Could Your Career Survive Being Juan-Williamsed?

Who hasn’t seen or heard about the very public and very ugly firing of NPR’s news analyst Juan Williams over “controversial” remarks he made on a competitor’s show? Williams will be fine. In fact, this might be a far bigger boost to his career than he could ever have imagined.

But what would happen to your career if such a public and contentious firing occurred? And today, the Internet insures that if there is even the slightest bit of controversy, it would be public! Politics aside, here are a couple of things I think worked to Williams’ favor …


What an interesting word. What we do when no one is watching. Can we have integrity when the situation warrants and then leave it behind when facing a tough decision?

In the latest SmartBrief for CFOs poll, readers were queried on what they would do if they were asked by the CEO or board to do something illegal or bordering on it. Almost 5% were unsure and almost 30% said it would depend.

I believe Williams exercised integrity on the job and after he was fired. In fact, I believe integrity was part of what allowed him to get pushed right out of the NPR door and into a $2 million contract with Fox News.

If integrity is a high value of yours, you won’t violate it because you know the emotional and mental consequences that will follow. If it isn’t, you might. Regardless of whether it is a high value or not for you personally, if you do violate integrity professionally, it might end your career.


Williams’ reputation was (and remains) very visible to both his targeted and un-targeted audiences. Sure you say, he’s on TV. Yes, and the fact that you, Mr. Chief Financial Officer, are not … shouldn’t be the excuse to be invisible to the companies where you would love to work and who could use your skills and talent.

Could you move from fired, to unemployed, to employed within a day? What about a few weeks? A couple of months? Or today, would it take years? To make a transition as short and as smooth as possible, your network – and target audience – need to know who you are and how accomplished you are.


Do you stand for something or do you stand for nothing? No one has to guess about Juan Williams’ brand. If each of you submitted three words to me that best describe him, I’m sure many of us would choose the same or very similar words.

What about you, though? If you asked 30 people to provide three words that best describe you, would you find consistency among the responses or, would those responses be all over the map? Your brand has little to do with who you believe you are unless it aligns with the perception of everyone else.

Whether you agree with Juan’s politics or not, the man has integrity; maintained a high-profile reputation; and was, and continues to be, well-branded. These three things contributed to him moving from fired, to unemployed, to employed within the space of a breath. What are you doing to insure your career could survive being “juan-williamsed”?

If you’ve never assessed your values and would like to, email me and I’ll send you a brief worksheet. If you’d like to discuss “integrity” or anything else CFO Careers-related, please consider joining our private Linked In group.

Creativity, Leadership Competencies, and CFOs

A recent study by IBM’s Institute for Business Value cites creativity as the most-valued leadership competency by CEOs. Our poll last week in SmartBrief for CFOs revealed that 50% of surveyed CFOs agreed with those study results. I’m not sure whether the 50% affirming or the 42% opposing was the bigger surprise. 

So I have some questions …

–If your company values creativity as a leadership competency, how do you identify/evaluate/measure it?

–What do you believe creativity brings to your leadership team?

–Do you believe companies who embrace creativity are the trailblazers for their respective industries?

–Would you go outside your industry to find these fresh thinkers?

–If you don’t buy into creativity as a high-value competency, why not?

–What do you believe are the top 2 or 3 leadership competencies you want to see in your  executive leadership team and those being groomed to move into those spots?

Would love to hear your thoughts …

CFOs, Gen Y’s, and SMAGs

There’s a fascinating (well at least I thought so) post on Antisocial Recruiter Networking by Michael Goldberg, a talent acquisition leader. His article is based on a New York Times article on the effects of social media on our kids.

What in the world does that have to do with you? Stay with me for a moment.

Last week’s poll in SmartBrief for CFOs was around using social media in the workplace. There was a 50 / 50 split between those who had a social media policy in place or were investigating one and those who had a firewall prohibiting it or were just clueless. 

There is so much to lose on both a personal and professional level for executives who choose not to embrace the power of Web 2.0 technology. Social media is here and it’s trending north. 

When kids get cell phones at the age of 8 and spend all day texting and FBing friends … recognize they are your potential hires when they graduate from college. Young adults are, and will be, more tech-savvy than any of us old-timers can ever hope to be. Will they want to work for an executive team that has a strict anti-social networking policy in place or is clueless about what engaging with the public and customers or clients through social media can do for the business? If you did manage to hire them, would you expect them to stay in a culture of dinosaurs for long? Recruiting is expensive. Recruiting top talent … and keeping them … is painful.

