CFO SA's Graham Fehrsen: Five lessons for a better future

Through the course of a tumultuous 365 days since the launch of the inaugural and extremely successful Finance Indaba Africa, I’ve been fortunate enough to learn alongside finance leaders and exceptional professionals, and I’ve learnt some great lessons. While some are familiar cliches and almost all seem like common sense, in my experience, it’s the obvious and common-sense advice that is often the hardest to live by. Here are my top five.

1. The elephant in the room

You need to deal with the elephant in the room. That thing everyone knows and feels but few want to talk about, is the challenge or issue you must address immediately. Whether you deal with it as slowly as a parliamentary enquiry or as fast as a Caster Semenya record, you must have a process in mind and tackle it deliberately.

2. Who not what
No matter what you want to accomplish, you still need to work with people. We face increasingly smart technology, but human beings still dominate workplaces and so who you are and how you treat people significantly affects the outcome of your work. Interestingly, when asked about how to choose between providers, CFOs discreetly but overwhelmingly recommend that leaders should work with people they trust, not necessarily with specific brands.

3. Know your why
Having some sense of why you do what you do can power your efforts exponentially. Whether it's for your family, because you believe in your business, or simply for the opportunities your pay cheque provides, your 'why' is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal.

4. Be present
Focus on zen. In a world where we never switch off and where the demands of our jobs and lives are omnipresent, the only way you can ever strike a balance and keep up, is to practice being present. A CFO I hold in high regard shared this insight as her secret to ensuring she pursued her career ambitions and balanced the desire to be a great mother and wife. It might sound easier than it is, but those who learn to be truly present find they're able to create great value in every activity without losing energy and attention to either the past or the future.

5. The pursuit of excellence
Realise that you can only ever pursue excellence, not perfection. Be sure of what goals you're pursuing and set the bar high, but don't let the failure to achieve perfection be an impediment to your efforts. Help others celebrate the effort of getting close to the goal and be relentless in measuring your own efforts.