Build Stronger Relationships: The Essential Guide for Finance Leaders

Trusted relationships are integral to the success of finance leaders, especially in times of uncertainty. As a leader, it's important to make sure that your relationships with colleagues and stakeholders are strong enough to go the distance. Many finance leaders have underdeveloped or poor relationships with key individuals in the workplace, making it difficult to create the required impact and having the potential to completely derail you during important team presentations or when trying to influence a big decision.
Relationship between people. Business networking concept 24

How would you rate your current relationships with key people in the workplace and is there room for improvement? What are their likely perceptions of you and how likely are they to open up with you regarding their biggest challenges? Do your key stakeholders regularly consult you on big decisions and keep you informed of key business matters?

Many finance leaders suffer from underdeveloped relationships in the workplace, leading to poor decision making and lack of confidence within their teams. Building stronger relationships is essential for any finance leader looking to build a successful career. In fact, 13% of finance leaders consider this to be one of their top three biggest challenges.

As a finance leader, you need to manage stakeholders effectively in addition to completing tasks. This means taking time to build trust, respect and authenticity with key colleagues and stakeholders. Not only will it enable you to be more effective in your role but also give you access to networks that can help advance your career. Building strong relationships is an art form and it takes time and effort to master. Fortunately, it’s perfectly achievable with the right strategy and approach.

Table of Contents

Signs that your relationships need strengthening

Before we look at the advice and techniques which finance leaders can use to build stronger relationships, let’s take a look at some of the common signs that your relationships may need strengthening.

Do you relate to any of these thoughts?

  • “My stakeholders do not truly value my perspectives and ability to support decision making”
  • “I don’t feel like I am really listened to when I present my ideas or suggestions”

  • “My team members and stakeholders do not understand my point of view”

  • “My relationships with key people are often strained or tense”

  • “The decisions I make are often questioned and my authority is undermined”

  • “No-one seems to take my suggestions seriously until someone senior has signed them off”

  • “I never seem to be consulted on key business decisions until after they have been made”

  • “I really struggle to build rapport with certain board members”

  • “My role would be much easier if I was better at influencing key stakeholders”

You may also:

  • Struggle to find the balance between being too pushy and not doing enough
  • Feel nervous when talking to senior people who could help you progress your career.
  • Fail to demonstrate your personality and value when networking with others
  • Struggle to build trust with key stakeholders, leading to tense conversations or poor decisions
  • Have difficulty getting stakeholders on board with your ideas or initiatives
  • Not be able to get people to understand the importance of finance in making decisions
  • Fear that you are not taken seriously, leaving you feeling powerless and unimportant
  • Feel that others do not really understand who you are and what you stand for

If you can relate to any of these issues, it’s likely that you need to work on your relationship building skills. Otherwise, you may not be able to build trusted relationships with clients, colleagues and stakeholders; or create an environment that encourages creativity, collaboration and innovation. Fortunately, there are a variety of effective strategies and techniques which you can use to build stronger relationships as a finance leader.

The root cause: why do so many finance leaders need to build stronger relationships?

There are many reasons why finance leaders struggle to build strong relationships. This is particularly common among those who are new to a role or organization, plus those individuals who have advanced quickly throughout their career and may not quite understand the nuances of communication.

Lack of experience

Insufficient professional experience: Many finance leaders are lacking professional experience in developing relationships with colleagues and stakeholders. This can be especially true for those who have had considerable success throughout their career, but may not have the necessary time or resources to develop strong communication skills. The lack of professional experience can lead to a lack of confidence when communicating with others, leading to frustration and tension.

Not enough personal experience: Other finance leaders may have the requisite professional experience, but lack the personal experience in understanding how different people interact and communicate. As such, they can struggle to build strong relationships as they are unable to identify the subtle hints and signals that can be used to build rapport.

Missing support: Finally, some finance leaders may struggle to build strong relationships due to a lack of support from their peers or managers. Without the right guidance or resources, a finance leader can often feel isolated and unable to reach out for help when needed.

Poor communication

Miscommunication: Finance leaders can sometimes be guilty of miscommunicating with their colleagues and stakeholders. This could involve not understanding the needs or expectations of key people, failing to explain complex financial decisions in a clear manner, or not listening effectively to what is being said. All of these can lead to tension and mistrust, damaging relationships.

