Top Things to Consider for Leaders in Finance in 2021 (And the Single Most Important Thing)

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

The tension is rising. You know which tension - the tension of 'it's 18 days until Christmas - thank goodness' and 'it's 18 days until Christmas - I've still got so much to get done'. This contrast is playing out for everyone.

For my clients that have December year-ends, they're trying to get their systems, teams and schedules set so that when they come back in January they can hit the ground running. For my clients that don't, they're trying to jump on top of all the operational improvement activities and project tasks that get deprioritised during crunch times.

It's never been busier or more exciting time to be a leader in finance.

The downside to that is that it means that there's never really any downtime or slow periods. It's year-end, half year, investor roadshow, finance improvement name it, there's always a deadline. Even for the most proactive CFO, this can lead to them feeling overwhelmed, out of control, and fall into a reactive way of working. Which is very likely how you might be feeling right now as each window of the Advent calendar is opened and chocolate consumed. That knowing 2021 will be a big year, and that you need to turn your attention to doing some strategic planning and setting it up for success, you just need to get through the mountain of work that stands in the way of you and Christmas. It's exhausting and can take a real toll on your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.

It seems ironic, tinged with sadness, to use the 'put on your oxygen mask first' analogy, given the year we've just experienced, but the message prevails. You need to make sure you are set up for success to ensure your team and your organisation can thrive through your leadership. And this will take some planning, some time....and now I hear you scream, 'I don't have the time!'. I completely get it, so I want to provide you with a shortcut - so that you can take the minimum amount of time to give you the maximum amount of impact going into next year.

Here are the top 3 things you need to focus on for success in 2021:

1. Purpose

What does success look like in 2021? What does it look like for:

  • you?
  • your organisation?
  • your team?
  • your customers?

Most organisations' strategies were flipped on their heads this year and 5 year plans adjusted accordingly. If this happened for you, how did that impact your strategy for next year and how clear are your team on their specific role in the strategy? What role do you need them to play so you can get on and do your work?

What else do you need to do in order to maximise your chances of that success? What rhythms and routines do you need to put in place to make it easy and reduce the friction? What conversations do you need to have to get others on board?

Is your focus business partnering or customer centricity? Are those the same for you? How were their lives impacted by the events of 2020? How do you need to respond in order to continue to support them and helping them achieve their objectives?

The question of purpose is big and somewhat intangible, but as you can see from the questions above, you can distil it fairly quickly and the actions are very tangible and outcomes even more measurable.

You can row the boat fast, you can even put a motor on it and go faster. But if you don't take the time to set your GPS and figure out where you're going, you'll get nowhere fast.

2. People

People are everything we do. Without people, there are no numbers, and without numbers...well, you get the drift. Given what success looks like in 2021, and your answers to the questions above, whose support do you need? Said another way, who do you need to have deep, impactful relationships with in order to make that happen?

Finance is a services industry, a services function. And I think we have been sold a myth about service. We have been brought up to believe that being in service is about relinquishing control and letting someone else call the shots. But there is an important distinction to be made here. Being in service does not mean being a servant - someone who is highly reactive and is, in effect, a 'yes person'. Being in service means taking a proactive approach in all areas including our professional relationships.

When we are proactive in our relationships at work, we can leverage them. We can have influence and impact. When we are asked to do something we believe is wrong, unreasonable, or not valuable, we can have a conversation to determine what actually needs to happen in order to achieve an outcome that satisfies both parties. This is how you achieve a win/win – but in order to get there, you need to have the relationship in place first.

So...given your 2021 goals and aspirations:
1 - who do you need to have impactful relationships with?
2 - what is the quality of your relationships with those people now?
3 - what do you need to do over the course of 2021 to develop impactful relationships with those people?

3. Presence

In a recent coaching session with one of my clients, a Global Finance Director named Jennifer, the leadership transformation she had undergone during 2020 emerged. "Gosh", she said. "My job today is nothing like it was at the beginning of the! I now understand the value I bring to my organisation and where I fit in with the leadership team." It was a pretty profound moment for her, because reflecting on her leadership growth wasn't the focus of that particular session.

However, while Jennifer lifted her leadership game in a way she didn't expect, why not take the first step and visualise what your leadership style and brand is? Remove chance out of the equation by being intentional about the type of leader you want to be and the things you need to do in order to be 'that' every day.

Your leadership brand:

1. What are the critical characteristics of your leadership that will be most impactful and most useful to help you achieve the success you desire next year?

2. How would you like your stakeholders, team and peers to describe you and your leadership style?

3. Are there areas that need to be conditioned and strengthened?

4. Are there areas that you need to keep at close they don't rear their heads too much during the year (don't worry, we all have them)?

Purpose, people and presence: 3 of the most important things that you need to be thinking about now in order to get a jump start on 2021. is the single most important thing:

Be Practical: Get your calendar right

Given your responses to the questions I've posed above, how are you going to make them happen? Implementation is the challenge that gets in the way of every good idea.

So, if you're serious about the goals you identified in 'Purpose' above, here is an easy way to make it happen:

1. Draw a timeline: January to December

2. Review your goals above:
  1. when do these need to be achieved? What is the deadline? Stick that on your timeline.
  2. what is the sequence of events leading up to the deadline? Who do you need to speak with? Put in those mini-milestones on the timeline and create a schedule of those meetings.
  3. who do you need to start talking with now to build an impactful relationship by the time you need it? Put on your timeline a sensible plan to take you from rapport to relationship.
  4. what reading, training, coaching or work rhythms do you need to have in place to make sure you are perceived the way you want? Get that in (this is where an 'Ideal week' plan can help), too.

3. Get it in your calendar: Stick the dates, reminders and recurring events from your timeline in your calendar


You now know the key areas you need to make sure you have planned in order for 2021 to be successful. You may have even done some of the work. If so, it's likely you feel lighter, clearer and more confident knowing that have turned your focus to 2021 and have somewhat of a plan, despite feeling so bogged down in the 2020 detail. That in the space of 8 minutes, you can do a tremendous amount of work. Imagine the possibility if you did more?

I hope this clarity creates an injection of energy and a greater ability to focus knowing you're taking a proactive approach to next year.

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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