Former Yahoo! CFO Ken Goldman talks about why relationships are key to corporate finance leadership.
Ken Goldman knows a strong finance team is an invaluable resource for a CFO.
If you want your career as a CFO to be a successful one, Ken says you have to learn to lead a team: ‘All jobs of a seniority position require the ability to manage people. And I can tell you, you don’t learn that in books, you learn that by trial and error.’
Recently, we interviewed Ken on The CFO Playbook, where he told us why managing relationships is just as important to the role as understanding the technical aspects of the job.
Here are three tips to help you be a better people manager.
The first thing you need to do is earn the respect of your direct reports. Respect, or a lack thereof, can make or break your career as a CFO, according to Ken. If your finance team doesn’t respect your leadership, they won’t want to work under you and may complain to the CEO about your leadership skills.
A CFO’s relationship with the CEO is critical, Ken says:
‘You need to create a great rapport with the functional teams in the organisation because they will have a major influence as to your ability to succeed with the CEO’.
Make sure you don’t neglect people leadership skills by focusing too heavily on technical financial skills.
Often when you step into a new CFO role, you’ll inherit your predecessor’s team, which can bring about challenges as you learn how they work and vice versa. Ken says it’s important to give your new team the opportunity to succeed, rather than assuming they’re not up to the task. If you are supportive of your new team, the people around you will take notice, Ken says:
‘You will gain a lot of credibility in the organisation by demonstrating that commitment to your team.’
Your job as a CFO is to support and defend your finance team, according to Ken, even if you didn’t choose the team to begin with. Get to know each employee well so you know exactly how best to support them and help them succeed.
A well-ordered finance team accomplishes their tasks with efficiency and excellence. But your team won’t rise to the occasion unless you encourage them to grow.
One of the ways Ken pushes his team toward excellence is by getting his company’s close process done quickly – in one week instead of two. For Ken, getting the close done in a single week is proof of how well his team can work together:
‘It’s a mark of excellence, and you take pride in that excellence. If you instil that pride and that excellence, your team will rise to the occasion.’
Ken says expectations set the pace for how and when a task is accomplished. For instance, if you expect to close over the course of two weeks, it will probably take your team the full two weeks. But if your expectation is that your team can finish the task in one week, your team will work to make that happen.
While you need to keep a balance and avoid burnout, set high expectations to give your team the opportunity to rise to the occasion. It will help prepare them for success now and in the future.
There is no single way for you to lead your team. Often, you will find the leadership style that works best for you simply through experience in different settings.
But however you choose to lead your team, remember that the way you lead can shape the trajectory of your career. If you earn the respect of your team, support and defend them, and push toward excellence, you will set up both your team and yourself for success.