The importance of communication: Closing the gap between FD and CEO

That quote from Simon Ball, deputy chairman at Cable & Wireless jumped out at me recently in my research. It neatly encapsulates one of the hidden metrics that challenges senior finance professionals today.

While plenty of time and effort goes into helping CEOs, business developers and sales teams develop their communication skills, the finance function is often overlooked for communications training.

In Deloitte?s 2012 CFO Signals Survey, when asked to name the most important factors in choosing a successor, CFOs valued personal compatibility with the CEO and the ability to develop internal and external relationships ahead of technical experience (financial accounting, capital/treasury management, and audit/controls). So it?s clearly not lost on finance professionals that leadership is more about winning hearts and minds than ultimate mastery of the numbers. So where is the disconnect?

Even if it?s been uncommon for finance professionals to personally engage in their own career development beyond their accounting qualifications, there is a clear rationale for the company to invest in the performance of the CFO at particular points in a company?s journey. The ability of the CFO to ?perform? for potential investors on an IPO roadshow, or in front of shareholders at key meetings carries enormous weight and financial jeopardy.

There?s an expectation that the CEO will be the memorable, ?backable? leader, while the CFO is the slightly geeky, awkward foil with the numbers at their fingertips. It is always remarked on when a CFO is actually a confident, effective communicator.

The solution for those who aren?t quite there yet has usually been some training to try to make the CFO more like the CEO. To send them off to learn how to be more charismatic, ?better? presenters and therefore more effective leaders. The issue with a lot of presentation training out there, is that it teaches a one size fits all version of what a good presenter looks like. There?s a lot of walking up and down and eye contact, and hand movements for emphasis, none of which is necessarily wrong at all. My point is that often people who are naturally introvert are encouraged to assume a persona which isn?t really them at all.

The art of good presenting, whether from a stage or in a one-to-one presentation, is to make the audience feel comfortable, so that they forget about the medium (the presenter) and focus on the message. We?ve all experienced how excruciating it is to watch a nervous presenter falter and fail to impress. We end up barely able to watch their discomfort, let alone take on board their message. It?s the same with good TV presenting. The people we enjoy watching the most are those who really seem to be talking directly to us with no sense of the medium through which they are being beamed into our presence.

In my work with both executives and MBA participants at INSEAD and with my corporate clients, the heart of how I coach a person to improve their communication and leadership performance lies in this mantra: It is not about encouraging a person to become someone they are not, it is about guiding that person to allow themselves to become who they are truly capable of being.

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