Your privilege AND responsibility as a CFO

10/08/2023 00:00:00 +0800

I'm writing this on the plane on my trip home from Tonga which, despite only being 12 days long, felt much longer. Sign of a good holiday, I suppose!

I've just finished watching the Netflix documentary, 'Miss Americana' which is about Taylor Swift. Before you roll your eyes and stop reading, hear me out!

Taylor Swift is young, wildly successful and from the ultra-conservative USA state of Tennessee. Swift shares in her documentary that as a country singer from Tennessee, she was very much brought up to believe her job was to make others happy, and through her music, make their lives easier and lighter. Speaking up about any controversial topic at all was frowned upon and actively discouraged.

Her struggles as a 'people pleaser'

'Miss Americana' details how during the mid-term elections of 2018 her struggle to remain the silent 'people pleaser' became too much. "I was so obsessed with not getting in trouble that I'm just not going to do anything that anyone could say anything about." Her values misalignment with the views and policies of the Conservative representative in her home state was becoming too much to handle. She felt her sense of responsibility to speak up and stand up...not shut up. In fact, Swift felt that if she continued to keep quiet, she'd be condoning the conservative views that she clearly abhorred.

With the privileged position Swift has with a platform that includes more than 50% of US adults as a fan base and 265 million Instagram followers, the weight of responsibility that came with that following was clear. In fact, it crystalised for her during a particular concert 12 months after the date she'd sat in a court room - a victim of sexual assault - and the jury's decided to believe her. She shared during that concert her sadness and sorrow for the many other sexual assault victims who hadn't been believed or who were too scared to speak up for fear of not being believed.

At that point, things changed. She knew she had to use her platform. "Next time there is any opportunity to change anything, you had better know what you stand for and what you want to say."

What would you say if you had Taylor Swift's platform?

During my time in Tonga, I had the privilege of running one of my Strategic offsite leadership programs with the Bank of South Pacific (BSP) Tongan Leadership team and also holding our 2nd CFOs Connect event with the CFOs of some of the country's leading companies. Bringing my work to a developing nation like Tonga has always been a goal for me and my business.

The positive impact our organisations have on society

I believe business is a vehicle designed for the betterment of society and in a stunningly fruitful country like Australia it's easy to take that purpose for granted.

When you're sitting around a table talking with the head of the country's leading banker and lender, the head of the bakery business that provides the bread to the main island, the boss of the company that only the week before put the first petrol station on the island most devastated by the January 2022 volcano and the CFO of the only national airline that connects the main island with the outer islands, the responsibility that only comes from the privilege of having a that seat at the table is profound.

With over 2.5 million businesses actively trading in Australia, you are one of many esteemed CFOs in our country. It is increasingly a hard job and often a thankless one. So it's easy to not feel the bigger picture responsibility that comes with our privilege as we get lost in our own to-do lists and problems. Contrast that to Tonga where there is a population of around 100,000 people. Fair to say it's hard to shy away from that responsibility.

As I sat around those tables over 4 days, I was simultaneously humbled and inspired hearing the stories of those impressive senior leaders around me. And most importantly reminded me of the responsibility that comes with the privilege of my role.

It was a huge privilege to spend time with these incredible leaders!
The reality is that shouldering that responsibility is easier for some than others

When you are playing at the top end of the Partner-Playmaker phase of the CFO of the future journey it's easy to keep the responsibility of privilege front of mind.

It's when you're struggling to retain the 'true' Partner relationship with your Board or CEO and across your organisation and trying not fall to Advisor or below where it's easy to get stuck in the weeds and lost in the detail.

As the world continues to teeter on economic instability and uncertainty, your CEO and Boards need – more now than ever – their CFO to guide the organisation through their powerful executive presence.

CFOs that successfully balance privilege and responsibility have powerful executive presence

A CFO that can elevate beyond the minutiae and keep their eye on the bigger prize, without compromise of the detail.
A CFO that can align and strengthen the executive team, so politics doesn't get in the way of delivery.
A CFO that can inspire confidence in the market, whilst being the voice of integrity and reason.

Powerful executive presence does not mean embarking on a world tour of over 100 sell-out concerts. It means knowing the responsibility that comes with privilege and taking action, because let's be clear – inaction is an action that you will be measured on.

But like Swift, it's acknowledging that it's not always easy, it might be risky and take courage you think you don't have but if you have a rock-solid support crew that will support and challenge you every step of the way then you will be able to step-up.

How do you honour the privilege you have in your role?
Where do you have the responsibility to speak up more?
Who do you have in your support crew to make it easier to do so?

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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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.