10 Tips for Prospective CFOs

Knowing what it takes to do the work of a CFO requires more than a degree in finance. Sometimes, it’s just as important to know things you won’t learn in school, to learn about what to do outside your department – and what not to do. This list of dos and don’ts can give you an edge over other candidates when moving up the ladder to the CFO’s office.

What to Do

– Work on your relationship skills – Much of what CFOs do has nothing to do with numbers. Your people skills are crucial for success too. You’ll be working with other C-level executives, department heads, and shareholders, so you need to feel at ease with forming business relationships. CFOs must also foster good relationships with people outside the organization for which they work too, including bankers, vendors, capital markets, and members of professional associations.

– Be an interdepartmental mover – Successful CFOs don’t stay in their offices. They actively seek allies in and offer support to other departments within the organization. As CFO, yours is a high-pressure job, and having others on your side when making critical decisions is important not only to the company’s health but to yours.

– Understand your limits – CFOs aren’t just number-crunchers. They’re expected to have the financial acumen of a CPA, the communication skills of a marketing mogul, and the organizational abilities of a particularly busy office manager. Like any other mortal, you have strengths and weaknesses and may not excel equally at all these roles. Find out where your limits lie and surround yourself with talent that highlights your strong points while minimizing your challenges.

– Look the part – The “C” in CFO stands for “chief.” It’s a position of authority both within the organization and to the wider world beyond it. If you want to fill that role, you need to dress and act as though it’s already yours. Put a fine polish on your communication skills, upgrade your wardrobe, and sharpen your business etiquette.

What Not to Do
– Don’t be a bean-counter – As a CFO, you’re naturally going to be aware of the bottom line, but costs are not your sole concern. By taking a wider view of the organization and looking at its long-term investments as well as costs in the short term, you showcase yourself as CFO material.

– Don’t leap too quickly – Top CFOs act decisively but never precipitously. Take the time to learn before developing a plan, and you show the kind of thoughtful leadership companies want behind the big desk.

– Don’t bite off too much – Few CFOs work alone; they build a team around them. Remember the marketing adage about under-promising and over-delivering when working on a project.

– Don’t take bad advice – The downside of surrounding yourself with talent is that not everyone who wants to be near the CFO is equally talented. Do some of your own research when you hear advice or claims that don’t make sense. When you find accurate information that contradicts insights you’ve gotten from others, distance yourself from the source of misinformation.

– Don’t sell out your ethics – Trustworthiness is fundamental for CFOs, and once you break that trust, you can never fully regain it. Above all, be ethical; your integrity is your future.

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