What CFOs Can Learn From Sam Kerr

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

How good is the FIFA Women's World Cup?

My girls' did the code swap this year from AFL to soccer and as heart-wrenching as that decision was, I've loved learning the new sport and watching them come into their own as soccer players. It's also meant that we're glued to the Matildas' games this year and, possibly like you, have been watching on with interest as Sam Kerr sits on the sidelines.

Seeing our exceptional captain sidelined for this massive occasion has been heartbreaking – the conflicting emotions she must be experiencing: knowing her contribution is currently limited to her words and cheers on the bench without any opportunity to get out there and directly contribute to the outcome of the game. It must be disappointing for sure, but also at times – frustrating.

The Biggest Frustration for CFOs

I hear frustration as an emotion by CFOs...a lot! Whether that be the frustration of:
  • Not being able to make the change they know is best for business.
  • Being labelled 'bad news barry' when trying to keep the business on course, or
  • Being overlooked for direct contribution and input to business and commercial decisions at the right times.

Of course there are a lot more, but I think the root cause of these frustrations is the knowledge that if you had the opportunity to 'get in the game' you'd be able to make a more valuable contribution. The feeling of despondence when you see the situation play out knowing you could have made a difference.

In fact, like Sam Kerr, CFOs struggle with sitting on the bench.

More lessons from the field: lead from the bench

Another female soccer legend, Abby Wambach, shares her own experience of sitting on the bench in her book Wolfpack: How to come together, unleash our power and change the game. Whilst still the captain of the World Champion USA team, she faced with the realisation that approaching the end of her career, she was no longer in starting line-up form. Knowing the right thing to do for the team was to start on the bench, but at the same time wanting to finish her career the same way she commenced it – in the starting line-up - she embraced Rule #3 in her book, 'Lead from the Bench'.

'Old rule: Wait for permission to Lead
New Rule: Lead now – from wherever you are'

The ultimate team player, Wambach shares how she made the decision, for the betterment of the team, to start on the bench. And through that tournament played her heart out – from the bench. She yelled the loudest, kept the water bottles filled and fresh and she held the winner's mindset for her teammates for the whole 90 minutes of the game through the highs and lows. They won the World Cup that year and Wambach attributes their result to the whole team: 'the starters and the bench players'.

CFOs will have those moments. You won't always have the opportunity to be a Playmaker, nor Partner for that matter. But you will always have the opportunity to lead through those moments. As Wambach says, 'you're either a leader everywhere or nowhere'.

At times it will absolutely be appropriate to hold your tongue – in fact, the skill of perfect timing is critical for CFOs. But it's not appropriate to hold back and opt out when you're feeling benched. CFOs are not victims, nor do they play politics and undermine their peers.

How far the CFO role has come

Inherently the role of the CFO is such that in the past it has been easy to lean back and blend in with the masses. CFOs got away if they resisted the urge to speak up and put a somewhat controversial point on the table. If they let the CEO and the revenue generators soak up the space in the Boardroom no one noticed.

Today – Boards notice. CEOs notice.

Passengers aren't leaders and let's face it - no one likes a back-seat driver.

How CFOs can lead from the bench
1. First lead yourself: The reason the Impact quadrant of the 4 Quadrants of CFO leadership is called 'Change leadership' is because all the skills are in the domain of self-leadership: executive presence, influence and visionary decision-making. If you want to change your results, start with you first.

Use your circle of influence: The great Dr Covey's model holds true here – identify who and what is within your circle of influence and within that, where are the gaps to demonstrate your value? For example, how can you use your financial reporting process to demonstrate your commercial acumen by facilitating a forward-looking value-based conversation? I think financial year-end and the annual budgeting process are both perfect trojan horses for CFOs who feel they're on the bench.

Take courage from the vision: The one thing that galvanises you at the Board and Executive table is the organisation's vision you've signed up to. Use those words, priorities and objectives as an anchor to provoke the 'right' conversation – the one you know that should be had given the financial information you are privy to and understand best.

I'm not sure about you, but I don't think any less of Kerr because she's on the bench. In fact, I respect her more.

I can't wait for Monday night's game. Go Matildas!

Where are not as visible as you'd like?
How can you lead from the bench?
What's your trojan horse?

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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