Accounting and reporting

Inspiring financial leadership

Inspiring financial leadership – it’s in the CFG strapline, but what does it mean, what is inspiring financial leadership and what does it mean to be an inspiring financial leader? ...

Inspiring financial leadership – it’s in the CFG strapline, but what does it mean, what is inspiring financial leadership and what does it mean to be an inspiring financial leader? In many regards the distinction between being a leader and being a financial leader is artificial – we are all called to be leaders within our organisations, but as the person who carries the financial brief inevitably that leadership will be expressed from a finance perspective.  But what should this leadership look like? For starters I would suggest that to be an inspiring financial leader you have to be an inspired financial leader – one who is as fired up for the mission of the organisation you work for as the best of your colleagues. This is particularly true in the charity sector when people’s commitment to the mission of the organisation often transcends all other considerations and if the finance voice is to be heard it must come from someone who shares their passion.  In my experience you have to win the hearts of people before you can win their heads and to do that you need to be able to command their trust. If you don’t know where to start building your own understanding of your organisation’s mission take time out of the office to visit the projects your organisation runs, volunteer to help out at fundraising events or talk to people about their experience of the charity. Don’t get stuck behind your spreadsheets. In a similar vein, it is imperative that (all) leaders embody the values of the organisation.  One of the great tragedies of the current financial crisis is the disappointment generated by leaders who talked about values and standards but who patently did not live those values out in their own lives.  It is telling that some of the deepest hurt has been felt by the employees of those companies who thought they were working for an organisation that stood for something and are left questioning whether they can continue. As the Bible says; ‘by their fruit shall you know them’. The second key attribute is to be a genuine business partner.  The finance leader is too often seen as the person to be got around, the person who will block initiatives, the person who will say ‘no’.  The inspiring financial leader by contrast is the person who is an ‘enabler,’ someone who helps their colleagues work out how something can be achieved.  It may be of course that the answer to what is required is beyond the reach of the organisation at present, but the stance should be one of ‘if that is what you are trying to achieve we will need to do x, y and z’.  If the finance leader is known to be as hot for the mission of the charity as the person asking their advice then that advice will be received with a different heart. I would suggest that the third key attribute is to be someone who acts as the adviser and confidante of the chief executive.  In particular a key role is to protect the chief executive and keep them out of trouble by helping them make decisions which are grounded in reality.   I have worked for two chief executives who have stated that they were not prepared to take major strategic decisions without their finance director alongside them, and those have been my most satisfying assignments. The finance leader should be well placed within the organisation to adopt that sort of role as they are in the best position to have a view across the whole organisation and see how the different parts interact.  However position alone is not sufficient, you have to earn the right to that level of confidence and it comes if your passion for the mission and your commitment to working in partnership is evident. Over and above those particular elements I would suggest that the general attributes of good leadership need to be evident and on display at all times.  I have been very influenced in my own thinking by ‘The Secret’ by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller who set out five attributes that all great leaders need to have.  I have already referred to the need to ’embody the values’ of the organisation but equally an inspiring financial leader needs the ability to ‘see the future’ -to be able to describe a credible future for the organisation from a financial perspective.  That requires the ability to consider alternative scenarios, to assess the likelihood of particular outcomes and build a picture that others can rally to. Important to the success of the inspired financial leader is the ability to attract a great team around them – engaging the right people and learning how to build them into a unit where each person gets to use their particular gifting as much as possible on a day-to-day basis.  People will perform to their best when they are asked to work on those types of activities that most ‘press their buttons’.  Find out from your staff what was their best day at work in the last three months (and the worst day too); it will be illuminating. Another attribute is to be restless and ‘reinvent continuously’.  Always strive to do things better and never rest on your laurels or allow your team to rest on their laurels.  Sustaining change over an extended period is extremely hard work and therefore with your constant desire to change must come a commitment to your team on a personal level. Be quick to celebrate their success, and be quick too to shield them from blame when things don’t go so well.  By ‘valuing results and personal relationships’ you will build a team that is prepared to try difficult things, that is creative and high performing.  I continue to hold as a truism the notion that when my team is successful then I am successful.  When my team is inspiring I am inspiring! CFG have launched the Adrian Randall Prize for Inspiring Financial Leadership to encourage innovation in charity finance. The recipient of the prize will recieve £5,000 to take their idea  forward. To find out more and see how to enter, see here. Ian Theodoreson Ian Theodoreson is CFG Chair and Chief Finance Officer of the Church Commissioners for England.     « Back to all blog posts