The 2013 CFO

A friend of mine (thanks John) pointed me to the CFO Trend Talk newsletter issue that talks about the “new breed of CFO.” It corroborates what I’ve been seeing – and writing about – over the last few months.

Recently, a question posed in the Proformative forum asked about “top CFO leadership qualities and skills.” I believe my answer …

Aside from the technical finance acumen a CFO would naturally bring and the understanding that comes from being involved in operations, soft skills are in high demand … leadership, communication, team-building.

… was confirmed in the Trend Talk newsletter. Let me expound a bit on what I believe to be the critically-important “soft skills” that every Finance Chief needs in 2013 and beyond.


What’s that old cliche … “if nobody is following you, you aren’t leading.” In ways few imagined a short 10 years ago, the Chief Financial Officer IS required to lead in these crazy and difficult economic times. Yes, CFOs are the #2, but they are often the only executives with financial skills and acumen -and- with a documented record of being able to solve the kinds of problems that speak directly to the bottom line. And money talks. It also fosters the desire of the company, Board, investors, and shareholders to keep you around.

The newsletter also speaks of the trend of CFOs moving to the CEO slot. I agree. In fact, there’s never been a better time to make that transition … if that is your goal. More and more companies need a financial expert to guide them through these current unchartered waters.


While most of the executive team holds a very similar communication style (just the facts please, and be brief); not everyone the CFO deals with delivers or receives communication the same way. A lack of communication, miscommunication, and wrong communication are often huge stumbling blocks in companies. Working effectively with others requires a strong ability to clearly communicate regardless of differing communication styles.

Good communicators are recognized through their ability to get things done. Your tangible record is proof of your ability to communicate at all levels … above, below, across, and externally.

Team building

If you can’t bring the other members of the C-suite, investors, shareholders, and Board members to the table and get things done, you’ll remain ineffective in your role. And, as I know you know, building consensus among a group of High D (Dominant) executives with different interests is no easy task. When you succeed, it’s noteworthy … both on your resume, your Linkedin profile, and in your messaging.

I’ll be part of the “Highly Effective CFOs” panel at the CFO Roundtable in Boston on February 13. If you’re there, please come say hello to me!

Short, Sweet, and to the Point

We have never before lived in an age where attention spans have been so short. Have you noticed that on those occasions (very rare for me) where you’re watching live TV, the segments are … maybe … 3 minutes followed by 3-to-5 minutes of 15 or 30-second commercials? And unless those 3 minutes of TV are engaging, our minds have moved on to other things.

In an article on leadership for the NY Times, “Finding the Core of a Problem,” CEO of Novartis, Joseph Jimenez, said this …

Companies are complicated, but the best bosses can boil down their goals and strategies to simple, easy-to-understand messages, says Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez. Only then will employees grasp and implement those strategies. “If you can’t hold something in your head, then you’re not going to be able to internalize it and act on it,” Jimenez says.

What’s my point? Your value-oriented marketing message needs to be crystal clear, engaging, and succinct.

Crystal Clear

If you are not clear on your value to a prospective company, your communication message will revert to responsibilities and duties, be inconsistent, and may even muddy your obvious ability to positively impact an organization. And if you aren’t clear on how you can impact, neither recruiters or companies will figure it out for you!


When someone is talking ‘at’ you with details you care nothing about, what is your response? I can tell you mine … after a very short time the D in the DISC (Dominance) takes hold, my eyes glaze over, and I start thinking about other things I need to do. I don’t intend to be rude, it’s the way my mind is wired. Just give me the facts I need to make a decision on what to do next, and be quick about it.

Thus, the importance of “engaging” your audience. Instead of talking at people, engage them in dialogue. It keeps them interested in the conversation because they are an active participant. Rather than throwing a 2-minute litany of your greatness their way (otherwise known as an elevator speech), deliver your marketing message in 15-second intervals that fosters follow-up questions and a continuation of the conversation.


This is where I believe Jimenez truly nails it. If you want a prospective company or recruiter to consider you as a compelling candidate, give them a value-oriented message they can easily comprehend, internalize, and act on!

How Do You Want to be Known?

A good article on defining your leadership brand was recently published in Harvard Business Review. The five steps offered are truly anything but easy. But, isn’t that the case with most things that are worth doing?

One key step that I think is missing in this article is generating objective, confidential 360-degree feedback from people who know you … not just internally, but externally. Colleagues, bosses, board members, clients/customers, third party vendors, friends, and yes, even family. 

Your brand (and yes, you have one even if you don’t think you do or even if you haven’t been intentional about fostering it) is how others perceive you. Are you viewed as a visionary and strategic CFO or as the CEO’s right-hand man? Does the perception of others  who interact with you on a regular basis align with your own perception? If not, it is then that the question becomes, how you want to be known? And, based on how you are wired along with your strengths, passions, and values, what do you need to get there?

Can you generate honest feedback simply by asking people face-to-face? I don’t think so. But without that valuable input, how can you know what your next step(s) should be? 

Soliciting external feedback is, in my opinion, critical because of the authenticity factor. Unless you understand how people outside of your professional life view you and how that aligns with the internal perspective, it’s difficult to assess how truly authentic your brand is. Living out your authentic leadership/executive/personal brand is easy … it’s who you are. Living behind a carefully manufactured professional facade becomes much more of a challenge, particularly in today’s Google-able world.

The 3 C’s: Communication, Culture, Core Values

One of the very smart CFOs I follow on Twitter blogs at Beyond Beans. His most recent post talks about the importance of communication in leadership. He’s right. In fact, communication is so important, that Tatum has pushed its CFOs to get training in “the softer skills,” including communications and negotiations. 

And retired CFO of AT&T and Northrup Grumman, Charles N. Noski, says “once you get past the technical skills, it’s all about the people – communicating with them, developing them, empowering them, and listening to them.”

At the CFO level, communication skills are critical. So are the other two Cs: culture fit and core values.

One of the most challenging issues a company faces when hiring is culture fit. Its ability, or inability, to clearly communicate its corporate culture is the difference between smart hiring and costly hiring mistakes. Underlining corporate culture are a company’s core values. 

Understanding individual core values and culture fit are equally important to making that next, right move. 

Core values can serve as a roadmap for good decision-making. Unless you are clear about what values you hold, and whether that next position will validate or violate your core values, you become like a ship without a rudder. You’re moving, but aimlessly … and often unhappily or unsatisfactorily.

The same is true for culture fit. It is, or should be, as important to you as it is to the company hiring you. The more you “fit in,” the happier and more satisfied you will be in that next position.

So here’s the skinny … understand your core values and your brand (culture fit), and then communicate that message in a clear and consistent manner to your target market.