In the Finance profession for a long time, having a professional accountancy qualification was considered reasonably adequate to take you through your entire career. If you were a qualified chartered accountant, for example, a bright finance career was assured. Today, these credentials are only an entry ticket into the profession.
The career journey for most finance professionals is split into two distinct parts. The first half, comprising of early to mid-career is usually easier and smoother with faster learning and growth. The technical knowledge gained during the accountancy qualification period and some managerial talent matters a lot.
The second half comprised of mid to late career, however, is complicated and narrow. Growth opportunities are few with tough competition. Learning path for further development is unclear and not structured.
Technical knowledge remains important but what really matters for further growth is leadership talent and strategic mindset. Unfortunately, no formal training is usually provided in these areas. As a result, no wonder, most finance professionals struggle and get stuck in their mid-careers.
The accounting mind that we develop during the early part of the career does help to grow our accounting career to a certain level. But the same quality that helps us grow initially becomes a handicap to grow beyond mid-career if we do not integrate it with the necessary leadership talent and strategic mindset.
Transitioning from an accountant to a business leader requires some heavy lifting. First of all, realize that it does not happen on an auto pilot. You must plan and make conscious efforts to learn and practice leadership skills and develop strategic thinking.
The most important thing to start with is creating right mindsets. Here are 5 leadership mindset shifts that mid-career finance professionals must make for a faster progress during the second half of their careers:
1. From Managing Financials to Managing Value:
You must develop a big picture mindset and deeply understand the value creation model of your business. It’s not about shareholders value only. In today’s high performance businesses most value is created by customers, employees, technology, leadership and culture. These value creating assets are even not recorded in financial system. Demonstrate your understanding and recognition by creating KPIs and scorecards to measure the financial and non-financial value created in your business.
2. From Controlling to Supporting:
Why do we have brakes in the car? Most people would say to stop the car. That’s a wrong mindset. We have brakes in the car so we can drive the car faster. It’s a supporting device, not a controlling device.
Similarly, in businesses we have controls to support the business performance and avoid or minimize damage. The role of finance is to maintain the brakes (controls) in superb condition and apply when required. Develop a supportive mindset and become a business partner.
3. From Teaching to Learning:
Steven Covey in his remarkable book ‘7 Habit of Highly Effective People’ said, “First seek to understand, then to be understood”. Learn the habit of understanding the business situation first before applying prohibiting rules and policies. Develop the necessary business acumen and put yourself into the shoes of your non-finance business partners to understand their perspective. Try to learn more than teach.
4. From Working Hard to Creating Value:
Working hard at your job does not count. What really counts is the value you create for your business. Develop an entrepreneurial thinking and focus to create massive value for your business. Rather than working alone in silos, identify and create projects to work together with your non-finance business partners. Become a go-to person for creating solutions across the organization.
5. From Living in Your Job to Focusing on Your Career:
Nobody cares if you are living your life in your job. You need to create a balance with other life priorities. Career is permanent, job is temporary. Create a life-long vision of your career. Set a 10 year goal and work it backward into 5, 3 and 1 year goals. Learn and practice necessary leadership competencies required to achieve your career goals. Average work tenures are shortening. Manage strong ties with your external professional network. Keep ready for your next role that can be internal or external.
Developing the right mindset is just the beginning of your leadership development journey for a CFO role. The overall CFO Leadership Competency Model involves 10 leadership competencies that require formal training and vigorous practicing.
It’s easier to transform from an ‘Accountant’ to becoming a ‘Business Finance Leader’ within a short period if you follow structured guidance. The 12-week ‘Becoming CFO’ Coaching Program at MECA CFO Academy is developed with practical tips, tools, strategies and tactics that you can easily follow and implement immediately to transform yourself into a CFO leadership profile. You can find out more details here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Saleem Sufi is a CFO Leadership Expert and Coach with more than 18 years CFO level experience working for top world class Fortune 500 and Private Equity owned companies in Asia Pacific, Middle East, Europe and United States. He is also the Founder of MECA CFO Alliance where he leads the CFO Academy with an entire focus on leadership development and career growth among the senior Finance community.