CFOs: Extroverts or Introverts?

There is a wild conversation going on in the Chief Financial Officer Network group on Linked In around whether CFOs are extroverts or introverts … and who is better! WOW!!

There are certainly some interesting observations and a few, like these, that defy logic and belief:  

–In the end a successful CFO of a medium or large organization has to be extrovert. 

–From my point of view, and with my experience (of course), an extrovert CFO is trustworthier than an introverted CFO.

–We are all here, so we must be all extroverted to some extent. Its the ones that are not here may be less so. 

First, while the labels of introvert and extrovert are often interchanged with shy and gregarious, these two terms really speak to where a person gets his energy. One can be a social introvert, but in small doses. In fact, while enjoying socializing, it can be exhausting. That person will need quiet time to rejuvenate. Conversely, an extrovert gets energy from a large group of people, noise, and activity. Left alone too long, an extrovert can quickly get depressed. This person feeds off the energy of other people, and the more people, the better.  

An outgoing CFO is indicative of a different communication and behavioral style than a CFO who is more reserved. Possessing strong people skills doesn't preclude one from being a great finance leader either. In fact, that difference in communication and behavioral style may actually make having a seat at the executive table a much more comfortable one.

One thing that I've observed is that my CFOs who have a strong operational background are typically much more people-oriented people than those who have come up through the public accounting/controller ranks and who are true bean counters. Accounting types tend to be numbers people and that person is probably always going to be more comfortable with numbers … if that is how he is wired.

In my opinion, it does not make any difference whether a CFO falls on the I or the E side on the Myers Briggs assessment … there is a place for both of them.

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16 Responses to CFOs: Extroverts or Introverts?

  1. I totally agree, Cindy. One crucial element that many personality profile assessments do not address is adaptive behavior. Although one’s natural temperament maybe quiet and reserved, one can develop assertive and vocal behaviors. This is a skill that can be learned and developed.
    The bottom line for success is not tied to one’s natural temperament, but one’s ability to lead, communicate. and execute.

  2. What you have observed is consistent with what I have observed.

  3. Jason Martin says:

    I agree, and believe that the attitude portion of assessment is probably the least important of the four categories.
    I think the judging and perceiving functions, and perhaps the lifestyle, would all provide a better insight into how a CFO might perform.
    – Jason Martin

  4. Great points, Jason. Capabilities aside, a lot of the success or failure of the CFO can be attributed to fitting with the culture of the company … and there is room for all types of CFOs to play. It’s a question of finding that right fit.

  5. Aren’t most Operational CFO’s from the Big 4? You don’t become the CEO by staring at a TB!
    I can name a large world-wide company where none of the Financial Leaders come from public accounting … and the similar trait is that whenever confronted with a problem, they all say in unison, “Finance can’t get involved with that!”
    You’re on the right track with identifying personality triats of either being “action people” or more “passive people.”
    However, don’t underestimate the impact of the tribal mentality!
    That Fortuen 100 is now long since defunct … but they all still have the same mantra! “Can’t, Can’t, Can’t!”

  6. Thanks for reading and for posting, John. It is certainly an interesting observation on your part.
    I actually find ops CFOs with Big 4 backgrounds and without …. and have several without Big 4 experience who are definitely at the top of their game.

  7. Interestingly, we are hearing from many people in the industry with varied views on this topic. At Delaney, we find that CFOs follow similar traits of the size of company they are with and its stage of lifecycle. for eg, emrging growth company CFOs tend to be more outward-going and creative. those who prefer the mature hallways of the large multi-nationals tend to be more conservative with a small “c” and less out-going, relying more on preserving rules and following regulations. an entrepreneurial CFO will not survive in such an organization.
    Lorraine Chilvers, Delaney Consulting LLC

  8. Great insights and excellent points, Lorraine. Culture fit is key so kudos to the CFO who knows/understands himself well enough to also know where he is the best fit. Sometimes the grass only “appears” to be greener on the other side of the fence.

  9. Cindy, I appreciate your informed and grounded approach to the differences between introverts and extroverts and agree that you can be a great CFO as an I or an E.

  10. Thanks Nancy. I appreciate you reading and commenting on the post.
    As a social introvert, I know my limitations. I’m sure that can be said for others as well. Extroverts and Introverts can ALL achieve great success as a finance leader and hold a seat at the table … assuming they have the leadership and communication qualities that are also necessary.

  11. Thank you, Cindy — from one social introvert to another.
    Here are the two free resources I shared with you (articles I wrote) to add to the conversation:
    “Success Isn’t Only for the Extroverts”
    The New York Times, Sunday business section
    “Self-Promotion for Introverts┬«: Get Heard More. Even If You Talk Less”
    ChangeThis manifesto

  12. Those are both great posts, Nancy. Thanks so much for sharing.

  13. Great article! My two cents: In my workshops I teach that Introversion and Shyness are too different categories. Introversion is part of the personality from birth. Shyness is a learned behavior. Often sometime in early childhood a child becomes scared of others and/or is socially awkward. Introverts have friends as toddlers, but ‘only’ one or two. There are shy Extroverts. They get their energy from others, they long to engage with others, but at the same time are afraid of others. Some act inappropriately around others, are loud and often obnoxious. I’m not sure about gregarious and extroverted; my first inclination is to say that these are different categories as well. As someone else above said, the I/E is about where we get our energy.

  14. Thanks for reading and for commenting, John. As a social introvert myself, your points are right on!

  15. Bob Heurung says:

    An interesting topic to say the least. I have somewhat faceciously referred to myself as “the extroverted accountant” over the years. I definately like to engage with people and draw my energy from being around others. I enjoy a variety of topics (inside and outside of the corporate world) and, after almost 30 years in and around mid to small businesses (the first 10 in public accounting), find my extroverted nature, compassion for others and ability to “connect the dots” from ops to finance has gotten me to where I am and consequently I’ve earned the respect and loyalty of many I have met along the way. I am a big believer that you need to “state your case” and let people know what you’re thinking if you want to add value in everything you do.

  16. Thanks for reading … and for commenting, Bob! It sounds like you have a great self-awareness AND are well-branded in your space. Congrats on that!

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