How to be a future-ready finance leader

Finance leaders tend to focus on the numbers, but there’s more to pay attention to if they want to be better leaders. Here are four essential tips to keep you ahead.

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Talita Ferreira’s finance career has taken her all over the world, including stints in South Africa, Germany, and the UK. After being named CFO of BMW UK at the age of 35, she realised that she wanted to help other leaders reach their full potential.

While CFO at BMW, she was also made Chief People Officer. This set her down a path of exploring what motivates people and what makes a great leader. As one out of a large group of finance leaders at BMW, this experience helped her stand out among her peers who were focused on the technical aspects of finance leadership.

Today, Talita balances being a non-executive director at Ford Credit Bank Europe and an executive coach to CFOs and HR Directors through her company Authentic Change Solutions Limited. She is also in the process of developing a course to help professionals become future-ready finance leaders.

She joined us on the CFO Playbook where she shared how CFOs can reach their full potential, not only as finance professionals, but also as leaders of people. Here are her four tips to help you develop holistically as a leader.

1. Make growth a priority

Finance leaders are often preoccupied with excelling in their specialism, and with figuring out how they can apply it to the organisation they serve. But Talita realised there are two other equally important dimensions that she needed to prioritise – and this took her career to new heights.

The first is growing and developing yourself as a leader. This, as you can imagine, takes time. She says ‘You are not a leader overnight. In my twenties someone called me an awful leader, in my forties one of the HR leaders who worked with me said I was the best leader that she’d ever worked for. It’s a journey.’

The second dimension is consistently growing and developing your team.

‘It’s really making a concerted effort to grow and develop that team through all the interactions that you have with them as individuals and as a collective’.

This brings us to her next tip:

2. Develop your own successors

Building a healthy, growing team is a vital part of being a good leader. This includes training people up to take your place once you move on from your role.

If the people within your team are ready to take on bigger jobs within the company, you’ll have less turnover and won’t need to recruit externally nearly as often.

And this comes with clear benefits: Talita found that recruitment costs went down significantly once she began implementing this idea of training up the people behind you.

People also stayed with the company longer because they were receiving training to take on the next role:

‘By getting people to actually help develop those behind them, when they were ready to move on there were natural successors behind them, and therefore we didn’t have to go externally to recruit and look for successors because every single leader was on a journey to help develop the people behind them.’

When you take the time to prepare your team for future internal opportunities, when you invest in your employees, you are investing in your company’s future.

3. Unite different functions behind a purpose to work as one team

To get the best performance out of your team members, you have to know what motivates people. When you can understand people’s individual motivations, you can help them work together as a team.

Here’s the gist of this: everyone on your team has something valuable to offer, so it’s crucial that they work as a collective, rather than individually.

Even if the problem is outside of someone’s expertise, they still have something valuable to contribute, according to Talita:

‘You want to bring out the collective brilliance of your team, because they think differently and they all have different specialisms. It’s really good if you get them to think about each other’s problems, because they have really creative ideas in solving each other’s issues.’

But how do you get people from different departments to work together as a team? Talita found that having a collective purpose was important to help her people become a cohesive unit.

Common goals give people an incentive to work together and see themselves as a united group.

Ask yourself: what collective purpose can you offer different departments who need to work together?

Once you do that, you can rally the troops and watch the results pour in.

4. Be self-aware

To be a strong leader, you must have an acute awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses. But beyond knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are, you have to be able to manage those attributes efficiently.

Talita tells a story about a CFO that she’d mentored who got very angry every time the board disagreed with his numbers.

Through their sessions, this CFO eventually realised the reason he would get angry was because he felt that his biggest values – honesty and transparency – were being attacked by the board. In reality, the board only wanted better numbers.

After he analysed his values and the reasons behind his animosity during those conflicts, a light bulb went off in his head. He was then able to separate his emotions and values from the response others had to his work.

Self-awareness can help you separate your worth from your work, according to Talita.

‘Understanding that awareness a bit better, about what my triggers are, I can step away from it, I don’t need to get so emotionally embroiled in it – that made a huge difference.’

Do you know what your strengths and weaknesses are? How can you separate your sense of self-worth from the criticisms you may receive at your job?

If you find the answers to these questions, you’re one step closer to being a steady, motivating leader.

Developing leadership skills for the long-term

Leadership is a constant learning process. You are a better leader today than you were five years ago, and you’ll be an even better leader five years from now.

But the tips we give you here can help you form deeper connections between you and your team, and among the members of your team, so that you can find more ways to prosper in the meantime.

If you want to make the most of your leadership position, focus on growth, cooperation, and self-awareness. Success will follow.

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