5 Mindset Shifts to Become a CFO

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.

Confident Senior Businessman

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.

What Did I Learn at Harvard…

I thought I knew everything about Strategy until I returned to Harvard Business School recently for an advanced strategy program. Wow… What a great insight.

Here are my 7 takeaways…

Harvard class

My 1st Takeaway – People:

It’s not about technology, it’s not about brand, and it’s not about products; it’s all about people. Companies are learning it fast. If you are an average performer, your days are counted. Get ready for a talent war ahead of you.

Multi-ethnic Casual People Holding Digital Tablets

My 2nd Takeaway – Customers:

In today’s world you do not sell products or services to your customers; you sell relationship. Infosys recently implemented a ‘Relationship Balanced Scorecard’ for their worldwide operations. Relationship is driven by your right brain; forget all the logic and serve your customers from your heart.

Hidden Relationship

My 3rd Takeaway – Goals:

If you are accomplishing all of your goals easily, you have set the bar too low. To reach your full potential, you must set the goals stretched enough to miss about 15-20%.


My 4th Takeaway – Culture:

Culture is a real competitive advantage. Great cultures are created by great leaders and nurtured over a long period of time. Think of Apple, Google, Amazon and GE; is it possible to copy their cultures? In a strong culture you tend to lose your individuality and the culture becomes your identity. What culture you are in?


My 5th Takeaway – Strategy:

Strategy is not a choice anymore; the game is only going to get tougher. The businesses who think they do not need a formal strategy are living in fools’ paradise. A perfect storm of change (how we run businesses) is coming up and many companies that are not prepared will be completely wiped out. How prepared you are?


My 6th Takeaway – Employees:

Employee engagement is not enough; employee enablement is the key. If you hire the best talent but do not enable them to perform, you set them for failure. Remember the four keys to enablement; (1) Simplified work processes, (2) Skills alignment with work demands, (3) Reward system, and (4) Work-life integration.


My 7th Takeaway – Work-life balance

It’s not about work-life balance; it’s about work-life integration. The new reality for business leaders is 24/7 working hours. Adjust your pace and rhythm. Life is not a sprint race; it’s a marathon. Stop living in compartments; you have only one life and it’s short.


What do you think? Leave me a comment or question. – Saleem Sufi

3 Easy to Learn Skills that May Take You to the C-Suite

Corporate environment is becoming fiercely competitive every day and even surviving one’s job has become a major challenge. Average job tenures for senior positions are shortening. Life-long jobs with one employer are now history. To survive and grow your career, being marketable has become more important than keeping employed.

Peter Drucker once said, “Business has only two functions – marketing and innovation”. This is becoming true also for all senior level professionals. In a highly competitive talent market, you must continually innovate and market yourself to grow your career.

Knowledge is power but without its application it is useless. We, the professionals or knowledge workers, are in the business of selling our knowledge. This requires marketing. Unfortunately, most of us particularly the Finance professionals are not good marketer.

Boardroom and man

Marketing is a learnable skill. It’s not a rocket science. Most of it is just common sense but common sense is not common. As we gradually get matured with our intellectual wisdom we tend to ignore or undervalue simple things that can enormously benefit us. Personal marketing is one of them

Contrary to some conservative thinking, personal marketing and selling is not a bad thing. It’s a talent. We must understand the game has changed. In an oversupplied talent market, we need to ensure that the world appreciates our talent and knows what we are good at.

Marketing connects a need with the solution. Without marketing remarkable ideas would die and useful products and services will not reach us. Even Steve Jobs needed marketing to bring his ideas into reality. Personal marketing works the same way.

Here are 3 most powerful but most neglected, easy to learn personal marketing tools that may give you enormous leverage and at times even undue advantage over others to boost your career progress:

6 Mindsets for Corporate Success

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What If You Get Fired?

Shocked? Well, in today’s economy and business environment it’s not rare or uncommon to get fired. Downsize, upsize, right-size, wrong-size; whatever you may call it, something happens that may not be your fault but you get seriously impacted by it. The new reality is that all jobs are temporary.

If it has happened, take a deep breath and put your chin up. Everything happens for a reason. May be it’s the cause for a great restart of your career with a promising new employer. But, if you are still holding a job, take a sigh of relief. You can do something proactively to avoid this stressful disaster.

