Creativity, courage, and empathy: Why savvy CFOs seek skills that bring humanity into their financial functions.
I love setting big, audacious goals, both personally and professionally.
As the CFO of an equally ambitious digital workflow company, we’ll need to pull several levers to reach our $10 billion and beyond revenue goal. One of those critical levers for me will be developing and attracting top-notch talent and building a world-class finance organization.
It starts with integrity
The number one trait I look for is integrity.
Integrity is who we are at our core. It means doing the right thing when no one is watching. Reputations are built (and lost) with integrity, or lack thereof. And once you lose it, it’s nearly impossible to recover. Integrity is at the core of every world-class finance organization.
Next, I look for other equally essential and complementary traits. Financial and business expertise are table stakes. It’s interpersonal skills such as empathy, curiosity, courage, and creativity combined with business acumen that takes a finance organization from an essential function to a strategic business partner.
Strong EQ and IQ
Early in my career as an accountant, business and financial knowledge almost always took center stage during the hiring process. But the role of the CFO and finance has changed.
Today, it’s critical to seek and nurture strong EQ in our finance talent.
I find that people who possess high emotional intelligence, paired with strong business acumen, catalyze greater cross-functional collaboration. And not only that, they enable organizations to quickly outpace their competition.
Given current global events and the rapid changes we’re all experiencing, empathetic leaders are in high demand. Empathy allows us to better understand our customers, employees, partners, and the greater good. It provides the foundation to create something more meaningful and sustainable.
Stay hungry and curious
Have you ever noticed how curious people naturally want to dig in and learn how to do things better, whether it’s fine-tuning a process or challenging the status quo? That’s why curiosity is one of the core tenets of growth and success in companies.
Encouraging and cultivating curiosity also plays a role in how leaders and their employees adapt to uncertainty and change. One needs to look no further than our global crisis to see how companies have had to pivot (almost overnight!) to the new environment we’re all navigating.
And the best part about having a curious team? Evidence shows that when curiosity is triggered, it activates creative thinking, another critical ingredient for world-class organizations.
The courage to create and innovate
Most people wouldn’t put finance and creativity in the same sentence, but it’s vital to being world-class and trailblazing.
Gone are the days where finance organizations are solely devoted to transaction management and compliance. Don’t get me wrong; those activities will always be a priority. What’s just as important, though, is finance’s role in reimagining business models, exploring and evaluating strategic initiatives, and envisioning what’s possible.
It’s for those reasons finance is often at the center of innovation. As I like to say, finance is as much an art as it is a science.
With today’s shifting business models and business disruption, an element of courage is critical when making necessary investment decisions. Look for talent that doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff.
Always hire different and better—and then let them soar!
A multi-faceted organization challenges you to dream big.
That’s why I consistently seek to surround myself with people different from me because they help round out areas where I need to learn and grow. It’s a win for the organization and a win for me because, through osmosis, they help me improve.
As leaders, we need to remember that we don’t have all the answers. Embracing diversity of thought, background, and experience generates next-order thinking to solve the most complex issues.
Build a bench
I believe leaders are responsible for leaving an organization better than we found it. One way to accomplish this is to develop those around you.
Building a world-class organization means giving your people stretch opportunities and preparing them for the next leg of their journey. I take pride in helping groom future leaders, regardless of whether they choose to stay within my organization or move on to other opportunities.
Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about your ability to invest in your people, and investing in your team will always be the right thing to do.
A time and place for automation
We know that technology by itself won’t solve problems, people do. If you automate a bad process, it’s still a bad process. I should know—as the CFO at ServiceNow, we’re in the business of making work, work better for people. Because in the end, it’s about people.
My experience has taught me that investing in your team and actively seeking out emotional intelligence helps organizations leap-frog from good to world-class. I believe these skills will transcend time and be even more game-changing over the next several generations.