What Your FLT Is Really Struggling With Right Now (And What You Can Do About It)

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

In May 2018, I fell backwards into a fire. I was away with some friends and was dancing with one of the 9 year-old kids and tripped and fell back – rear first – into the bonfire on which we had previously been roasting marshmallows. Instinctively, I tried to brace my fall with my hands, and so what eventuated was some very severe burns on my hands and my rear. I was really lucky that none of my clothing or hair caught alight. I was also extremely lucky with the first aid skills my friends immediately initiated.

Despite my good fortune, I was pretty badly burned – so much so, that I had the pads of all of my fingers cut off (yes, I still have fingerprints). I had to visit the hospital every 2 days for 6 weeks to get my dressings changed on my behind. Every 2, days for 6 weeks! During that time, I was told that I couldn't sit, lie on my back nor could I shower, as each of those things would slow down the healing process. I had a speaking event in Lorne exactly 6 weeks away and I didn't want to do anything to jeopardise that trip.

I struggled as the weeks went by. Not because of the pain (I have a very high pain threshold) and not because I was missing out on stuff - Zoom wasn't really a thing then, nor were transcription services widely used and I was very fortunate that my clients graciously adapted to the new ways of working I imposed on them because I couldn't travel, sit down or type. I struggled because not having a shower made me feel 'not myself'.

I became desensitised to lying on my front, hands taped and bottom exposed. Not pretty.

Over the weeks I met many amazing nurses and doctors at the hospital. What I remember most is the day when one doctor took the time to listen to me as I talked about it 'not being a really big thing but not having a shower is really getting me down'. She said, 'Oh, I can totally imagine that this might make you feel not human. Let's see what we can do.' This nurse came up with a plan that enabled me to shower once every 2 days right before dressing change, so that almost immediately I'd get the right treatment and combat risk of infection.

This isn't an article about hygiene, it's about what makes us feel human.

What I'm hearing at the moment from the finance leaders I work with is a lot of pain. A lot of fatigue, and a lot of frustration. A feeling that they've lost so much of what makes them 'them' – that is, what makes them human. And that no matter what you give them – hampers, bonuses, raises - it will not make up for the fact that they feel like they've lost something important to them.

Are you hearing that?

It's got many disguises:

"I'm overworked."
"I just need a break."
"I've got video meeting fatigue."
"My work-life balance is completely shot."
"I'm in back-to-back meetings all day, I don't even start my own work until 6pm. But that's okay because I don't really have anything else to do..."

What's really going on:

"I'm sad. I haven't seen my brother in 18 months and I don't know when I'll be able to."
"My son isn't sleeping. It's keeping me up at night and I'm at the end of my tether. It's making the pressure at work even harder to deal with."
"I feel like we've been asked to do the impossible at work, when we're already trying to do the impossible. No one's acknowledging or accommodating this terrible context. It's too much."

Codral doesn't cure the flu

Don't be fooled. Those disguises are the symptoms, they're not the cause. We work crazy hours, schedule back-to-back meetings and, sacrifice our own boundaries for someone else's priorities. Not because we don't know that's not the best way to work, we do it because we're not at our best. Because we're struggling.

Which is why we need to focus on the 5th Pillar of High Performance for CFOs: the Personal Pillar. This is the pillar that activates high performance at work. This is the one without which we cannot be at our best. Many of our personal livelihoods have been taken from us for an extended period of time, so it's no wonder we're not playing our A-game. It's not our fault, nor is it in our control. What we can control is our response to the circumstances.

How to support your Finance Leadership Team (FLT): Create space

Many of the conversations I'm having with my clients are, what they tell me, like nothing they are having with anyone at any other time. These conversations are confidential, but their structure and impact is no secret.

They are simply honest conversations around how they are feeling impacted by their experiences of the pandemic, be it lockdown, missing their family overseas or even feeling guilty because they're not in lockdown. They're not 'doom and gloom' conversations, they are first and foremost designed as a vehicle to help. So they are planned and structured in a way that allows participants in the conversation space to talk freely, space to reframe and space to reflect (among other things).

We intentionally and overtly park any task-related conversation, and we go all in on the human conversation that's needed. We don't worry that we may not reach the intended outcome of the session and that's because if our people don't feel like human beings, they are a far cry from their best and that's no use to anyone.

One of my CFOs is a classic example of this. He engaged me to run a series of workshops for his new Finance Leadership Team. As you'd expect, we had clear outcomes planned for each of them. However, what transpired in the early sessions was a series of conversations that were unexpected, yet invaluable, in their honesty. My client knew there was no point forging ahead with the plan – because the conversation would ultimately yield more value. It would help inform a better plan on the other side. He sent me this text across the table:

We didn't rush it, and in fact the piece we didn't get to took far less time than initially planned because the team were fully present, engaged and... human. In fact, I'd say the outcome was better. My client would agree.

I will never forget that moment 2 1/2 years ago when the kind doctor at Balmain hospital said I could have a shower. She saw beyond the question and understood what that request really meant. She listened and she gave me my basic human needs back.

What are you seeing from your FLT?
What are you hearing from your FLT (and what are you not hearing)?
What space do you need to create for your FLT?

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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