Core Competencies to Transition from CFO to CEO - [CFO Weekly] Episode 15

February 2, 2022 Mimi Torrington

Going from cfo to ceo - last day at office

This week's topic: Core Competencies To Transition From CFO To CEO.

You’re thinking about the Big Seat, huh? Kudos to you! It takes a special person to go from CFO to CEO. It may take a lot of work but there are several core competencies you can develop that will help you feel more prepared.

To help us understand those competencies and how to work on them, we sat down with Gene Corvino, President at William M. Bird and Sr. VP/CFO at Southern Diversified Distributors, where he’s worked for over three decades.

The 7 CEO competencies we’re going over today include: extreme ownership, other points of view, a sincere desire to understand others, having a vision, confidence and rhythm, and hiring a strong team. Let’s take a closer look!

Extreme Ownership - Going From CFO to CEO

Gene Corvino

It’s easy to take credit for your team’s successes. And, in many ways, outsiders see the CEO as David taking down Goliath. You’re the leader, after all.

There’s one problem with this analogy: The CEO has a whole army of people who helped them achieve the goal.

Credit your team for successes

When your team achieves or surpasses a goal, credit needs to go to them, not the leader.

Yes, you directed them, kept them on the right track, maybe even came up with the vision yourself. But, your team did all the work. They’re the ones making your vision a reality.

Own up to failures

Here’s where the ownership gets extreme.

When your team fails to meet an objective, you’ve got to take the blame. It was your vision that either wasn’t realistic or wasn’t communicated clearly enough.

Your team takes orders from you — they can’t be blamed when things don’t go as you saw them in your head.

Practice extreme ownership

As CFO, there are vast opportunities to develop extreme ownership.

"When a challenge comes, be expectant. Look for the opportunity in the middle of a challenge because it's going to be there," Corvino said.

At work, make sure you’re taking responsibility for any slip-ups your departments incur. When things go well, give credit to those who took your direction and made the project a success.

Other Points of View - Promotion From CFO to CEO

Here’s some tough love: You’re not always right.

I know, I know. It can be hard to hear. But there’s some good news. You can seek out other people’s perspectives to make smarter decisions. You don’t have to rely solely on your own insights.

Be multi-dimensional

No one wants to follow a one-dimensional CEO (or CFO, for that matter).

It’s imperative to at least try to see the world from different perspectives. You won’t always have the experience or knowledge needed to make a decision.

Practice taking in other points of view

In order to take in other points of view, you should seek out new experiences. Talk to people at work you wouldn’t normally talk to. Visit a department of your company that you don’t spend much time in.

Outside of work, take advantage of travel opportunities. Stuck in quarantine? Read a book by an author you wouldn’t normally pick up. Watch a TED talk from someone you want to learn more about. The options are endless.

A Sincere Desire to Understand Others - Becoming a CEO from a CFO

You can't be disingenuous and get away with it

You can say you care… But, it’s only when you show you care that people actually believe you. Great CEOs take their people’s welfare seriously and their people know it.

"You can't be disingenuous and get away with it," Gene Corvino said.

To go from CFO to CEO, it’s essential to develop a sincere desire for understanding other people. Those people include employees, family, peers, friends, and colleagues.

If you’re actually genuine about understanding other people, it will manifest throughout your entire life — not just work.

Practice empathy

Developing empathy is a lot like taking in other people’s points of view.

Speak with people at work that you don’t interact with much. Learn their stories and put yourself in their shoes. Ask thoughtful questions to gain a deeper understanding.

If you practice empathy, eventually it will come naturally.

Have a Vision - Transition From CFO to CEO

A CEO without a vision is like a chicken without its head. It can run around for a bit and cause some excitement, but in the end, it has no vision.

Be anticipatory

As a leader, you should be anticipating two to three moves ahead of the team. That’s not to say you don’t let the team in on important decision-making. Yet, you don’t want to be caught off-guard.

Planning things out ahead of time and believing in those plans are critical competencies of a CEO.

Forming a vision

To formulate a vision for your company, start by listing your core beliefs and principals. In order to create something your team stands for, you have to know what you stand for first.

It also helps to have a mentor in this situation. Who can offer you sincere advice? Who knows you well enough to help you solidify a vision? Having a sounding board is key to developing a clear vision for yourself and your company.

Confidence - Moving up the Ranks CFO to CEO

We’re talking about confidence here — not arrogance.

There’s a level of certainty you need to have when addressing others as a CEO. If you don’t sound believable, how do you expect your team to believe in you?

It’s important to note that you still need to take input from other people when making decisions. However, once the decision has been made, it needs to be confidently relayed.

Practice confidence

For a CEO, confidence manifests itself many times through public speaking.

An exceptional organization to help you exercise your speaking skills is Toastmasters. There, you can practice getting out of your comfort zone while having the support of your peers.

Rhythm - Moving up From CFO to CEO and Keeping the Momentum

Reporting to a sporadic and volatile CEO is hardly ideal. There needs to be some order to your processes, or else people won’t feel comfortable coming to you.


A consistent schedule and order of processes bring security to your team. They won’t attain the desired productivity if they’re trying to satisfy your every off-the-wall whim.

Practice rhythm

Luckily, financial professionals often thrive on processes and consistency.

You can further develop this competency by implementing systems for your team based on their feedback, then by following those systems for your own ideas.

For any unconventional ideas, take note of them and see if they fit into your system in the future.

A Strong Team - From CFO to CEO

transition from cfo to ceo

In case you haven’t noticed, the team has been an integral part of every CEO competency. That’s because the team is the most important part.

Build up your team

A CEO is nothing without a strong team. The people you work with should be on or above your skill level. They are the ones doing the work, meeting each objective of your organization’s overarching goal.

Hire a strong team

In order to surround yourself with a skilled team, you need to hire the best people.

"You need to hire people who you believe can replace you and who can do things beyond what your capabilities are," Corvino said.

It might sound counterintuitive, but you should onboard people that could replace you. It’s the only way your company will grow to its full potential. Having a great team around you will make you better.

Not every CFO is fit to transition to CEO. But, by developing these 7 core competencies, you’ll be on the right track.

Listen to all the episodes of CFO Weekly on Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.

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