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4 Tips for being an intentional leader

Throughout his career, Designer Brands CFO Jared Poff has had to deal with the unexpected – from becoming CFO earlier than planned, to the pandemic’s catastrophic impact on the retail sector. He shares his advice for not letting circumstance derail your career.

Posted on 14 January 2022 by Janelle Van Deventer
Jared Poff, CFO at Designer Brands
Jared Poff, CFO at Designer Brands

When you’re a finance leader, there’s a lot that’s out of your control, including market crashes, global pandemics, and industry shifts. But you can control how you respond to the demands that come with the job.

Jared Poff, EVP CFO at Designer Brands, one of North America’s largest designers, producers and retailers of footwear and accessories, jumped into his role in 2015 after an unexpected leadership change. To this day, he carries the lessons forward from that time with a spirit of flexibility, intentionality, and optimism.

‘Approach your career development, and your personal development, with intent.’

We interviewed Jared on The CFO Playbook podcast, where he shared his best advice for navigating your career and leadership style with intention.

1. Stay calm under pressure

No matter what challenges you face along your finance journey, you need to stay flexible.

When Jared’s path to CFO was accelerated, he found himself in a high pressure situation. Then and in the recent economic downturn due to the pandemic, he reminded himself of the importance of his role:

‘The biggest parallel is really about being calm…One of the things that CFOs have to be in possession of is a steady hand. You’re typically that steady hand for the business.’

By channeling calm in turbulent times, you’re modeling how the rest of the company should respond – and giving yourself room to adapt.

2. Nurture your relationship with the CEO

A great CFO is a strategic partner to the rest of the business who knows their most important relationship is the one they cultivate with the CEO.

Jared shares that he’s been intentional in growing together with the CEO:

‘When it comes to the CFO and the CEO, it has to be more than just your eight to five working relationship. It has to be a relationship of trust. It has to be one that ultimately is closer than a lot of your personal friendships because you do rely on each other.’

A strong CEO/CFO bond will help you stay aligned on your vision for the future, as well as help you work through challenges in the present.

3. Set priorities

An intentional leader knows where to direct their attention during the ups and downs of a company’s lifespan.

Having worked in retail for much of his career, Jared has seen the CFO cliché ‘cash is king’ play out in real time during both the 2008 financial crisis and the last two years:

‘Especially during 2020… I’m holding every bit of cash that I can, because that’s the one thing that has stability that will be there if you need it.’

When the only way out is through, you need to stay laser focused on what will not only get you beyond a crisis but set you up for success going forward.

4. Take ownership of your career and role at the company

In order to succeed as a financial leader, you need to own every step of the process.

In addition to being intentional, Jared’s top career advice for aspiring CFOs is to understand the bigger picture of the business and your role within it:

‘Take a sense of ownership, no matter what level you’re at and whatever you’re doing.’

Commit yourself to learning as much as you can about the company and take pride in your work.

Don’t let happenstance be what guides you

While the best CFOs adapt real time to what’s thrown at them, a flexible mindset needs to go hand in hand with strategic thinking.

Being an intentional leader means laying the groundwork, which will allow you to step up when things don’t go according to plan.

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