Get your hands dirty - The gardener's guide to finance leadership

Two top executives share their views on the evolving function of finance leaders in 2018 and beyond.

“Leadership is something you always work at, but never achieve,” says Hatch Africa CFO Craig Sumption – a caution quickly echoed by Liaan Kretzschmar, FD of Land Rover and Jaguar South Africa, who believes that leadership is “a practice, not a skill”. 


The two top-achieving financial professionals were participating in a ‘Leading in 2018 and beyond’ panel discussion that forms part of the ‘Executive Journey’ series at the Finance Indaba 2018 (3 and 4 October, at the Sandton Convention Centre).  


The panel discussed the new challenges of leadership in an increasingly diverse and fast-paced work environment. Leaders must not only be agile but enable agility from their teams. They need to meld several generations into one team – drawing on the strengths of both younger and older professionals to balance each group’s skills and quirks. The strategy cycles are shorter, and need reassessment at shorter intervals than previously enjoyed. 


Both speakers are advocates of “lifelong learning”, as well as an “eyes on, hands off” approach to managing people. 


Says Liaan: 


“We live in an age of so much information, no leader can know everything. If we accept this, the leadership role shifts to being one of harnessing the potential of people and empowering them to make decisions,” – rather than micromanaging and disempowering. 


And the same approach applies to finance leadership within the greater business. Liaan likes the term “business partnering” to describe how finance can integrate and interact with other departments, sharing their depth of understanding of the commercial side of the business – a requirement of finance professionals that is only going to be in greater and greater demand in future. 

Craig says: 

“You need to be leading the finance team, but also working broader than that in leading the whole business and supporting the MD or CEO. Finance professionals have a lot of information at their hands that needs to be used correctly to direct staff and strategy.”


Given this, both feel that trust is a critical factor for the success of finance leaders. You need the faith and trust of your board, general staff, and your team, which in turn requires your commitment to your values, to ongoing learning, and to authenticity. 

 
Craig shared that he reads widely on the topic of leadership, and a lesson that particularly resonated with him comes from Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement For A Complex World by Stanley McChrystal and co-authors. In this, the authors argue that a contemporary leader needs to be a gardener. 


Craig says: 


“A gardener prepares the soil, facilitating the environment, for his garden to thrive. A gardener doesn’t hold something while it grows. Pruning and finetuning is a constant need and one that ultimately leads to better fruit. And there are times where cutting has to happen; dead branches take away from whole picture. By nature, we focus on our strengths, but if you ignore your garden’s weaknesses and don’t cut where it is needed, the overall performance is threatened.”


He admits it’s a journey and he still makes mistakes. “But this analogy works as a constant reminder to do better.”