The 3 Most Important Work Relationships Every CFO Needs

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

I recently attended an Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) event as part of my continuing professional development as a director. One of the facilitators made the following statement, 'The most important relationship in a corporate is that between the Board Chair and the CEO'. With my director mindset, I nodded in agreement, but as a CFO mentor, I balked as I thought 'What about the sacred partnership between a CEO and CFO?'

The double take I had reminded me– it's possible to have several key and critical relationships in an organisational context.

With that, I think 3 of the most important relationships for a CFO are that with:
  • The CEO
  • Your 'right hand', deputy or 2IC in the CFO's Finance Leadership Team
  • Your Executive Assistant

When we look at the roles each of the parties above take in relation to the Powerbase Pie I in my first book, Meaning Matters: Results Beyond the Numbers, it's quickly evident why these 3 relationships are so important:

From Meaning Matters: Results Beyond the Numbers p94
These key relationships cover half your Powerbase!

1. Your CEO can be your primary sponsor: The role of a sponsor is to champion, advocate for and provide opportunity to you in a way that you can't do for yourself. Due to their unique positioning in the organisation, they are uniquely placed to open doors for you that you can't even imagine. In this way, they can also serve as the role of 'Connector'. (Pro tip: Being able to leverage Powerbase roles in one person is very clever!)
2. Your 2IC is your key supporter. Supporters are the arms and legs to execute and champion your ideas and priorities. They'll roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty to help you achieve something. Supporters will back you when you propose something new and whose buy-in you need for execution. Consider this: If you are the CEO's safe pair of hands, then your 2IC is yours.
3. Your Executive Assistant is your key Connector. If your 2IC is your 'safe pair of hands' then your EA is your trusted eyes and ears on the ground. They are connected to all other executive assistants and critical support staff across the organisation. Who can get your IT support on top of your computer issues ASAP? And make no mistake of it: your organisation's EA network is a force to be reckoned with – they are the gatekeepers to the people that matter.

If you are on the journey beyond partner to Playmaker, one of the things you must have is unwavering confidence.

One way to think about this is to examine the critical question every CFO should be trying to answer:

How do I show up with the self certainty to inspire confidence in others?

Another way of saying this might be – "How do I ensure that when I ask someone for help, they not only do what I ask but they willingly go a step further?".

If you think of this as a simple 10-point scale, like the one below, you might ask yourself, where do you sit on the scale in terms of how your CEO, 2IC and EA would view you?

Are you in the Red Zone where only a few CFOs live? Note: imposter syndrome sits here also.

Maybe you're in the Amber zone where most CFOs sit – you put on your business persona like you put on your suit jacket and take it off equally as quickly when you get home.

Perhaps you're in the Light Green Zone, where the smaller percentage of CFOs would be placed.

Or are you bold enough to say you're already in the Dark Green Zone, where you have a powerful presence and mobilise your stakeholders because you have successfully developed rousing relationships with them?

What's interesting about these questions is the shift in perspective required when you're dealing with each of these 3 stakeholders.

What is the positive impact of showing up with a powerful presence with each of these 3 most critical relationships for a CFO?

1. Your CEO: you are your CEO's confidante and 2IC. They come to you as the sounding board and they respect and respond to what you have to say. Equally, however, when you ask for something – their support, their time, additional resources, they come from a place from 'yes' (but they'll make sure you have to state your case!). When you have a powerful presence, your CEO is proud to have you beside them in Board meetings - you are duo. They believe you represent them and your organisation as well as they themselves do.

2. Your 2IC: One of the most challenging situations for a CFO is coming out of a Board or Executive meeting with a bunch of ideas and actions to explore or execute. Without a quality relationship with a trusted 2IC these ideas and actions are added to the physical to-do list and mental load of the CFO...only adding to the already high pressure and stress assumed by the CFO. The impact of a powerful presence with your 2IC is that you can flick them the list of actions with the confidence that they will make it happen and roadblocks will be escalated as required.

3. Your EA: Does your EA do more than book travel and meetings for you? Are another source of strategic advice for you and is your weekly meeting with them your most important? Having a powerful presence in this relationship, your EA is your partner. They give you insightful information about relationship dynamics in your leadership team, within the functional finance teams and even share conversations going on behind closed doors between your executive peers. Empower them with industry knowledge and they can be an extremely valuable asset on your leadership team.

The key to sitting high on this scale ultimately depends on how impactful you are when you communicate, how respect are the insights and ideas you provide and the level of energy you invest in those relationships.

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]
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.