Three key traits of modern financial leadership
Harry Young highlights the three key traits a CA should embody to become a successful modern finance leader
What Makes a Great Leader?
Being a great leader is all about empowerment and understanding. The modern accountant can do this and become a great financial leader within their organisation by empowering those they are surrounded by and empowering their business with a clear vision. Warren Bennis an American scholar, widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership studies stated that, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality”.
What are the qualities you value in leaders? Determination? Certainty of purpose? Vision?
When writing this article, I surveyed our team, asking them, “What characteristics do you most value in a leader?” The traits that consistently came up where empathy, approachability, inspirational, and honest.
We all want to be led by someone who we trust, who can put themselves in our shoes, and who inspires us to perform consistently at a high level through their achievements and deep understanding of an organisation.
What do you need to do to become a modern finance leader?
Understand your business
To be a true finance leader firstly you need to understand your business. A highly effective modern finance leader is someone who can ‘join the dots’ between functions in their organisation. This is a quality that is not as common as it ought to be, as it requires a broad mix of skills. You need to know your business inside out, including the people, their tasks, and their skills. To do this means communicating clearly and driving performance with the right key performance indicators.
This is good news for those in the finance function, as broad scope thinking is what we are good at. We do not just produce the annual accounts; we collect data and gather insights. We have a unique view of where the money goes — or does not go. We know what happens when it is added or removed. It helps us see where businesses can be improved, which is what leaders are meant to do. Career-wise, if you understand your business, you are well placed to move into a leadership position.
Interpersonal and communication skills
The modern finance leader must collaborate with a wide range of people from other senior stakeholders and board members to investors, suppliers, colleagues and beyond. The best leaders are masters at navigating office politics, unequivocal in their convictions and public statements, and able to tailor their interpersonal approaches to suit the backgrounds and priorities of different individuals.
When communicating you must be able to communicate complex information effectively and field challenging questions with ease. You should be clear, concise, and persuasive with your messages, whether made verbally or in writing. Communication is about more than just talking, a big part of being an effective communicator as a leader is being an active listener. Holding back and just hearing what someone else has to say can show that you value the other person’s thoughts and words. This lends itself to trust, integrity and empathy—all characteristics that people look for in a strong leader.
Vision and empowerment
It is the job of a leader to get your team to buy into your vision. The modern finance leader should always have one eye on the future. It is their responsibility to instil this vision into their workers and make sure they always work towards cementing the company’s long-term goals. The finance function is very much embedded within the strategic endeavours of a company so it’s vital that those within the department are bought into this and that planning and forecasting is thorough.
One way to get your team to buy into your vision is to empower them. A successful finance leader can do this by bringing out the best in those around them. They should give their employees the autonomy and resource to successfully perform their jobs. A good leader should serve as a mentor and play an active role in the development of their reports, ensuring they develop the necessary skills and providing guidance to help them develop their careers.
There is no doubt that the perception of what leadership is continues to evolve. In recent years, the view of what makes a good leader has broadened. The stereotypical view of a leader as a General who leads an army is now just one of a whole portfolio of leadership styles. It means that top jobs can accommodate a variety of personalities and personal qualities. And leadership is better for that diversity of approach.
Nearly everyone can be a leader, but knowing your business, developing strong interpersonal and communication skills, following a clear vision and then empowering those around you to buy into it is a strong formula that will make you stand out.
To future-proof your own career and to learn about leadership level finance opportunities please contact Harry Young (07494 280 500) at Rutherford Cross for an informal career consultation.
This blog is one of a series of articles from our commercial partners. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of ICAS.