What does financial leadership look like?

Sarah Noak, Director of Finance, Lessons for Life Foundation and Clare Jenkins Director of Finance and IT, SOS Children’s Villages UK share their experiences of CFG’s Inspiring Financial Leadership training course, their thoughts on what financial leadership means to them and how the training has influenced their journeys.

Sarah Noak

Director of Finance, Lessons for Life Foundation

If you asked me before the course if I was a leader the answer would have been fairly obvious: I am because my job title makes me the leader of Finance, my position means I am part of the Senior Leadership team and I take responsibility for making decisions. I knew of course that a leader is someone that people choose to follow but what else do people look for in a leader – is it great charisma, glittering humour, having all the answers all of the time? If so I would come up a bit short.

The first key insight for me was in the first module on “the Finance Journey”, setting out how finance professionals have an essential and strong purpose right at the heart of the organisation due to our unique oversight across the business. We absolutely need to focus on building up strong controls and processes but we have huge potential beyond this in shaping, influencing and implementing strategy at the highest levels.

As we talked about communication the phrase “we are the message” resonated strongly. As leaders, every interaction communicates something about who we are and by extension what the organisation is. My willingness to talk to people and listen when they seek me out to “bounce an idea” is itself an act of leadership and when I notice that people are using me more in this way it shows the value I am adding. However, this requires a daily choice and effort to think about how we act and how this affects others. We also talked about the need for leaders to have a way to refill our own tanks, recognising that we can become depleted when we give ourselves.

IFL has been a wonderful journey. Returning to my thoughts on leadership, I have been reminded that a strong leader creates an environment that helps other people to be the best that they can be. I can model this through collaboration, trust, sharing information, putting “we before me”, growing people through performance, making time for people, simplifying and cutting complexity (particularly as people interact with finance!), coaching others and always being careful of how I act and acting with care towards other people. I also need to make sure that I take care of myself.

If this is Inspiring Financial Leadership then I’m going to give it my best shot!


Clare Jenkins

Director of Finance and IT, SOS Children’s Villages UK

Joining the Inspiring Financial Leadership programme helped me decide what sort of leader I wanted to be – and gave me the tools I needed to achieve it. After 16 years working in operational finance and internal auditing, I had just been appointed to my first Senior Management Team role as Director of Finance and IT for SOS Children’s Villages UK – so the knowledge could not have come at a better time for me.

I have taken away several tips, techniques and models which I am already using to develop my staff, coach myself through issues, and identify, and act upon, the wide range of motivations which attract people to work in the charity sector.

Each session had an overarching theme, such as communication, leading change and motivating myself and others. Each was presented within context, using real-life examples and a range of models which could be used to understand and support my role as leader. The two experienced and very approachable tutors encouraged extensive questioning and discussion of all the models, and there were numerous opportunities to talk through them with fellow students.

Guest speakers talked us through some of their experiences and demonstrated how they had used the methods presented in the course to tackle some difficult situations.

For me, the discussions and practicals were a key part of the course, providing the opportunity to learn from the experience of others in similar roles and exploring new approaches. We would then discuss it at our next session and everyone was genuinely interested in how well the techniques had been employed in our respective organisations and scenarios.

As someone whose organisation was going through organisational changes, I found the session on leading change particularly useful. It helped me better understand not only my role, but also the perspectives of our staff and trustees during this period and adapt my language and focus. The communication session identified unconscious flaws in my communication style, which I have now been able to change.

The course took us out of our comfort zone. We are accountants after all and being asked to draw a picture of our vision certainly made everyone uneasy. But it worked, and I’m excited to use what I’ve learned to help SOS Children’s Villages UK to grow – and as a result, give more children the chance to grow up feeling loved, safe, and supported worldwide.

In partnership with Cass CCE and Sayer Vincent, CFG’s Inspiring Financial Leadership course begins this October. Take your financial leadership journey to the next level and book with CFG member early bird rate at


Originally appeared as an article in CFG member magazine Finance Focus June edition

This post was last reviewed on 27 June 2019 at 11:21
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