Let’s face it: both in appearance and in actuality, CFOs are largely responsible for a company’s profile. Stakeholders large and small look to them for confidence and leadership. Like CEOs, they have to project the kind of competence that inspires – but they also have to get their hands dirty and handle the nuts and bolts that make a company thrive.
It’s not an easy path, and inevitably, there are going to be many hurdles a successful CFO will need to clear along the way.
Seeing the Forest through the Trees
The old cliché that ‘things move fast these days’ still rings true. Same goes for the relentless onslaught of information – good, bad, and ugly – that pervades the business world. Anticipating change has never been more critical to success, and determining what that change will look like has never been harder to discern.
Sooner or later, good CFOs have to demonstrate that they can find the signal in the noise. They have to be clear-sighted about what information matters and what doesn’t, and they need to be able to make out the larger pattern that will determine the company’s direction. Bottom line: if CFOs don’t learn to anticipate, they’ll be left behind.
Walking the Line
A lot of a CFO’s job boils down to optimizing, and that means doing the most you can with the least you can. This is a tricky line to walk. It’s easy enough to slip and strike the wrong balance within the organization, causing standards to fall too far or profit margins to grow too slowly. CFOs only succeed if they stay balanced on that tightrope.
Managing Risk – and Reward
The bean counters can manage risk, and the foolhardy can strive for reward, but it takes a bold and disciplined CFO to pull off both. It can be all too easy to take a conservative approach to risk, and the training CFOs receive in finance and accounting practices can encourage a fundamentalist approach. But what makes sense on paper isn’t necessarily what will make a company thrive. In business, as in all things, it takes a leap of faith to fly. When the right opportunity comes along, a good CFO needs to be able to take that leap – with a well-packed parachute.