Now that he’s arrived in your life, what do you do with him or her? CEOs, without a strong amount of training, can be unruly, undisciplined and prone to making choices without the proper guidance. They are a sought after breed, in demand at most times but difficult to keep in check, in part due to their admirable qualities. This is where the CFO’s background, outlook and training shine. With a little bit of firm direction, a CEO can be a pleasant associate, full of vision, although always prone to thinking about the Big Picture.
The following is a 10-point CFO owner’s manual to aid in creating a more effective CEO.
1. CFOs (or controllers) need to become a star, an “A” performer in the organization, both as an individual and team member. At the outset, this wins the CEO’s respect. But it also establishes your own presence as someone who exceeds the expectations of not only the CEO but also the senior leadership team. In addition, your own direct reports, other employees and of course the stakeholders benefit, too.
2. Understand the CEO’s job as well as your own. Think of CEO as meaning “Chief Energy Officer.” Their core responsibility—Job #1—is to mobilize, focus, inspire and regularly renew the energy of those they lead. Great leaders serve—their employees, and their peers.
3. Here’s what the CEOs should be doing if they are real leaders: Creating and delivering winning strategies, constantly adjusting for the current and future environments. This involves evaluating macro and micro information while contemplating the organization’s opportunities and overcoming barriers to growth and performance.
4. Note that a big part of the happy CEO’s job is “evaluating macro and micro information.” And where might that information come from? Of course, that other executive who puts the C, as in cash, back in the C-Suite. But are you providing just information, as in data, or is it Information—which helps the organization’s leader really think about the organization’s future.
5. The responsible CFO reporting directly to the CEO must also think about the future. Ask yourself how much time you are spending assessing what the future economic environment might mean to the organization. In part, this is to anticipate and enhance the leader’s thoughts but also to avoid only looking in the perpetual rear view mirror of financial reporting.
6. The rear view mirror is a trap. It’s an unfortunate tendency of those who create the reports. They are about the past, a historical record. The most valuable view is toward the future because something can be done about it. Be the person who helps the organization—do something; accomplish something positive by looking ahead.
7. After the future, the next part of allowing your CEO to win best in show is to provide relevant information to your peers. Relevant information helps them execute better, improving their initiatives—and their results. All of which enables the organization to move toward its most important strategic goals and objectives.
8. Life as a corporate leader, which includes CFOs and controllers, often involves much introspection, like it or not. To be really effective (and supportive of your CEO), think long and hard about how you interact with your senior leadership team. Are you a barrier to decision-making, or an accelerator for execution? Are you a catalyst to new ideas or are you the first to end the discussions before they begin? Can you really sit still for more than 30 seconds to listen to what is being said before you respond? Try it and see…
9. When it comes to your own team, answer these questions: are you driving collaboration? Are you challenging your people to exceed themselves and regularly rewarding and recognizing and rewarding their accomplishments? How often do you resort to negative emotions to motivate others for short-term performance? Are you leading by word and example? Are you fostering honest, two-way conversations throughout the organization? Finally, are you regularly offering simple, inspiring messages?
10. Go get the book Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott (Berkley Books, New York). It will change your corporate and possibly personal life. It will help you get issues on the table and teach you how to avoid making it personal without letting ‘fierce’ topics be pushed aside. These are conversations that need to happen for the organization’s greater good; but make sure they are directly related to the stated goals and objectives. They get to the root cause and that’s what is important. Otherwise, execution is impeded. If you do this, you will get to the result you were seeking.
In conclusion, to be a better CFO, and hence be a better member of the CEO’s team, step outside the financial arena and engage in information gathering in other strategic business areas. Display a willingness to broaden your skill set. Continue to develop financial acumen but never allow it to block your ability to think outside of the box strategically. This also extends to exploring outside the organization to learn how other CFOs and controllers care for and help show their CEO’s best qualities to the most important judges of all, consumers and shareholders.