Whether you’re stepping in as a newly hired CFO or moving up the ranks within a company you’ve been a part of for some time, your relationship with your new boss takes some getting used to. CFOs who take the time to learn more about what CEOs expect of them are better able to deliver what their organization needs. Here are five questions you need to ask your CEO when you get your name on the office door as the company’s new CFO.
“What were the previous CFO’s greatest strengths and biggest weaknesses?”
It’s sometimes difficult for CEOs to articulate their expectations for you, but by learning what they feel were the previous CFO’s strengths and weaknesses, you’re able to get a clearer picture of what your role is. You also get a good indication of what your leader expects of you on a day-to-day basis from hearing about your predecessor. If the previous CFO was removed from the position, you may need to know what happened to avoid similar mishaps or clean up past messes. Even if the prior occupant of your office left due to retirement, understanding what your CEO liked best about him or her tells an important story for you.
“What was the most important business decision you’ve made in the past two years?”
Understanding what your CEO considers important tells you what he or she thinks is vital for you to focus on. Asking this question reveals whether you’re expected to be a strategic partner or take more of a supporting role as a number-cruncher. You’ll also gain insight into your new boss’ leadership style. If the answer is a bold, unilateral decision, you know you’re working for an iconoclast; an answer that mentions teams and gradual shifts suggests you have a consensus-seeker at the helm.
“Which financial reports do you prioritize when you receive them?”
Listen closely to the answer to this question, and you’ll learn how much importance your CEO attributes to finance as a motivating force. Someone whose eyes are firmly fixed on the bottom line, focusing on profit margins and revenue, is probably going to expect you to be a strategic partner who delivers measurable value to stockholders. A CEO who looks at quarterlies to ensure compliance is more likely to see your position as a regulatory one.
“What is a conflict you’ve faced within the company, and how did you resolve it?”
This problem-solving question gives you two key pieces of information: what your CEO considers particularly challenging, and the leadership style with which he or she meets that challenge. Does your new boss seek a cooperative outcome, or is his or her style more authoritative and top-down? You may find you’re working with an avoider, and that’s important to know too; you may be called on to move decisions forward.
“Which outside advisors and third parties do you consider especially valuable?”
Wisdom doesn’t exist only within the organization for most CEOs, and knowing where they get their best advice helps you understand what they need to know. A former CEO who’s since retired, an outside consultancy, or even a family member might play a key role in business decisions. You need to know who these people are so you can listen too.