CFOs as CEOs … Update!!

Over the past year and a half, I’ve penned a couple of posts (CFOs as CEOs and Decade of CFOs) on the trend of CFOs moving into the CEO seat. In  a new article for  CFO ZoneChristopher Langhoff, who conducts financial officer assignments for Russell Reynolds, chimes in on what he is seeing. 

Here are a couple of snippets … but if you’re a CFO aspiring to be a CEO, at some point you might want to read the entire, albeit brief, article:

"We have more and more clients that are coming to us asking for a world class CFO that will likely be ready to be CEO in two to three years … When Sox was in full gear there was a need for a CFO who was a CPA. Now, companies are looking for a strategic CFO, a business partner. There could be a big shift."

In order to be world class, the people who need to know about you must know about you! Is your light shining beyond your corner office? If not, it will make it extremely difficult for your “world class” brand to be known.

Langhoff touched on something else I think is extremely important …

The first quarter also showed a continued, robust turnover of CFOs in the middle market.  "The lifespan of a CFO can be shorter than an NFL career," says Langhoff. As for the rest of the year, Langhoff predicts more turnover. Over the past four months, Russell Reynolds reported a dramatic increase in search activity in the United States, Europe and Asia that spans industries.

That means two things:

1) Your position is NOT safe; and

2) There ARE new opportunities for “world-class” talent!

The Rise of Personal Branding

Personal branding is not a fad. It’s trending north. You can get in the game, or not. You certainly have that choice. However, you would be wise to choose carefully!

A couple of Fast Company expert bloggers summed it up quite nicely in the article “Brand or Die: The Downfall of the Institution and the Rise of the Personal Brand.” The entire article is worth the read, but here are some key points along with my commentary.

–You can become an “internal evangelist” and a thought leader for your industry – all while working for someone else. This buzz about you in turn raises your profile and credibility, which then gives rise to the notion that no longer will you be an employee with limited options.

If no one knows your brilliant, does it matter? CFOs, finance executives, and other finance rising stars tend to put nose to the grindstone and do their work rather than creating buzz about their contributions and the short and long-term impacts to the company. If you don’t talk about it, it’s likely no one else will either. And if no one is talking about how brilliant you are, you aren’t in the driver’s seat of your career.

–This label [Independent Executive] applies to someone who takes their knowledge from previous employment and sets out to create their own destiny, lifestyle, and income on their own terms. This philosophy takes personal branding to the next level, because it is not just important for the professional or the entrepreneur, but it is now very important for employees who are happy to work in someone else’s environment but who want to be recognized, both financially and emotionally, for their very real contributions.

Research shows that executives who are socially well-connected typically make more money, are less likely to lose their jobs for poor performance, and transition quicker if they do lose their jobs. (Source: “33 Million People in the Room”). 

With a strong personal brand, CFOs can take control of their careers and foster powerful positioning with the choice of where to move and when, along with getting desired compensation.

–In the past, an unhappy employee had limited choices …. Now, in the new “Branded Economy”, you are all allowed to play the role you want in building your brand and building your value. If you don’t take control, you will risk becoming irrelevant and relegated to the position of a cog in someone else’s wheel.

“You risk becoming irrelevant and relegated to the position of a cog in someone else’s wheel” … that’s a pretty powerful statement! 

Are you a strategic Chief Financial Officer who has earned a seat at the table in your own right with a team that is following you because they share your vision and they want to? Or, are you the CEO’s right-hand man with a dysfunctional and unproductive finance team who work for a paycheck? Are you in the driver’s seat of your career or the passenger’s seat of an freewheeling taxi driver (no offense intended)?

–You have the choice to BRAND OR DIE. 

Die might be a little dramatic … however, extinction is an absolute possibility! 

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.