5 Key Insights for CFOs to Supercharge Your Performance

Exceptional finance leaders learn from experience. They derive relevant learning, develop clear strategic direction, and take definitive action. They despise theory without applicability, and they detest inertia following insight. Average leaders do the opposite. They are overwhelmed by adversity, seldom search for content – let alone context, and critically, undervalue the transformational opportunities that come from lived experiences and observations. Here are five counterintuitive learnings to help you on your way:

  • You don’t need to lose to learn, but it sure helps. Although every learning experience has its advantages, without doubt, the biggest lessons come as a result of failure or adversity. When things go against plan, we think, we analyse, and we scrutinise to unimaginable levels. Negativity bias ensures we remember painful events more than positive ones so ensure you leverage mistakes fully. Importantly, seek out context for the insight itself – why did it happen in the first place and knowing this, what will we do differently going forward. Document and socialise all learnings across your organisation within a systematic knowledge management process. This sounds easy, it is not. Additionally, be 100% transparent about your mistakes. Providing you use insight for future improvement, vulnerability is the cornerstone of all outstanding leaders
  • Contentment leads to decline. For 30 years I have observed this phenomenon. On two occasions, I have experienced it. When a leader or organisation has sustained periods of success, it often leads to contentment. When you are satisfied, you do not feel the need, energy nor desire to act or change. This is not lazy or apathetic, it is simply a state of contentment. It generally results in inertia, which in my experience, leads to decline. Exceptional leaders are in a state of constant dissatisfaction. They are never content with the status quo. They lead versus manage, shape versus react, show versus tell and fix before breaking. It is not reckless abandonment of what is working. Simply, a relentless search for transformational improvement. Whilst I use numerous frameworks to allow dissatisfaction, my favourite is the 30% rule – whereby you set teams stretch targets that can only be achieved by doing something completely different from that being done today. It dictates behavioural change and removes any inherent levels of satisfaction.
  • Bad bosses are great bosses. This is a strange observation and one I did not appreciate for many years. Throughout your career, painful stuff will happen. This will almost certainly include having a bad boss, or possibly even a series of bad bosses. Treat this as an opportunity and not a cause for anxiety. Relish the chance to observe them and do so with an open mind. Document all behaviours that resonate against your values. Ingrain them in your memory and make sure you never repeat them as a leader. Surprisingly, bad bosses should be considered gifts. They give you the chance to learn what not to do. If you get landed with one, leverage the hell out of them.
  • It’s not always right to be right. I used to be the type of leader that had to be right every single time. I had to win every single debate, dialogue, or discussion on every single occasion. In my mind, there was always a winner and a loser. In the corporate world, these are the worst type of leaders. They value their own opinions ahead of others, are self-important, lack inner-confidence and unacceptably, they limit transformation by curbing thought diversity.  Individuals who work for them are resigned to inertia. They don’t challenge or question and why should they? They know they will lose. Looking back, it does not make me proud. The best leaders concede, compromise, and unlock potential in others by stepping back. Importantly, they do it early in their careers.
  • Relationships matter more than results. It took me a long time to appreciate this. I previously viewed organisational success on the outcome of an individual business transaction. If it was beneficial to us, it was deemed successful. My thinking was fundamentally flawed. Unless the outcome is mutually beneficial, it adversely impacts trust, transparency, and future partnership potential. It is short term and definitely limits breakthrough opportunity. I now base the success of a business transaction on the depth and enduring quality of the relationship secured. Not on the initial monetary value. I also demand that my teams measure relationship success with the same rigour and discipline as that of revenue, cash, and earnings targets. A significantly different metric from old and one that has been instrumental in my relative corporate success.

Like many, my expectations for corporate and financial leaders are longer than those listed above. They are demanding, challenging and I believe, stretching. Importantly, they are considerably shorter than those that I set for myself. I hope this never changes.

About the Author

Hamish Thomson, author of It’s Not Always Right to be Right (Wiley $29.99), is a former Regional President and global brand head for Mars Incorporated (UK, Australia, Chicago), a senior sales and marketing lead for Reebok International (England and the Netherlands) and an account exec in the London advertising scene. Based in Sydney, he is a strategic consultant and non-executive director of OzHelp Foundation.

To learn more, visit: www.hamishrthomson.com