‘The best leaders display humble confidence, continue to be on a learning curve, are open to feedback, pivot and strive to be the best they can’ – Dr. Cindy Wahler
What are the career progression challenges needed when transitioning into a CFO role? And how can employers support and prepare their high potentials when bigger leadership responsibilities come knocking? We went in search of answers to learn more about a critical area for companies in ensuring they have a ready pipeline of leadership talent.
The step up to CFO level from a financial controller or head of finance is a significant one.
Whilst responsibilities include the overall leadership of the business and the broader direction, senior finance leaders must also challenge their peers on the execution of the strategy. This is often referred to as having an ‘enterprise mindset’.
One of the key issues in making the jump into a senior finance executive role is that many functional leaders are specialists in their respective technical areas. However, the crucial experience they’re lacking is that in many cases they have had little involvement or even interest in the other parts of running a business. They have not been exposed to the non-financial elements of the role such as relationships with key internal and external stakeholders such as shareholders, regulators and the board of directors.
“This is why cross-fertilisation is so critical,” says Dr. Cindy Wahler, a Toronto-based executive coach and author. “Finance leaders should be encouraged to not just stay in their swim lane, rather have opportunities to be tested and acquire skills in different domains. Being exposed to different areas of the organisation, for example a rotational programme, will provide a more complete understanding of internal partnerships that allows strategic thinking. An example might be helping HR identify candidates for people management and their eventual successors.”
This development work, consisting of experiential learning and stretch assignments, must take place before they reach these levels, so that they are prepared and will be less likely to derail once in the role. Inevitably, finance experts will build their technical skills and experience early in their careers. However, as they then start to manage teams, that’s when leadership development pays dividends. This might typically encompass performance reviews, management training, interview training, and delegation skills.
One way this can be achieved is by providing more opportunities for secondment. Pushing people into situations they have not faced before will require them to adapt, rethink their approach, and build different types of relationships. These experiences build both character and skill, thereby supporting a stronger enterprise mindset. Mentoring can also add immense value, as individuals can learn not only from their own mistakes but from others who have been there themselves.
Leaders must also be self-aware of their own traits. “They must identify key differentiators that separate them from the pack. Most people are hard-working, that’s table stakes. But they need to understand what they are known for. For example, do they have a track record for succession and retention? To do this, you need to show courage and get hard hitting feedback on how you operate and communicate. Pick people who see you in a different light to find out the areas where you can improve,” advises Dr. Wahler.
The big game changer in stepping up to CFO is the shift to an enterprise framework and global perspective. It means having an integrated or holistic view of the firm, competitive landscape to help shape and guide your unique organisational brand. Leaders must adopt a futureproof orientation, which means listening to clients as they are way more knowledgeable. The best leaders display humble confidence, continue to be on a learning curve, are open to feedback, pivot and strive to be the best they can.
For those looking to make the leap into a senior finance leadership role, McCarthy partners with companies of all sizes across multiple sectors. These organisations want to hire people who can demonstrate a track record of leadership at the highest levels.
Want to know more about our latest finance leadership opportunities? Just call one of our finance experts on 0161 828 8726 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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