The CFO's role in developing authentic cultures and leaders is vital, says Talita Ferreira


Talita Ferreira, a former BMW CFO, says authentic leaders and cultures are the differentiators to financial and strategic success.

By Talita Ferreira, CA(SA) and former CFO of BMW UK*

The world is facing unprecedented challenge and change, often referred to as: Volatile; Uncertain; Complex; and Ambiguous, or VUCA. Recent political decisions have encapsulated this term, with the unexpected outcome of the United States election and the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union. Organisations are no different. Indeed, they are facing unprecedented change and disrupted business models.

The Criticaleye 2017 survey of business leaders in the UK, Creating Winning Leadership Teams in the Age of Disruption, revealed that 95 percent of respondents believe their organisation’s business model is being disrupted; 12 percent believe they have the correct team to adequately face this challenge; and 86 percent believe their leadership team’s focus is on ‘business as usual’ rather than dealing with the disruption itself.

The 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends Report states the number one critical trend as ‘creating the organisation of the future – now’. To adapt to a digitised economy, at the speed and agility required for survival and success, organisations need to be structured as ecosystems and networks designed around customer centricity, products, and services. This means that a radical new approach is needed.

Organisations of the future will be those with individual team members who share purpose and values, empowering and co-ordinating themselves through culture.

To adapt at such a fast pace, leaders and individuals are facing the same challenges as organisations, especially the directors, who sometimes believe they must have all the answers. The development of emergent leaders and cultures is more important than ever before, and CFOs have a leading role to play. A new breed of leader is needed to cope with this challenging set of variables and yet leaders are already under pressure and suffer from working in ‘long hours cultures.’ Indeed, workplace stress has been referred to by the World Health Organisation as the health epidemic of the 21st century.

According to a Gallup survey, The Worldwide Employee Engagement Crisis, Business Journal, January 2016, only 13 percent of the global workforce is totally engaged. This challenge will soon be exacerbated by having five generations in the same organisation, including traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z, all with different behavioural motivators. Are these business and leadership challenges even surmountable with a disengaged workforce?

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Finance leaders of the future will need to be able to engage and inspire creativity and unlock the hidden potential in their employees. Traditionally, CFOs have embraced the more analytical right brain activities, the trusted analysis – after all, the numbers don’t lie. I experienced my greatest development challenges when leading HR as part of my first CFO role. I wanted to develop the finance and human resources back office to be partners in the business; to see themselves as business enablers, not merely controllers or administrators, and to help develop and be responsible for growing the organisation’s future leaders. It was only when finance and HR worked together more collaboratively to create more inspiring leadership programmes that we made our mark on the organisation.

A research study by John Getzema and Michael D’Antionio published in their book, The Athena Doctrine, refers to a shift in the traits associated with morality, leadership and happiness. The traits, which were traditionally viewed as feminine, including, collaborative, intuitive and reasonable, are now what respondents correlate with morality, leadership and happiness. Also, there has been a shift away from the traditional masculine traits, such as dominance, aggression and pride.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution Report, World Economic Forum 2016, stated the top ten skills that will be required in 2020. It introduced three surprise contenders: creativity as number three, emotional intelligence as number six, and cognitive flexibility as number ten.

What Google learned from its quest to build the perfect team, New York Times, February 2016, revealed new research about why some teams thrive while others fail. One of the key characteristics of an enhanced team is psychological safety, a shared belief within the team that the individuals are safe to take a risk without negative consequences; a team functioning with real trust at its heart.

Still Moving, Deborah Roland’s new book, based on global research completed in 2015, challenges us to create inner capacities (stillness) as the starting point for leading change in the system around us (moving). She captures the essence of the introspective, internal focus on ourselves as a crucial starting point for driving change. While leading a large cultural transformation project across industries and company boundaries in my previous CFO role, I came to the same conclusion and developed The Authenticity POWER Model®. I published this model in my first book, The Authenticity Dilemma Resolved® November 2016, which captured my more than 22 years of corporate experience working with thousands of leaders.

