Essentials for Finance Leaders: Learn Story Telling and Follow Dalai Lama

Gone are the days of the ‘bean counters’. In case we haven’t noticed.

The time spent looking at history by the finance function has diminished in many organizations with less and less time spent on transactional activities. For instance at Australia’s Big 4 bank CBA, the finance ‘mantra’ as its CFO David Craig calls it “is to spend no more than five days on historical data and the other 25 days on how to do things better in the future” (Interview by David Craig to AFR 2014)

Instead of number crunching, it is now usual for the finance team members to partner with the Board, Executives and Business Unit Managers to steer performance and be trusted advisors. Driving productivity in the business as well as ensuring employee engagement are domains that the CFOs get increasingly engaged with.

The trend for the future is for this “Business Partner” role to take on an even more involved role, making Finance leaders “Initiators” of value drivers as the Boston Consultancy Group’s (BCG) Ramesh Karnani put it at a CFO summit in New Zealand last year. Karnani says increasingly there will be a case to identify the CFO as Deputy CEO.

In order to succeed in this evolving role the technical financial skills still have their due place but with the need to acquire significantly broader skills that would help finance leaders make the operations more finance savvy.

This requires honing on one’s skills on a raft of competencies but there are two learning needs that are rarely spoken about in relevant literature.

Learn Story Telling

The ability to relate the ‘story’ behind the numbers to non-finance managers in true story telling fashion is critical to achieve traction as finance leaders lead value driven initiatives. My own beginnings as a news journalist has meant a ‘news story’ style in conversations that has driven tangible outcomes more often. There is an abundant of free resources to learn rules of telling a news story nowadays without being a journalist. But whatever you do just don’t ‘bury the lead’.

Follow Dalai Lama

The crucial skill that must incorporate finance leader’s news story with a great lead is to bring in ‘positivity’ to the story- certainly counter intuitive to the approach to news stories that ‘sell’ in mainstream media. It is much better to say current levels of performance means that we can make $x million more by changing a lever than to say we lost $y million last month.

To this end, the practise of positive thinking and developing emotional intelligence (ability to self-motivate, persistence, control impulse, delay gratification, regulate moods and keep distress from swamping the ability to think- to quote Daniel Goleman) are crucial to finance leaders.

Following Dalai Lama is one way of developing these skills as is meditation but not the only way so you don’t quite have to unless you want to. After all I was telling a headline grabbing story.

Photo Credit: Flickr User- Cliff