In the first part of this series, Denny Taylor says that being a knowledge leader is crucial to finance leadership.
Accountants are often decried as “bean counters” or “pencil pushers,” and while these epithets poke fun at an age-old stereotype, in truth these labels relate to an intense focus on doing good work and getting the numbers right. As you can imagine, success in finance starts with exceptional functional expertise and an ability to apply it as a knowledge leader. It entails skill, accuracy and dedication. But being a specialist is a slippery slope. Yes, it is advantageous if not imperative over the course of your career—especially early on—to be recognized for delivering a high level of technical knowledge. However, it is not the “be all end all” for finance leadership.
Equally critical is the ability to be a functional change agent. Going above and beyond knowledge or expertise, something we call a finance orchestrator. This competency is about envisioning the future of the function in line with the business strategy while developing the capability to get there.
Let’s talk about the knowledge leader first, as it’s the most intuitive for people to grasp. Academia and traditional corporate settings reward preparation, knowledge and the depth of a person’s subject-matter expertise. There is tremendous value in being a specialist (as well as pride), but there is also an inherent risk if you value knowledge for its own sake or become fixated on the significance that comes with it, as this creates one-dimensionality as opposed to versatility. Our practice and work with leading Chief Financial Officers suggests that after you have accumulated initial specialty in one area, seek to broaden your technical expertise into other areas. A multidisciplinary grounding enhances your perspective and ability to work cohesively across the wider finance umbrella, be it technical accounting, compliance, controls, financial planning, analysis, or fiduciary duties. Coincidentally, it also raises your cache in a competitive employment market.
Another important practice for finance professionals, and a way to fight complacency, is having an “inside-out” view of your specialty. Being plugged in and up to date about best practices in your profession will help you to raise internal standards by staying abreast of new developments and being able to critique or elevate your colleagues’ thinking. Attending industry seminars, maintaining a healthy outside network, and identifying external reference points such as peer companies to benchmark against are all useful as a knowledge leader.
More progressive, tech-savvy finance executives are finding out that an informed understanding of technology is critical for their role in governing or “taming” capital expenditure. Since information technology (IT) investments are usually a big-ticket item for companies with the advent of big data, digitization and social media, it is important to provide the right checks and balances around the management table where those decisions are approved. IT literacy is also a useful enabler for financial analysis, reporting and business intelligence—methods and tools which could help you in bringing a greater level of competitive and commercial edge.
Dennis “Denny” Taylor is a certified coach and holds a master’s degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College. He is a Managing Consultant at YSC Ltd., a global boutique, where he has spent the last seven years working to unleash the power of senior executives. Prior to his 14 years in consulting, he worked in corporate human resources, training and design roles in the finance and publishing sectors.
Latest posts by Denny Taylor (see all)
- Financial Excellence Model: External Advocate, Part 4 - April 28, 2015
- Finance Excellence Model: Champion of Rigor, Part 3 - January 26, 2015
- Finance Excellence Model: Strategic Function Builder, Part 2 - November 25, 2014