dice dropped into water

Financial leadership: more than just numbers

Kate Sayer is a Partner at Sayer Vincent. She is a Chartered Accountant, with a Diploma in Charity Accounting awarded by the ICAEW and Cass Business School. She is also a visiting lecturer at Cass Business School for courses in charity finance.

Many finance professionals rely too heavily on their technical skills. In meetings with senior managers they commonly revert to ‘type’ and only contribute to the discussion when they can bring in something about the numbers. It is therefore unsurprising that fellow managers often think they have nothing to say about general management issues.

Financial leaders should want to contribute to wider discussions within their organisation. They should get out from behind their computer and into the business, and listen to those working on the frontline so they can understand their issues. They should also invest time and effort in ensuring managers and staff are aware of what they do and what the numbers really mean.

Here are a few reflections on the role of a financial leader through my experience coaching finance professionals:

  • Understanding the business means that the financial leader can contribute to the organisation’s strategy but also lead their own team with a vision for the finance function and how it can serve the greater vision of the organisation.
  • Inevitably, a leader has to manage change and deal with resistance to change. A strong vision and an understanding of how to lead people through a change process is essential.
  • Part of your toolkit to lead change is good communication skills in all media, not forgetting that this includes listening as well as telling.
  • To lead, you need to have good coaching skills to bring out the best in your team. But you also want your team members to develop their own coaching skills so they can develop the next tier of staff as well as supporting other staff on their budgets and reports.
  • Bringing new ideas and innovation is part of a financial leader’s role and should not be left to the ‘creative’ types in the organisation. Finding better ways of working and driving efficiency is a good place to start innovating.

What financial leaders need, says Simon Hopkins of Elizabeth Finn Care, is a ‘licence to operate’. A speaker on the Inspiring Financial Leadership course we run with Cass CCE and CFG, he explains this can be got through various means: one tactic is to use your analytical ability with numbers to cast fresh light on old problems.

This different perspective encouraged Kevin Geeson, during his time at RNIB, to lead a revolution in budget thinking, which brought about a complete change in behaviours with positive effect. Resources are now allocated to strategy rather than to teams. And this is just one example.

Sayer Vincent is calling for entries for its 2014 Financial Leadership Awards. Find out more at www.sayervincent.co.uk and nominate one of your colleagues before 21 July 2014. Sayer Vincent also runs a course, in partnership with Cass CCE and CFG, on Inspiring Financial Leadership