[Ask The CFO] Finance Executives Share Top Leadership Strategies

October 22, 2021 Sarah Dameron

CFO in conference talking about finance strategies

There’s a vast difference between a mediocre leader and a great leader – one scrapes by in their position, doing the bare minimum, while the latter continuously seeks out new opportunities to learn and grow. Over the past year and a half, we’ve spoken to 50-plus CFOs and financial leaders, and they’ve shared a few nuggets of wisdom on how to build a winning business strategy during unprecedented times and finance leadership strategies. It’s a relatable topic that’s stretched across multiple episodes on Personiv’s award-winning podcast, CFO Weekly.

Whether you’re building a business from the ground up, overseeing the finance and accounting function of a mid-size company or an executive of a large organization, consider the perspectives of a few financial leaders below.

Leading A Company Through Growth - Financial Leadership Strategies

If there’s one thing finance and accounting leaders can agree on, it’s that growth does not come without its own set of challenges and pain points. Moreover, taking your company through hyper growth during a pandemic can seem impossible, if not daunting. And Victor Wong, CFO at Flipp, knows this reality all too well.

“There’s a general expectation that you know everything [As a CFO] and I think that’s definitely not the case.” – Victor Wong

He continues with explaining that hyper-growth is only successful if you A. Keep communication top of mind and B. Define your company culture.  As your businesses continues to grow, so does your team. And as more people are added to your employee roster, it’s high time to outline your workplace culture.

“Company culture won’t thrive unless people understand its purpose: why are things done this way?” – Victor Wong

So how does a business survive scaling?

You get your team involved. An involved team fosters support and solidarity – both needed during a time of change. Even more so, a thriving company functions on structure and organized processes that can be referenced for years to come. Taking it one step further, you also need to ponder what systems will be utilized throughout your business. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What current system does your organization currently use?

  • Do you have any specific conundrums with your current system, or lack thereof?

  • What would your company gain from switching to a new system?

As Victor says, “Make sure the system works for you, instead of you working for the system.”

It’s no surprise that Covid took the world by storm and changed the way companies conducted their day-to-day operations. Unfortunately, Victor and his organization Flipp, were not immune to the effects of the pandemic. However, he does emphasize a few tips for braving these uncertain times:

  • Be honest

  • Communicate

  • Clarify the goal

  • Include the purpose

Read More: Building Your Business: Leading Through Growth

Navigating The CFO Role at a Small Company

cfo explaining new finance strategies to directives

Changing jobs or moving to a new company can be unnerving. But going from a larger corporation to a smaller one as a CFO can seem defeating.

Jeff Lasher, CFO at Coravin, touches on this issue in Episode 40: From Big Companies To Small: The Changing CFO Role.

“As you get into a smaller company, the more likely you’ll be needed to help or manage areas that are not traditionally finance related… even in a big role, or big company, the role of being a finance leader needs to be outside of finance in some way shape or form, on a daily basis.” – Jeff Lasher

And according to Jeff, smaller companies can typically be more stressful but at the same time, more rewarding. Moreover, Jeff points out that the culture of any business is the driving force behind a company’s long-term success.

Once you’ve made the leap towards a smaller business, it’s time to start building out your dream team. But what should CFOs look for when hiring top talent?

  • The ability to continuously learn;

  • A self-starter;

  • Good communication skills;

  • and the proven ability to speak truth to power.

But just because you hire the A-team doesn’t mean there won’t be internal conflicts amongst your employees. In fact, conflict is to be expected. What’s important is to understand that you’re not going to agree with everyone and vice versa, and that’s okay. It’s a topic that Jeff is all-too-familiar with and one he encourages his team to explore.

“It’s incredibly important to be self-aware, to ask for feedback. But do it in a way that’s instantly non-confrontational.” – Jeff Lasher

A Seat at The Table: Why Women Should Step Into Leadership Roles

So, we’ve talked about how to lead a company through growth and how to navigate the CFO role, but what about women in leadership? How does gender diversity affect overall company performance? On Episode 6: The Benefits Of Women In Leadership, Lydia Adams, VP of Marketing & Communications at Personiv, dives into the topic of why companies should actively work to put and keep women in leadership positions.