And for finance executives who still have years left to contribute to a brilliant career … will you ever be able to compete with a social media savvy 45-year old finance executive candidate when you are 55? I hear “age discrimination” bandied about frequently. No question it exists. Some of it though is brought about by a defiance around change. It’s not how I got to the top and I have no intention of learning/using/participating now. 

Isn’t it great that we have free will and free choice … accompanied, of course, by taking responsibility for our decisions! 

BTW, SMAG = Social Media Age Group

The CFO Market is Moving

I had a long conversation with one of my favorite finance executive recruiters yesterday. Among other things, we compared notes on what’s happening in the CFO market. We agree … after 12-18 months of hunkering down, senior finance executives are now confidently looking around and beginning to move. 

My poll at SmartBrief for CFOs last week confirmed this observation with a whopping 20% of respondents saying they were heading out the door. 

Two possible reasons CFOs are stretching and beginning to flex their muscles …

— CFOs are making the command decision that it’s once again safe to test the waters. And they need to be proactive. Hunkering down is merely survival mode and ensures nothing.

— PEs, VCs, and Boards are looking at their companies and saying,  … thanks Mr. CFO, but now that you have restructured debt and streamlined processes, we need a CFO who will guide our growth strategy and it’s time to change leadership.

Survival mode is giving up control of your career to someone else. Someone who doesn’t have “your” best interests in mind, but rather, has their company’s (investment) best interests at heart. What is good for the company in the short term is not always what is good for the sitting Chief Financial Officer.

If you haven’t clarified your unique value proposition (what do you have that a company is willing to pay to get), created compelling marketing documents, Googled your name to see what others are finding about you, and begun a proactive campaign to raise your visibility and credibility … you might just find yourself left in the dust.

Four Things Jobseekers Can Learn From Recruiters

Who better for passive and active job search candidates to learn from than one of recruiting’s foremost thought leaders? Kevin Wheeler’s latest article was on the 4 things recruiters should have learned this year and, it’s a wealth of information for prospective candidates (today, next year, or 2 years from now) as well.

Here are the lessons Wheeler lays out, with my job search candidate interpretation and hopefully, grace from the author.

“Lesson #1: Building and maintaining candidate relationships and generating referrals are keys to survival.”

I see two key takeaways for job seekers (particularly passive candidates) in this lesson. First, build recruiter relationships … long before you need them. And then, maintain them. If you don’t stay top of mind then you aren’t anywhere near the top.

Build your network. And then, maintain your network. If recruiters are looking for referrals, they will in all likelihood be talking with people within your cone of influence who can pass those opportunities on to you. 

“Lesson #2: Use targeted, bold marketing and branding to appeal to the types of candidates you want.”

Targeted, bold marketing, and branding to appeal to the types of companies where you want to work. Recruiters are doing it. Job search candidates should definitely be leveraging the power of targeted, branded positioning.

“Lesson #3: Do not just use, but embrace, emerging technology.”

It’s Web 2.0 and it’s not going anywhere. Job boards are out, social media is in. Maybe not all the way yet, but it is trending that way. Despite that trend, almost 75% of CFOs polled by SmartBrief indicated they either had a Linked In profile but were not actively using it or they didn’t have a profile and weren’t interested in having one. Which begs the question, if you aren’t in Google, do you exist?

I’ll be writing more extensively on this in my next post, but a recent article by another recruiter was lamenting the fact that her client (the company) would no longer accept candidates she found in Career Builder or Monster. I’ve mentioned this before, my recruiter contacts have told me they are not getting paid to present candidates that are found in job boards. It’s time for job search candidates (active and passive) to embrace emerging technology.

“Lesson #4: Accept change as a way of life.”

This is the most frustrating thing I hear from my senior executives. Finding a job isn’t the way it used to be. The rules have changed. The playing field isn’t level. Good isn’t always good enough.

The rules HAVE changed, and if you don’t understand today’s game it’s even tougher to compete. Just as Wheeler instructs recruiters that traditional recruiting methods have gone the way of the dinosaur and traditional recruiting skills will become liabilities, so will not proactively managing a career come at a  much high cost to executives, finance and otherwise.