The Authenticity POWER Model®
= Consciousness + Connectedness; to unlock intuition and purpose
Consciousness (emotional intelligence) = self-awareness + connecting to our inner core
Connectedness (social intelligence) = connected relationships + purpose-driven collaboration

Self-awareness is the state of deep understanding of ourselves. It is having the ability to observe our behaviours, motivations, thoughts, habits, feelings and emotions. For example, when someone is pushing our buttons in the work environment, it is to try and understand why and which limiting self-belief this is activating for us. Or when someone is having a repeated emotional response, it is being able to trace it back to the underlying value being crossed. This was certainly the case for me. Previously, I was unaware of my behaviour patterns and therefore my choice to react with such emotional vigour. I learnt to recognise my behaviour, which set me free because it meant I allowed myself a choice of how to feel and react. 

The ego is the underlying state that might be holding us back from a greater self-awareness.

Connecting to the core is having a deeper understanding of our core values, biases, ethics, passions and purpose. Our purpose is not merely doing a job to be paid a salary and to support the lifestyle we want; it is doing the thing that makes us tick and unlocks our passion. After a long road of self-discovery, I found as a CFO that my passion was helping individuals to grow and develop beyond their own expectations. It manifested in a change of my regular meetings with individual team members. I spent less time discussing targets and objectives and more time understanding what was important to the individual and how I could help them develop and grow further.

Fears and limiting self-beliefs can hold us back from unlocking our greatest purpose. Before we connect with other people or engage with social intelligence effectively, a deep understanding of ourselves is crucial. Without self-awareness, we cannot start the journey of connected relationships or purpose-driven collaboration with other people.

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Connected relationships are fostered in trust with unconditional respect for difference. The ability to be brave, not being afraid to carefully show vulnerability – after all, it is a sign of strength – and to have more empathy for our counterparts and to learn to suspend judgement of other people. For example, I became a better CFO when I learnt to put myself in the shoes of the sales director and tried to understand his motivations and behaviours, rather than judge him. This helped me to find pragmatic solutions more focused on the long-term sustainability of the business, as opposed to being a controller and following siloed interests.

Our innate human competitiveness and the desire to be right can hold us back from having a deeper connection with other people, fostering trust and emotional safety.

Purpose-driven collaboration is when we create new purpose-driven relationships and partnerships. This is only possible once we have done away with ego-driven, competitive behaviour based on fear and limiting self-beliefs, and when we stop trying to control every situation. Once we achieve this we will be co-creating in a way where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is when we are more conscious of ourselves and more connected to other people; when we can truly unlock our inner Authentic POWER. This will lead us to be phenomenal leaders, creating cultures of trust and focusing on developing individuals to become amazing leaders themselves.

Our Authentic POWER shines through all of the following aspects of our lives:
•    Presence; the confidence of knowing who we are;
•    Overcoming fear; and our limiting self-beliefs, which help to us discover the potential behind our greatest fear and creates a;
•    Whole Integrated Being; which allows;
•    Effortless flow; between all the various aspects of our lives; and creates
•    Resonance with purpose. 

Authenticity is the new paradigm, which we need to lead us to authentic cultures with the ability to face the current challenges and transform future organisations. Cultures and companies that are organised for learning, innovation and customer impacts; reacting more like agile networks fuelled by collaboration and knowledge sharing. Where the cornerstone of the high-performing team dynamic is psychological safety and trust. Where the behaviours of individual leaders are aligned to the values and strategy of the organisation. Where employees are highly engaged and willing to give discretionary time or effort to the organisation because they love being there.

Authenticity is the new paradigm, which will help leaders with this new mindset to drive change more effectively once they understand themselves better. Leaders who foster creativity and use the diversity of opinions in their teams to unlock new ways of doing things. Leaders who coach and develop people instead of telling them what to do, moving away from the traditional command and control behaviours. Leaders who cultivate trust and are direct, open and honest, and bring out the best in other people.

Authentic leaders and authentic cultures bring people to their full creativity and unlock their full potential and passion.

The CFO plays a vital role in the process to develop these cultures and leaders; from agreeing to or finding the funding necessary for development, to actively developing future finance leaders and role modelling the much-needed behaviours for the existence of an authentic culture. The CFO always has a choice: to be the holder of the purse strings or the creator of the future.

*Talita Ferreira is the CEO of Authentic Change Solutions Ltd. She is a Chartered Accountant with The Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales (ICAEW), and the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA). She qualified as a Chartered Director in 2013, fellow of the Institute of Directors in 2015, and became a published author in 2016. She was formerly CFO of BMW UK Limited.

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