As of 2020, just 33 women held the position of CEO at a Fortune 500 company. Furthermore, only 1 in 4 organizations say advancing women is a top 10 business priority for their company. These staggering data points are just the tip of the iceberg.

“When women are left out of that conversation and left out of that group, you’re really not getting the amount of creativity and ideas that could come from a more diverse group of people.” – Lydia Adams

In fact, having that broad set of viewpoints is something that Lydia has brought to her team at Personiv, “When I think about a group of people, and especially where I’m coming from in marketing – a lot of what we do is brainstorming different ideas – really harnessing the creativity of a group; and once that process begins, it’s amazing to see how it builds.”

She isn’t the only one who thinks having women in leadership positions can boost a business’s bottom line. A recent Pew survey showed that 34 percent of respondents saw women leaders as more trustworthy.

Lydia goes on to credit Gen Z as the reason why we’re seeing more women in leadership roles.

“81 percent of [Gen Z graduates] say that the most important factor in getting a job is diversity… we’re starting to see that shift in how we work.” – Lydia Adams

Interestingly enough, the biggest benefit to having women take on leadership roles is the increase in profitability as well as finance strategies development. The conversation revealed that organizations that brought the number of women in higher-level positions from zero to 30 percent saw a one percent net margin increase with a 15 percent increase in overall profitability.

Finance Leadership Strategies 101: How to Become an Effective Leader

Finance leadership meeting to talk about strategies

Growing up, your mom probably reiterated the importance of not doing something just because everyone else did it, specifically jumping of a bridge, and she has a point. People follow leaders, whether they’re good or bad, for a variety of reasons and Roy Austin, leadership coach and Managing Principal at Rockwell Business Solutions, Founder and Chair of Savannah CFO Council, and author of The Alligator Business Solution, dissects this subject on Episode 14: Top 7 Ways To Be An Effective Leader.

He outlines seven things effective leaders do below.

  • Good leaders share their vision with their followers. Why should people follow you?

  • Great leaders have a purpose outside of making money. It’s easy to find a job that pays above market value, it’s harder to find one that backs their mission.

  • Hire people who share your values. Roy points out that hiring is like dating – you want to uncover what the person is like before you make a commitment. A sure-fire way to reveal a person’s values is by asking them point blank.

  • Recruit people who align with your work culture. Culture begins with the leadership team and seeps down into the rest of the finance team and strategies. Foster a culture that makes people want to stay.

  • Give a reason behind your decisions. Not everyone is going to agree with you. And according to Roy, “Disagreement is a good thing. You learn nothing from someone who always agrees with you.”

  • Show that you care. Empathy breeds loyalty. You can show that you care for your employees by:

    • Listening to them.

    • Fostering open communication.

    • Giving them the resources and tools they need to do their job effectively.

    • Giving credit where credit is due.

  • Demonstrating trust. It’s not enough to tell your employee they can trust you; you need to show them they can trust you. And it goes both ways – your employees also have to know that you trust them as well.

As Roy Austin says, “Nobody is born a leader. Some people have different attributes which lend themselves. But all of us can become better leaders and all of us can improve on every aspect of our lives.”

Becoming a leader is a not an overnight process. And it’s definitely not about winning a popularity contest; it’s about inspiring change and working with your team to achieve goals. You can hear what other leaders have to say and gain more insight on how to lead your team during uncertain times when you tune in to CFO Weekly. If you have something to add to the conversation, don’t hesitate to get in touch – we would be elated to have you as a guest on the podcast.

And if you’re too overwhelmed with tasks to even think about improving your finance leadership strategies—we get it, and we can help. Let Personiv take some of that transactional work off your plate so you can focus on what’s most important (especially your people). Contact us to get a quote.

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