Lack of trust: When finance leaders do not take the time to build trust with their colleagues or stakeholders, it can be difficult to create meaningful relationships. Without trust, people may be reluctant to share ideas or work together on projects. This can limit a finance leader’s ability to make effective decisions and develop new initiatives.

Unprofessional behavior: In some cases, finance leaders can display unprofessional behavior that could damage relationships. This could include being overly critical of others, not respecting their opinions or needs, or failing to show any empathy or understanding. All of these behaviors can cause tension and mistrust, making it difficult to build strong relationships.

Poorly defined roles

Inadequate job descriptions: When finance leaders do not have a well-defined role within their organization, they may find it harder to establish relationships with colleagues or stakeholders. This can be particularly true if the job description does not accurately define what is expected of a finance leader, or if there are conflicting expectations between different departments.

Undefined responsibilities: With no clearly defined understanding of their responsibilities, it can be difficult for a finance leader to develop effective relationships with those they work with. Without knowing exactly what is expected from them, they may find it difficult to build trust and respect with their colleagues or stakeholders.

Unclear expectations: Without a clear understanding of the expectations placed upon them, finance leaders may find it difficult to build meaningful relationships. Without having a clear idea of what is expected from them, they will struggle to meet the expectations of others and this can lead to frustration and tension.

Ineffective leadership

Poor decision-making: Poor decision-making can have a detrimental effect on a finance leader’s ability to build strong relationships. When decisions are made without consulting those who may be affected, it can lead to feelings of mistrust and resentment which can damage relationships.

Missing vision: Without a clear vision of what needs to be accomplished, it is difficult for finance leaders to inspire and motivate those around them. Without having a plan in place, colleagues and stakeholders may struggle to work together towards the same goal, leading to tension between different departments.

Lack of accountability: If a finance leader is not held accountable for their actions, it can be difficult to build strong relationships. Without accountability, people may be reluctant to take ownership of tasks and projects, making it harder to collaborate effectively.

Poorly managed expectations

Unrealistic goals: Setting unrealistic expectations can have a damaging effect on relationships. When finance leaders set goals that are impossible to achieve or do not take into account the limitations of their colleagues, it can lead to frustration and discontentment. This can be especially problematic if these expectations are not communicated clearly.

Disregard for feedback: When a finance leader disregards or ignores the feedback they receive from their colleagues, it can be difficult to maintain trust and respect. Without taking into consideration the opinions of others, relationships may suffer as people feel that their voices are not being heard.

No recognition: If finance leaders do not show any recognition or appreciation for their colleagues’ efforts, it can be difficult to build strong relationships. Without acknowledging the hard work and dedication of others, people may feel taken for granted and this could lead to resentment.

Lack of available time

Overstretched resources: When a finance leader’s time and resources are stretched too thin, it can be difficult to build strong relationships. With so much on their plate, they may struggle to devote enough time and attention to building relationships with colleagues or stakeholders, leading to frustration and dissatisfaction.

Unclear priorities: Without a clear sense of what is important, it can be difficult for a finance leader to manage their time and resources effectively. Without having a clear idea of what needs to be prioritized, they may struggle to identify each stakeholder and make decisions which will benefit the business as a whole.

Not getting to know people: Without taking the time to get to know their colleagues and stakeholders, finance leaders may find it hard to build strong relationships. Without understanding each other’s personalities, motivations and interests, it can be difficult to create a successful working environment.

Alienating themselves

Uncompromising attitude: When a finance leader takes an uncompromising approach to their role, it can be difficult to build strong relationships. By failing to consider the views of other members of the board or stakeholders, they may alienate themselves and make it harder for them to gain trust from those around them. This is particularly common when challenging NEDs, Chairs and other board members who they rarely interact with outside of board meetings.

Rigid rules and regulations: When a finance leader insists on strict adherence to their own rules and regulations within the financial stewardship component of their role, it can be off-putting to those around them. Without being open to discussion or compromise, they may make it difficult for others to work with them. This may create barriers between finance and the wider business, reducing corroboration and causing people to make decisions without consultation.

Misunderstandings: If a finance leader is closed off and unwilling to consider new ideas or different approaches, it can be difficult to create an environment of collaboration and trust. Without being open to change and constructive criticism, relationships may suffer as colleagues feel their ideas are not valued. When finance leaders do not take the time to explain their decisions or listen to the views of others, misunderstandings can arise. Without taking into account other people’s perspectives, they may come across as inconsiderate or unapproachable, leading to alienation and strained relationships.

