The Number One Skill You Need to Master to Become a CFO

I talk to a lot of Executive Finance Leaders – and I am always fascinated to understand their story of how they got ‘there’. How they evolved, overcame challenges and surpassed their peers – and what has made them different throughout their career.

I like to know as it helps me to help others – especially up and coming finance leaders, and managers who just can’t break through that level from ‘manager’ to ‘executive’.

And what’s the one skill that comes up time and time again?

The ability to influence and/or drive outcomes through others.

Some may say that’s leadership, but in truth it’s a constituent part. Not all leaders are great at this, but all great leaders have this one nailed.

#1 Be true to yourself about your people skills and make them your priority

Some lucky people are definitely born people-people. They can talk the talk and walk the walk when it comes to relationship building and stakeholder management. But for most of us, it’s something we need to work on. To start developing your skills in this area, you need to understand how others perceive you and be real about your level of skills in engagement.

#2 Don’t blind people with science – focus on the relationship first

As an emerging finance leader, you’re an expert. You’re used to being in a position where you hold the answers, and often are advising on some very complex matters. However, how this comes across can vary widely between professionals. Be careful not to fall into the trap of lecturing and be conscious that however ‘right’ you know you are that you don’t bulldoze a conversation from the start with your opinion. You may indeed be right, but you’ve got to get people to trust that you’re ‘alright’ first.

#3 The best way to get someone to do it is to get them to ‘own’ it

Have you ever noticed the difference between a member of the team when they are working on something that is their idea, versus when you or someone else has ‘told’ them to do it? What if you could get them to take this level of ownership all the time? You can. This is something every great leader has down to an art – the act of getting people to come up with their ideas as their own – thereby creating a sense of ownership. And discussion is the key place it starts – not instruction or mandate.

#4 Know you may be the ‘boss’ but you’re only as good as your team

Having your team’s back, at all times, is key to influence. You do something for them, they will return the favour. The same can be said for your peers – ‘quid pro quo’ makes you a better leader. You’ll never get someone to do something if they believe you wouldn’t do the same for them – all the way right up to the top. You can’t do everything on your own, so start thinking how you can build a truly equal playing field in terms of trust, respect and loyalty.

#5 Include and never delude or exclude

Decisions made outside of your team’s control will always be seen as instruction, and something they’re not really a part of. Likewise, in this profession, shaky explanations or an overt manipulation of the facts will just not go down well. Never exclude or delude someone from a decision or the reasoning of that decision – and always include them, even in a partial way, to ensure that you get the buy-in you need when you require them to execute.

Above all, don’t lose sight of the human element of delivering outcomes. You must connect people to purpose – so think about this carefully before you embark on your next big project. Always think, ‘what’s in it for them?’ and focus on how to influence through benefits for them, not just you.

Good luck!


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