Why Building Relationships is the Key to Building Influence

In the world of financial leadership, where numbers, budgets and strategic decision-making reign, the “people bit” often gets overlooked. Yet as a CFO your ultimate success goes beyond tasks. While financial analysis and fiscal management are at the core of your role, the relationships you cultivate with colleagues, partners and staff across the organisation are equally vital. Why? Because relationships are the key to your influence.

A CFO relies heavily on timely information from various departments, making the ability to influence colleagues to meet your deadlines a core skill. And if you want to truly optimise the allocation of resources across your organisation, understanding the operational dynamics that sit behind budget figures is a must. This requires communication, cooperation and collaboration.

The impact of strong relationships on a CFO’s influence cannot be overstated. That doesn’t mean you have to be everyone’s best friend, or an extroverted people-pleaser, but you do need to see building good rapport with your colleagues as essential to your success, rather than an optional extra. The reality is, the more people know and like you, the more they trust you and are willing to give you their most valuable asset: their time. The underlying relationship often motivates them to go the extra mile, support your ideas, or prioritise your needs amidst their own competing priorities.

Relying solely on hierarchy or positional power is not enough. Without a genuine relationship, people may still do what you ask because they have to but you lose one of your most powerful assets: the discretionary effort of those you’re dealing with. Successful financial leaders understand this and focus on building connections with their colleagues, recognising that stronger relationships lead to greater influence.

When you have a relationship, people are more likely to listen when you speak. This provides a platform for you to present your well-crafted arguments and positions. In today’s fast-paced world, where distractions abound, capturing attention is the initial, most vital step. Even the most compelling arguments are rendered meaningless if they’re not heard. Your success hinges on your ability to establish that initial connection.

Your relationships with colleagues will also pay off when you have to deliver tough or unpopular news. While people may not like your message, they’re more likely to accept it if they know that your intention is positive because they know who you are as a person.

Don’t wait until you need something from someone to build a relationship. Make it a priority to build relationships across your organisation before you make an ask where possible. Rather than consider it a waste of time, see it as a strategic investment that will pay dividends by minimising resistance to your ideas and requests in the future.

So, how can you build your relationships in the workplace and, in turn, your influence? The fundamentals are basic, but incredibly powerful:

  1. Learn and remember people’s names. This simple gesture conveys respect and attentiveness.
  2. Acknowledge people: Greet people when you walk past them and say hello when entering a meeting. Basic acknowledgment makes people feel valued.
  3. Engage in small talk: Seemingly trivial conversations hold significant value. A quick chat in the lunch room while making a coffee can work wonders.
  4. Be generous: Offer recommendations, steer colleagues in the right direction, and provide support where possible.
  5. Show you care: Take an interest in your colleagues as humans, not just as a means to getting a task done.
  6. Ask questions with curiosity: Make an effort to understand the challenges other people face and the operational realities behind the numbers in their budgets.
  7. Recognise and appreciate efforts: A simple “thank you” can go a long way in fostering a positive relationship.

Many finance leaders neglect these basics, only to find their jobs more frustrating and challenging than they need to be. Building and strengthening your relationships isn’t a “nice to have” luxury, it’s an essential component to your success as a finance leader. The art of influence relies on these connections. Embrace relationship-building as a core part of your role and you’ll find that the doors to influence swing open, giving you the edge you need to succeed.

About the Author –

Leah Mether, author of Steer Through the Storm: How to Communicate and Lead Courageously Through Change (Ingram Spark, $25.00), is a communication specialist obsessed with making the people part of leadership and work life easier through the development of “soft skills”. Renowned for her engaging style as a trainer, speaker and facilitator, Leah helps leaders and teams shift from knowing to doing, and radically improve their effectiveness.

Visit www.leahmether.com.au