Methods to build stronger relationships

Here are some of the many ways in which finance leaders can build stronger relationships to better manage their stakeholders along with developing higher levels of trust and respect:

Establish clear lines of communication

To build stronger relationships, it is essential for finance leaders to establish clear lines of communication with their stakeholders. This could involve regular meetings, emails or phone calls to ensure stakeholders are kept up-to-date on the latest developments and decisions within the organization.

By having an open and transparent dialogue, the finance leader can ensure everyone is on the same page and build trust in their relationships. This encourages collaboration and ensures stakeholders feel comfortable in approaching the finance leader with queries and ideas.

It is also important to set expectations for communication, such as responding promptly to emails or scheduling regular check-ins with key stakeholders. This will help to ensure everyone knows what is expected of them within the relationship.

What are the best ways to communicate with my stakeholders? How can I ensure expectations are clear and communicated effectively? How often should I be checking in with each stakeholder?

Ask questions and listen

When interacting with stakeholders, it is important for finance leaders to take the time to ask questions and really listen to what they have to say. This can help to create a more open dialogue in which both parties feel their views are respected and taken into consideration.

By listening carefully, finance leaders can gain a better understanding of their stakeholders’ needs, interests and objectives. This helps to ensure decisions are informed by the perspectives of all involved and encourages collaborative decision-making.

When asking questions, finance leaders should take a genuine interest in what their stakeholders have to say. Asking open-ended questions that require more than a yes/no answer can help to get the conversation flowing and encourage stakeholders to expand on their ideas.

Be open to feedback

Finance leaders should be open to feedback from their stakeholders, as this provides an opportunity for improvement and shows that the financial leader is willing to take constructive criticism in order to develop better relationships.

By actively seeking feedback, finance leaders can gain invaluable insight that allows them to better understand how they are perceived by stakeholders. This could involve conducting regular surveys or setting up focus groups to get an honest opinion of their performance.

In addition, it is important for finance leaders to make sure they take feedback on board and respond in a timely manner. This can help to demonstrate their commitment to creating strong relationships and earning the trust of stakeholders.

Kevin Appleby and Richard Medcalf founder and CEO of Xquadrant discuss the relationship between CFO and CEO on the GrowCFO Show

#42 The Relationship Between CFO and CEO with Richard Medcalf

The CFO and CEO’s roles have an important relationship. On this episode of the GrowCFO Show Kevin Appleby looks closer …

Listen to episode

Show respect

Respect is a key factor in building strong relationships, as it establishes trust between finance leaders and their stakeholders. As such, finance leaders should take the time to show respect for both the opinions and the time of their stakeholders.

This could involve expressing gratitude for particular contributions to the project or taking care to understand different viewpoints before making decisions. Finance leaders should also be aware of their body language and ensure it conveys respect rather than annoyance or disinterest.

It is important to note that respect goes both ways, so finance leaders should also be willing to listen and learn from the ideas of their stakeholders. This can help to foster a sense of mutual respect which is essential for developing healthy relationships.

Show appreciation

Showing appreciation for the efforts of others helps to create strong relationships with stakeholders. This could involve simply saying “thank you” when someone puts in extra effort, or taking the time to recognize and reward achievements.

Finance leaders should also look for opportunities to thank stakeholders for their patience and understanding. This could involve sending a card or handwritten note to show they appreciate the efforts of their team or stakeholders who have gone above and beyond.

By showing appreciation, finance leaders can demonstrate their gratitude and create a culture of positivity in which stakeholders feel valued. This can go a long way towards creating strong relationships that will last.

Susana Serrano-Davey and Kevin Appleby explore some of the challenges that come with trying to maintain a healthy relationship with your boss.

#77 Balancing the Relationship With Your Boss with Susana Serrano-Davey

Who is your boss? Do you have more than one boss? Perhaps you are number 2 to the CFO and …

Read More

Strong first impressions

Creating a strong first impression is essential for establishing relationships with stakeholders. This could involve introducing yourself in a confident and professional manner, offering to get coffee or refreshments, asking questions about their interests and experiences, as well as taking the time to shake hands or exchange pleasantries.

Finance leaders should also be aware of their body language and ensure it conveys respect rather than indifference or aggression. They should also remember to smile, maintain eye contact and use appropriate language so as not to offend anyone.

