CFOs should coach other CFOs and CEOs

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The CFO Centre’s Matthew Comins explains why coaching from experience can benefit CFOs.

CFOs and FDs spend a lot of their early careers studying. Whether it is to obtain your CA status, complete your CFA or CIMA certifications or just trying to stay up to date with the latest in tax law, much of your professional life involves studying. So, can a CFO really benefit from “coaching” in their professional careers?

Without a doubt.

As somebody who has enjoyed an extensive career working across multiple industries in both the listed and unlisted environments, I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of financial professionals.

Most recently I was working with a CFO of a listed business who was struggling to work with a CEO who had a very strong personality and was not open to input from his key finance person. By being able to combine existing experience, we were able to build a strategy that would allow this CFO the ability to present their ideas in a language that the CEO would align with.

Two of the key parts of the strategy were to first overcome “impostor syndrome” in the CFO and secondly to shift the positioning of the CFO from being “the numbers person” to a key strategic advisor who can identify what levers to pull to drive profitability.

Realising the return on investment of coaching CFOs takes time, and this often keeps people from making the investment – or giving up on the process because they are not seeing the results they anticipated soon enough.

Cathy McCullough, a business growth consultant and culture expert, urges coachees to be patient in the process. In a blog titled “The ROI of Business Coaching: Executive Coaching ROI Statistics”, Cathy notes that leadership development takes time and effort, but the return on investment of your payroll will be multiplied by the improvement of all the employees that report to that leader.

Coaching from experience

From my experience, each coaching journey differs. Being a CFO, coaching other CEOs and CFOs, I have a unique skillset to integrate finance and coaching. My experience gives me a level of corporate empathy that other executive business coaches don’t have – and I truly understand the value of this as I had the privilege of experiencing coaching from both perspectives.

Regarding the CFO previously mentioned, coaching from experience gave me the ability to provide a sounding board for the CFO to give him a fresh perspective on his current situation. I was able to provide actionable, constructive feedback that we could unpack and evaluate as the relationship between us progressed. One of the most important things about coaching for me is that it is never about telling the coachee what to do, but about unlocking intrinsic value by asking powerful questions.

Realising the newly appointed CFO was struggling with “imposter syndrome” this vulnerability opened up an opportunity to help him unlock the truth about his abilities to be able to do the job with confidence. One doesn’t become the CFO of a listed company by luck, however you need to own the space with humility and step into the responsibility with confidence.

Understanding the bias exco had about the CFO being “the numbers person” gave me the opportunity to share my experiences and then familiarise the CFO with their current situation to soundboard ideas that could work in the specific situation.

Greater profitability will always be well received by your fellow exco members! CFOs have the power to identify opportunities for greater profitability. Unfortunately, how they develop the message that communicates growth is the key differentiator between just being a CFO and being a strategic contributor to the organisation.

Coaching can help to get this right with confidence, and in a language colleagues will understand.

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