Aneshree Naidoo: Covid-19 calls for authentic, courageous and timely leadership

My experience has shown me that if you lead with courage and empathy and have people at the heart of your business, the numbers usually work themselves out, says Deloitte Consulting CFO Aneshree Naidoo.

Deloitte Consulting CFO Aneshree Naidoo has put structures and procedures in place to help both her family and her organisation during Covid-19 and lockdown.

In one of CFO South Africa’s weekly CFO Community Conversations, Aneshree revealed that she has been in a transition mode since the start of the year; returning from maternity leave in January, gearing for moving offices from February and returning home for lockdown in March. 

“It took a few days for myself and my team to establish a rhythm in response to working from home on a daily basis. In the beginning, we were over-ambitious. We were on calls all day and while we were productive with our work, we quickly realised that there are also personal responsibilities to balance out during the lockdown. Parental duties, housekeeping and personal wellness require focus too. These responsibilities have now meshed into our daily rhythm and routine.”

The finance management team encourages boundaries for balancing these responsibilities by having virtual team meeting segments between 10am and 4pm and allowing flexi-work hours outside of this time and in line with what is suitable for individual team members. 

Read more: CFOs share stress relief tips for lockdown during CFO Community Conversation 

“We fully support our teams working remotely. Our finance team has been working remotely and flexibly for many years on an individually agreed basis and now we are implementing it consistently and full-time during the lockdown period,” Aneshree says. 

Leadership during Covid-19
Asked how she has seen her role as CFO change since Covid-19, Aneshree says: 

“Leading my management team in financial modelling, scenario analysis and short-to-medium-term projections based on changing daily assumptions and variables takes a fair bit of my time. I still give attention to my day-to-day work activities, but prioritise Covid-19 impact management topics and also dedicate time to connect with my colleagues across the continent.” 

Over the years, the strategic aspects of the role included geographical business decisions for Deloitte Consulting, engaging with stakeholders across the Deloitte firm on various business matters and ultimately steering Deloitte Consulting Africa to grow profitably each year. 

“At the heart of it all is the people,” Aneshree adds. “Staying ahead, especially in this time, involves deliberate connect sessions, creating leadership capacity my finance team and supporting my consulting leadership colleagues and the broader firm initiatives in any way that I can. During the lockdown period, I’ve encouraged my team to stay connected to each other on both a professional and personal level. All aspects of their well-being are important to me and the business. I truly believe that if you lead with empathy and prioritise your people, the numbers work themselves out. I’ve seen this result time and again in professional services and technology environments.” 

Aneshree believes the stress that leaders are experiencing should be converted to opportunities to lead people. “Leadership style is so important, and with the Covid-19 outbreak, it is an opportunity to lead with authenticity, courage and timeliness.” 

In the CFO Community Conversation, Aneshree also said that one of the leadership lessons she’s learnt during this time was to be vulnerable. In a time when leaders don’t necessarily have the answers, you should ask your team for input, advice and support. “Keeping humanness in the dialogue is what’s getting us through this.” 

Managing lockdown at home
At home and prior to the lockdown, Aneshree was supported by her mom in caring for her six-month-old daughter during work hours. Since the lockdown, Aneshree and her husband balance home and work responsibilities and make the most of the time at home with their baby. “To maintain my state of calm, I regularly have heart-to-heart conversations with my husband,” she says. “It always helps to bounce ideas off each other and talk through challenges.”

It’s also very important for Aneshree to be present and enjoy the simple things in life in times like these. “I try to start each day outside, enjoying a mug of coffee and taking in the fresh air in my garden.”