shared my reflection which sounded something like, 'Since we were last together, a lot has happened. Outside of this room, life has happened, both good and bad. And my guess is that for some if you, you haven't had the opportunity to do anything with those events other than carry them around with you. So, whether we realise it or not, we're bringing it all of that into this room. I'd like to give you the opportunity to unpack what's going on inside your head, inside your heart, right now and just reflect on where you're at and how you're going'.

Every time I've given this instruction – as with that time – it feels vague. It feels unstructured. But that's kind of the point. And yes, I'm met with blank faces!

I typically continue and give them some prompts and further guidance, 'Feel free to start with something like 'Today I feel happy/tired. And I feel happy/tired because.....'. Just let the words come out exactly in the way they come into your head. We call it 'stream of consciousness' writing. Use full sentences. Resist the temptation to use bullet-points and synthesise or make sense of what you're writing. Feel free to 'verbal diarrhoea' on the page. These are your thoughts; you won't need to share your words with anyone.' 

Both in a group or 1:1 environment, I give my clients 10 minutes of space to journal.

Releasing the pressure
After 10 minutes, I bring them back into the room from the intensity of their writing. Yes, the intensity of their writing. They've gone from looking at me blankly, to being completely immersed in their thoughts and reflections.

Before we do anything else, I check in with them. 'How are you feeling?'

'I have a feeling of relief. Getting it out of my head onto a page felt good.'
'A bit overwhelmed. I didn't realise how much was going on.'
'I got emotional. I was a bit surprised about that.'

From there I facilitate a debrief in a way that most serves both the individuals, the team (if we're gathering as a team) and the organisation. We always link what's going on with the individual and how that influences how we're showing up to work. Because it always does.

The 5th Pillar of High Performance
After we've run the session, there is a common realisation that the quality of their thinking and of their work that ensues is higher because of their being able to unpack 'their stuff' first. The overriding insight it that they've been able to do 'the work' better, faster, and more thoughtfully because they have created clarity in their mind.

This is why I call the 5th Pillar of High Performance for CFOs - the Personal Pillar - the activating pillar. Because we need to make sure we're doing the work to take care of ourselves first, so we can activate our best performance and be the guide to our CEOs and Boards and catalyst for our organisation's growth. Journaling is an exceptional practice and tool to have in our 5ᵗʰ pillar.

And you can give this gift to your teams.

The gift of space and the power of reflective thinking.

All it takes is 10 minutes.

Where do you need to go faster?
Where do you need to be better?
Could journaling give you the space to get you there?

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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Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the Darkinjung people, the traditional custodians of the land on which we live and work and pay our respects to the Elders both past, present & emerging.