Job security does not exist anymore, anywhere. Life-long jobs with one employer are things of past. Experts are predicting a professional in 21st century to make 7-8 job moves over their lifetime career. We are transitioning into a free-lance society. What is required for your professional success is to actively manage your career.

Fired businessman and angry boss. Funny picture from office.

Try the following 7 approaches for a successful career management. Learn it and practice it before it’s too late.

5 Reasons Online Learning Making Classroom Obsolete

Peter Drucker was an amazing futurist who has the ability to foresee future with an incredible precision. This is what he said in 1997:

“Universities won’t survive. The future is outside the traditional campus, outside the traditional classroom. The distance learning is coming up fast.” Peter Drucker, June 16, 1997

Empty classroom

I have been doing corporate executive training for a long time but never tried an online class. Being a big fan of Peter Drucker, his quote really touched me to the heart and I decided to give online training a try for a CFO coaching program that I have been developing for a long time.

I offered it as an online coaching program to my global network and soon we had 20 senior finance professionals enrolled from around the world including UAE, KSA, Pakistan, East Coast and West Coast in USA and we jump started the coaching with 90 minute weekly online sessions through GoToMeeting.

Frankly, I was not sure about the effectiveness of the online medium for executive coaching but now almost towards the end of the program we have realized some amazing results.

Here are the five reasons I believe online learning works better for executive education over the traditional classroom:

What To Do When You Are Stuck in Mid-Career Crises

If you are one of those workaholics who live in their jobs day-in and day-out and never find time to develop themselves or broaden their perspectives, you probably know what mid-career crises are. Your tight hold on your job and long crazy hours might have paid off well in the early part of your career but now right in the middle of your career you feel stuck and somewhat paralyzed.

Marshall Goldsmith, a well known career and leadership expert wrote a book titled as ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There’. In this bestseller publication Goldsmith explains why many of our ‘good’ habits that help us get through the early part of our career may prohibit us moving into the C-Level suite.

The career journey from mid to the top is quite different and requires a different path and strategy. It’s not about the depth of your technical knowledge or putting in extra long hours. It’s all about your leadership style and how you create your image and influence across your entire organization.

Leadership development is a difficult process. Despite decades of research and tons of literature available there is no single model that can guarantee creating good leaders. The best learning models are probably those based on personal coaching, mentoring and following a role model in addition to a personal commitment and dedication of time, energy and focus.

If you feel stuck in the middle of your career, try the following five approaches:

Why Your Boss May Not Be Listening To You…

Didn’t it happen that you had the greatest ideas along with necessary credentials and relevant experience to impress your boss but he hardly listened? You may think he is a jerk or an idiot not to understand or appreciate your ideas. But the truth probably is that your boss is not an idiot. What he is missing is your influence.

Influence could be the most powerful weapon in your hands when you deal with your superiors. Influence is the vehicle through which your message is carried upon. It is the packaging that wraps around your core message. Without a carrying vehicle or proper packaging, you run the risk of your message getting lost in transition.

In our communications and negotiations we over zealously endeavor to convince our point of view using lengthy arguments. What we don’t realize is that a little bit of influence may go a long way even without the need of much logic and reasoning. If you are able to create influence in your relationship with your boss, the communication can become much more effective and meaningful.

To build up and enhance your influence on your boss and other superiors, follow this simple 5-step approach:

1. Establish your Authority:
Your formal authority may be limited as defined by your position or title but your informal authority could be unlimited based on your knowledge and expertise. When people know your potential they start to give you the due respect and treat you as an expert. Let the world know about your credentials, background and relevant experiences. Boldly and aggressively describe your achievements and accomplishments on your LinkedIn profile and invite your seniors and other colleagues to connect. They are sure going to notice it and respect your expertise.

Role of Finance in 21st Century

I usually start my CFO trainings with a simple question; “If business world during the last 15 years, on a scale of 1 to 10, has changed by 10, how much do you think the Finance function has changed?” And the answer consistently has been between 4 and 6.

Vintage mechanical calculator

The reality is that the role of Finance function in a modern business model is still not quite well defined. As a result we struggle to meet the expectation of our business partners. Resource structure and processes are quite different from one entity to another and even the role of CFO is not well understood.

In a high performance modern day business, Finance main role should be to help maximize the value creation by (a) Measuring the value created (recording), (b) Understanding and advising what drives value (analyzing), and (c) Minimizing the leakage of value (controlling). This role however can be performed if Finance and the CFO deeply understand the value creation part of the business model.