What does it take to be an exceptional Financial Director?
The remit of a Financial Director (FD) is to direct the financial obligations, and financial reporting of a business AND help drive the company forward with the senior management team.
But that’s the easy bit. What genuine qualities lift an ordinary FD into an extraordinary Director of Finance?
This isn’t about which accountancy qualification you secured. The best, most brilliant FDs we have had the pleasure of recruiting and recruiting for, have had the full range of qualifications from CIMA, ACCA, ACA, CA, CIPFA, and QBE. The ability to pass exams, demonstrates academic rigour, but the modern FD needs much more than just letters after their name.
They need emotional and business intelligence as much as academic prowess. As the world emerges from the maelstrom of Covid into a new normal, MDs are looking for candidates who can own and understand the numbers, but who can also be intuitive to understand the power of having and keeping a resilient finance team intact.
To start with, let’s distinguish the difference between a Financial Director and a Financial Controller. The lines of duty can blur in an SME setting, but a crucial difference is an FD directs, while an FC controls the day-to-day operations of the finance function.
To effectively ‘direct’, you need to be able to command, lead, inspire. If you can’t influence people to perform their duties properly, this is a big problem.
Then we have the engagement /people bit.
You may have a great ‘number 2’ as a financial controller or finance manager, to manage staff day to day but it’s crucial you can also command the respect of the team underneath.
Don’t silo yourself but keep open lines of communication, at all levels.
A modern breakdown of the key attributes to being an exceptional FD: –
E Emotionally intelligent
Let’s look at these in more depth.
Decision Makers have to be able to make decisions. You’re in the wrong job as an FD, if you struggle to reach a decision, stand by it and take responsibility for the course of action you have taken. Hindsight is a great thing. There will be mistakes made. But the extraordinary FD will own their decisions and be able to deftly calculate a fresh course of direction weighing up the risks and benefits. There’s no hiding place for a great FD. You need to be seen to be a leader in your company, amongst your peers, and by your team. That’s how respect is earned.
To inspire is to be innovative. To think “outside of the box” through your knowledge and experiences, and to be creative in your thinking. The key here is application. How you apply your experience to specific, spontaneous work and business situations. As a mindset, the exceptional FD will have the dexterity to apply their interactions to a wide spectrum of situations, encouraging, and motivating their people and peers to achieve the best possible business outcomes.
This has become an absolutely crucial attribute. More than ever, the ability to adapt to many different functions or activities, the FD may have to step into other roles e.g. Interim Managing Director/ IT Director/ HR Director. They must be commercially aware and must understand the other areas of the business such as HR, Strategic direction, and IT amongst others.
Emotional intelligence: –
The Oxford University definition: the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.
“emotional intelligence is the key to both personal and professional success”.
People have been hugely affected by changes to their working routines. An FD needs to be more mindful than ever of the psychological and mental well-being of their team and lead their staff through the return to a new normal. An outstanding FD will be able to direct how their team(s) can be professionally steered during the transition from Lockdown to new normal.
They will also have honed great recruitment skills to select the talent they need, interview and challenge potential hires, and most importantly have a succession plan.
Collaboration at work means involving two or more people working together for a particular purpose for the benefit of the company. This means having the ethical, professional, and moral compass to know what needs to happen and how to work together, to bring the best results. Being emotionally aware of not just yourself but others at work is key. An exceptional FD will understand how to approach people at all levels and how to temper their language, tone and timbre to make the best possible collaboration work. Remote working and online meetings mean your efforts need to transfer even more clearly and effectively than in person.
Remember: Collaboration can be upwards, as well as cascading to more junior staff.
The FD needs to balance ambition with reality and needs to be the “wise counsel to the board without allowing entrepreneurial flair to become suppressed.”
Tenacity is the determination to consistently continue what you are doing. To see things through. From ensuring financial information produced stands up to scrutiny from external auditors, bank and other external, legal parties.
All stakeholders expect honesty and a “nothing to hide” attitude to be consistently delivered. The highest standards (ethics) must be maintained, the FD should be seen as the “Champion” of the organisation’s culture and ensure that good corporate governance is maintained at all times.
The exceptional FD will have this in hand.
“Your support network is the solid ground from which you can propel yourself upwards” . Anna Barnes.
This is about your own support network as much as being a supportive FD.
The most successful business people will have great emotional and personal backup networks. From family, and friends to external services and people to make their personal lives run as smoothly, healthily, and efficiently as possible.
You can’t be an effective, exceptional FD if your personal life and own wellbeing are in disarray.
If you would like confidential career or employment advice around this or any other topic, please contact Mary Maguire and she will be delighted to help you or navigate you to one of our team.
Article by Mary Maguire
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