You only get one opportunity to make a first impression with each stakeholder and research suggests that they will form an opinion of you within the first 23 seconds, which will then take many months to alter. By making a strong first impression, finance leaders can get off on the right foot with their stakeholders and start building strong relationships from the beginning.

Influencing without authority, Wassia Kamon joins Kevin Appleby on The GrowCFO Show

#118 Influencing Without Authority with Wassia Kamon, VP Finance & Accounting at ACM Chemistries

Wassia Kamon is simply a brilliant person. She arrived in the USA at 17 from Ivory Coast, West Africa, where …

Read More

Build strong rapport

Creating strong relationships with stakeholders depends on being able to build a rapport. This involves finding common interests and using them as conversation starters, listening actively to ensure you understand their point of view and empathizing with their feelings.

It is also important for finance leaders to demonstrate that they are open minded and willing to consider different ideas. This could involve agreeing to disagree, or suggesting a compromise if there is a disagreement between the team.

By taking the time to build strong rapport with stakeholders, finance leaders can demonstrate that they are open and trustworthy. This can help to build strong relationships which will benefit the team in both the short and long term.

Work joyfully and peacefully. Serious woman listening to her colleague during lunch in cafe

Which relationships do you need to strengthen the most?

In a recent GrowCFO poll, we asked you which relationships do you need to strengthen most? The answer is quite …

Read More

Mirror other people’s behavior

Mirroring other people’s behavior is a useful technique for creating strong relationships with stakeholders. This involves observing how the stakeholder behaves and then attempting to match their body language, tone of voice and gestures.

It is important to note that mirroring should be subtle as it can otherwise come across as patronizing or even creepy. Finance leaders should also be aware that this technique may not work with everyone and in some cases, it may be best to stay away from mirroring altogether.

By taking the time to mirror other people’s behavior, finance leaders can demonstrate that they are attentive and interested in what their stakeholders have to say. This can help to create strong relationships and ensure that conversations are productive and successful.

You need to possess the ability to mirror other people during your interactions. You can achieve this by communicating in a similar style and tone, whilst using complementary body language. Fortunately, many people already subconsciously mirror others by instinctively caring about them and putting their feelings first.

Improve your networking

Successful relationships require networking and it is important for finance leaders to be able to network effectively. This could involve attending events, reaching out to contacts or even engaging in online forums.

When networking, finance leaders should focus on building meaningful relationships rather than simply collecting business cards. They should also remember to follow up with their contacts afterwards, to ensure that the relationship continues.

By improving their networking skills, finance leaders can create strong relationships with a broad range of stakeholders which will benefit both them and the team in the long run. These relationships can then be nurtured over time by using the tips outlined in this guide.

It seems we can't find what you're looking for.

Closing thoughts

Building strong relationships with stakeholders is a key skill for any finance leader. By taking the time to create meaningful connections and fostering mutual trust, leaders can ensure that their team will be successful in both the short and long term.

Modern-day finance leaders to build strong relationships with their stakeholders quickly and efficiently to make the right impact and get things done. This requires making a strong first impression, building strong rapport, mirroring other people’s behavior and improving their networking skills.

By following the suggestions in this guide, finance leaders can create lasting and meaningful relationships with their stakeholders which will benefit both them and their team. This is essential for any successful finance leader who wants to ensure the success of their finance team and future career. Get in touch.

Professional Mentoring and Coaching​

Mentoring and coaching can help finance leaders plan ahead confidently with the expert guidance of someone who’s been there before and is committed to seeing you succeed. We offer complimentary chemistry calls so that you can get to know us better and see if our mentoring style is a good fit for your needs. During this call, we will discuss your challenges and goals, and help you determine the best course of action moving forward.​

The CFO Programme​

Our CFO Programme is designed for passionate finance leaders who are keen to develop a well-respected finance function that provides vital support, influence and value creation across your business. This six-month virtual programme is led by professional mentors who have strong CFO experience and is delivered within cohorts comprising 5-6 finance leaders, alongside individual mentoring.​

The GrowCFO Competency Framework​

Use The GrowCFO Competency Framework to assess your and your team’s hard and soft skills. This first of its kind assessment tool will help individuals benchmark themselves against your finance leader peer group across nine CFO competencies and 45 skill sets.​

If this guide has helped you, please consider sharing it!


Join thousands of finance leaders using GrowCFO today