The cost of discomfort for CFOs

02/23/2024 13:30:00 +0800
During the last term of 2023 I started taking surfing lessons. I am not a natural in the ocean (I blame the fact I learned to swim in England!) and my main affiliation with a board in the ocean is on a boogie board being rapidly and frequently dumped by waves on our annual family camping trips.

But having moved to the beach a few years ago, it felt that it was something to try and hey, if I was dreadful, there are worse ways to start your Friday mornings than with a swim in the ocean at sunrise.

Turns out, I am dreadful.

That first term was fabulous. The feeling of trying something new, embracing the states of being a 'complete beginner', without any expectation on me nor my skillset was liberating. I kept being told 'you're so close!' and 'you have such a great attitude, you're always smiling, once it clicks, you'll be like them', referring to the other, far more skilled ladies in our class.

I'm 3 weeks into my second term and it still hasn't clicked.

Worse, I've noticed that I am starting to approach my Friday mornings with a sense of fear and self-doubt. My self-talk is starting to sound like, 'Alena, it's taking too long. You should know how to stand up and catch a wave by now. You're really bad and those poor coaches who have to keep encouraging you.'

The others in my lesson continue to say 'you're so close. And the great thing is, you're still smiling.'

2 months ago, I interpreted that as encouragement, now I'm starting to wonder if they're being patronising.

In fact, last week I really hoped that the ocean conditions would be too 'dumpy' and they'll need to cancel the lesson. The week before, I decided I 'had to work' and therefore missed the lesson completely.

Leadership expert and author of 'The 5am Club', Robin Sharma has a beautiful quote 'Change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end'.

For me, being a beginner is exciting at first.

It's becoming very uncomfortable in the middle.

The question is, will I let my discomfort define my ending?

What is your comfort costing your organisation?

I've been having many conversations with my CFOs this year about their discomfort levels. Discomfort around:

 • Taking time and creating space to 'think' instead of simply bouncing around from meeting to meeting;
 • Delegating 'below the line' tasks to their team who have a full to-do list themselves, so they can spend more time 'above the line';
 • Letting go of perfection, so they can create capacity for more impactful action;
 • Putting themselves out there to drive behaviour change amongst their executive team, so the team can get on with business and leave dysfunction at the door;
 • Difficult conversations with their CEO around stepping up and being their 2IC in the business.

In the examples above, the allure is that by not embracing the discomfort, you still have work to do, so you 'feel' busy, but in fact nothing really changes - the status quo prevails.

"Better the devil you know than the devil you don't."

Until it's too late. Another year passes and you're still not the commercial and strategic CFO that is seen as the trusted guide to the organisation. Your team hasn't elevated. And your CEO and Board are starting to ask questions.

Which is fine if you're happy being mediocre.

But if you've read this far, that's not you.

The question really is, what are you 'not' doing because it's uncomfortable?

When I coach my CFOs through the elevation process, we quantify the cost of not getting comfortable. Guess what? The opportunity cost – that is, the value your company is not getting – is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions. The time cost is hours.

It's typically at that point that I see the surrender on their face. 'Yeah', they say. 'I guess I need to step up.'

This is usually a really pivotal point in our work, because typically the surrender ignites the fire. 'What do we do now? How do I do this?'

And then they get to work.

Last week I surrendered to my surfing ability. "What can I do to be less dreadful?", I asked my coach. (I actually used a different word.) She said, "buy a board and get out there more". By the end of the lesson, I asked her to get me one and this week I take possession of it. I am absolutely terrified about the idea of going out for a surf outside of a scheduled lesson but if I'm honest, I'm a teeny bit excited at the possibility that I might get better.

How are you rationalising 'not' stepping up or speaking up?
How long are you willing to let your comfort hold you and your organisation back?
What will it cost you to get uncomfortable?

If you really care about driving value for your business, what is the opportunity cost to the company of your comfort?

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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