The big cover up of leaders in finance

Uncategorized Nov 26, 2020

It’s almost Christmas – can you believe that? How does hearing that make you feel?
A - Panicked, because of all the work that you still need to complete?
B - Relieved, because you’re so ready to have the year behind you? Or
C - Excited, because of the anticipation of what’s possible?
 
In all likelihood it’s a combination of 3.
 
As the year comes to an end, you might be so in the weeds trying to deal with the busy-ness of business that you possibly don’t know where you are now, in order to know what IS possible next year. This is the thing about the new year – it may bring you a fresh start and a chance for greatness, but a fresh start without a plan sets you up for a false start.
 
The big cover up of leaders in finance
 
One of the huge challenges faced every day by leaders in finance is resourcing. The feeling of never having enough high performing staff in their team such that they are never really operating at their best. This issue has become so big and long term for them, that they have figured out how to deal with it – simply put in the extra hours and do the work themselves. So starts the long hours and late nights getting the work done. As well-intentioned as this is, there is a massive problem – it covers up the issue and therefore prevents any remedial action to be taken.
 
This is the big cover up we inadvertently contribute to – we get on with the work and don’t highlight the problem. We accept status quo and don’t raise the bar.
 
Without shining a light on the context and investing the time to take a good look at what is going on, the resourcing issue remains in place.

The same can be said if we take the same approach to our careers.

Are you ready to draw a line in the sand and say tomorrow it will be different?

I talk frequently about the concept of a temporal landmark, discussed in New York Times bestselling author, Daniel Pink’s book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. A temporal landmark is an intangible line in the sand that provides opportunity for pause, celebration, reflection and in my opinion, most importantly, intention. New Year’s is one of the biggest recurring temporal landmarks as we start a new year, with all the positive intentions and the ‘I’ll start it next year’ resolutions. Given that many plans were put on hold this year, there will be many that can’t wait for 2021 to kick-off.
 
When is ‘tomorrow’ for you?
 
Let me ask you this, when does 2021 kick-off for you? Is it 1 January? Is it January the 18th, or is it post school holidays? Or is it sometime in February when you have cleared your inbox and done some planning around what 2021 has in store for you?
 
Believe it or not, most people’s new year starts in February. I believe this is too late. If you start thinking about your year in February, you can’t make any meaningful impact until March at which point the first quarter is gone. Imagine the impact to your organisation's P&L if business didn't start until March?
 
Get a jump start
 
But…I want to help you get started now, by helping you understand at a high level where you are at and where you want to go. I was reminded of the power of this model, described in my book Meaning Matters: Results Beyond the Numbers, at an event I recently spoke at. Being an interview format, while the topic of my talk was a specific theme ("How to give your finance team The Edge"), the interactive nature meant that we could take the conversation where it naturally felt it needed to go. As part of the conversation, I shared the typical journey of a leader in finance below:

Stage 1 is the early stage of your career, where you are focused on learning. Learning the technical aspects, learning the industry, and learning what it means to exist in the corporate world.
 
Point A is where you move into your first leadership role, whether that be leading a team or managing other people. You are now in stage 2, and growth becomes the priority. As challenging as this stage can be, it is also very rewarding. Your performance and leadership capabilities improve exponentially, until ultimately your career trajectory reaches point B, a well-paid senior leadership position with clear requirements that you know how to meet. Life is good…… until you start to feel the effects of stage 2A. This is where the growth stops, and you may start to feel like you’re stagnating. You’re not learning anymore, and your work isn’t being valued. You know you have more to give, but there’s no opportunity to give it. This is the point where work can really begin to feel like a hamster wheel.
 
Stage 2A can last any length of time, often continuing for years. As you get more and more bored, your performance starts to suffer as the sense of monotony and mindlessness prevents you from putting in your full effort. Gradually, over a long period of time, you begin to recognise that you’ve stagnated, and that the stress you’re feeling isn’t because of the work itself, but because you don’t feel valued, or your work feels meaningless. You wonder how you are possibly going to get through the days. When you finally do reach that realisation, it can lead you down one of two paths.
 
Many leaders in finance take this as their cue to simply quit their current job (trajectory E). But to react in this way is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This doesn't solve the problem, and these leaders in finance simply move on to the next job with the root cause of the problem still very much intact.
 
The alternative is to start to move towards point D. And that’s the opportunity you are faced with for 2021 and the process I’m helping you start now. And I don’t just mean if you’re in stage 2A. Even if you’re still in stage 2, you have the opportunity to move directly from B to D: from growing to thriving, without stagnating.

Where are you?
 
Now...having considered the above, I invite you to answer the following 3 questions:

  1. Where are you at now?
  2. Where do you want to be next year?
  3. What do you need to do differently to get there?

It’s a simple model, I know. But I think that it’s in its simplicity where the power actually is. That within 3 minutes, leaders in finance can quickly form a self-assessment about what’s going on and where they want to be. 
 
I was reminded of this during the event, where I received many comments on the model including the following:
 

“I’m so glad I’ve chosen your video Alena, you just inspired me to choose the trajectory instead of the surviving mode and to go past through Stage 2A especially now that the grey hairs are starting to make their appearance! Thank you!”

 
It can be tempting to bury our head in the sand and hope that things sort themselves out a la Queen Elizabeth in Season 4 of The Crown. Unlike the Queen, however, you’re probably not thinking in terms of a 64 year reign. Your timeframe is considerably shorter, so here is the question to leave you with:
 
Do you have time to let someone or something else determine how 2021 plays out for you?
 
Get back in the driver’s seat and put your hands firmly on the steering wheel – 2021 is yours for the taking.
 
Love to hear your thoughts…

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