It’s Time to Challenge the Narrative Around CFOs

09/25/2023 06:56:21 +0000

I really care about people. It's a huge part of who I am personally and professionally.

And from my experience as a CFO coach and mentor, that's not a unique position to have as a finance person.

Yet there's still a school of thought out there that believes CFOs aren't generally social and collaborative people.

Why is this something that I want to talk about today?

Because I've learned after decades of doing this; that narrative couldn't be further from the truth.

In my experience the thing that CFOs value most is - helping people.

The more I meet with CFOs, the more I'm convinced of this. It is not uncommon for a CFO to say to me early into their description of themselves, 'I'm not your typical finance person... I really enjoy the people part'. In fact, I'll go so far as to say it's so uncommon that... I think it is a key attribute of a successful CFO of the future.

Caring for people doesn't dilute your impact as a CFO. It elevates it.

Superpowers of a social brain

Before I go into my own thoughts on this topic (and rest assured, I have a lot) let's talk about why I believe it's so important to challenge these ideas.

Are you familiar with the work of Dr Matthew Lieberman? He's a Professor and the Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab Director at UCLA Department of Psychology, Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences.

In his TED talk, The social brain and its superpowers he refers to the (human) urge to connect as one of the 'seminal achievements of our brain'. "You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can't connect with other people, nothing will ever come of it," he says.

Lieberman believes getting more social is the secret to making us smarter, happier and more productive.

I'm not going to summarise the entire talk, but rest assured, this guy knows what he's talking about when it comes to neuroscience and psychology.

A part of the talk that stood out to me referred to a leadership survey. One that asked 60,000 employees the critical question; what makes a great leader?

It found that a leader who is analytical-minded and focused on getting results had only a small chance of being seen as a great leader. But, if that same person was also seen as having good social skills, the chance of them being rated as a great leader absolutely skyrocketed.

Why? Because social skills allow us to leverage the analytical abilities of those around us. They help us to connect with and strengthen our team, our stakeholders and the communities we operate in. When we have meaningful connections, our sphere of influence and potential for impact and value creation soars.

Now do you understand now why I'm so passionate about shifting the CFO brand narrative?

Why challenging this narrative is so important

Hands up if you have ever been told that you don't look like a finance person?

I spent the first half of my career hearing these sorts of sentiments, sometimes daily. Don't get me wrong, these were meant to be compliments - often followed by comments about my smile, how personable I was etc.

I'm not going to go into what hearing this stuff daily can do to your mindset. (Imposter syndrome anyone?)

Instead, I'm more interested in how these outdated notions of 'finance people' can affect the way in which our team, stakeholders and potential stakeholders might see us.

This is why we need to reframe people's minds to view CFOs as collaborative partners, not police officers.

When we successfully do this, our stakeholders will understand the value we add and we'll get to step into our power and add more value to the business.

If you're also 'not a typical finance person' you've probably got what it takes to be a CFO of the future and take the journey to Playmaker!

Finance is all about people

Oddly enough, as the key finance person in the business, many CFOs aren't primarily motivated by money.

In my experience working with CFOs, I have learned that most are motivated by two things - adding value and helping people.

And of course they are, finance is all about people.

People produce numbers. People make decisions. People are the people we need to influence to make things happen.

If we don't challenge the belief that CFOs aren't people-people, then we can't expect to be seen as effective partners or leaders.

Embracing your social brain will only bring more value, joy and connection to your work.

How do your stakeholders perceive the role of a CFO?
How do you stakeholders perceive the 'finance people'?
How do these perceptions influence the potential value you can create for your businesses?

Author: Alena Bennett

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]
Grab your copy of Alena's CFO of the Future!

This is the trusted guide for CFOs to lead with IMPACT and create VALUE.

Grab your copy of Alena's Meaning Matters!

It's time for women in finance to find power in their purpose!

 ⓒ 2023




Let's Connect
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.