You can know all about how to read and understand financial statements. You can adorn your profile with a CPA, CMA, MBA and many other certifications. But can you lead with empathy? Can you engage with understanding? Can you balance the demands of your local team and expectations of APAC leadership,andget results?
The distinction between who can be a successful standalone finance professional and who can achieve at higher levels of team management must surely boil down to this unique set of communication skills:
Local and Regional Stakeholder management
A client has recently been joined here in Tokyo by a new CFO, who relocated from global headquarters in Europe. While this new CFO is clearly a talented, experienced finance leader whose skills and experience are by no means in question, my client is concerned that his new boss will be able to be empathetic with the team here in Tokyo. Empathy for your team comes in large part from understanding the local market and culture. If you have come into your role from another country, it’s important to invest time at the beginning of your tenure to learn about the culture where you’re working.
In a series of competency interviews I recently carried out for a C-level search mandate, a key question we asked was to do with stakeholder management.
“There are always going to be conflicts between Japan and APAC, aren’t there?” answered one of our candidates. “It’s inevitable that there will be misunderstandings and mismatches between Japan and APAC, so for a CFO, it’s necessary to understand and communicate effectively.”
At the C-level in particular, to be a successful leader, it is important to achieve the great financial results which are the lifeblood of the organization, but your success must also come from stellar communication skills and a sensitivity to the market in which you are working.
You will be asked by HQ to roll out new initiatives and sometimes the direction that APAC or global wants to take doesn’t quite tally with the state of play here in Japan.
It’s your duty to manage such conflicts, and this could mean a couple of things. First, you will need to help your local team here in Japan understand why HQ has issued a particular directive. Second, you will need to listen to what your team has to say about it, understand their perspective, and report back to regional or global HQ.
So to sum up, your success as a CFO, or any other executive leader for that matter, must come from your ability to lead with empathy and awareness about the context you’re working in. Your success will depend on your ability to manage stakeholders under, next to and above you, often in multiple locations. Your success will ultimately depend on how good you are at combining your local business knowledge and technical expertise with your ability to manage stakeholders on all sides.
If you can do all of that, you will lead with respect and dignity, and success will surely follow.