#11 How to Stay Resilient in Your First CFO Role

How to Stay Resilient in your First CFO Role with Kevin Appleby and Russell Thackeray on the GrowCFO Show

Your first CFO role will involve a big step change in responsibility and take you right to the edge of your comfort zone and beyond. You need to stay resilient in order to survive. Dr Russell Thackeray is a psychologist and psychotherapist who specialises in resilience and frequently coaches c-suite executives. He shares his expertise on the GrowCFO Show

Dr Russell Thackeray started his career as a professional musician before a career in sales and marketing. he has been CEO of a law firm and founded a major training business. These days he operates an organisational development consultancy and coaching business. He has worked with a diverse range of organisations including Central and Local Government, the National Health Service, Mercedes Benz, GKN, The Guardian, Hyundai, QinetiQ and Asda as well as for Private Equity and Venture Capitalists. As an entrepreneur, he has grown a number of organisations and has worked in the investment space with a number of UK Private Equity companies, including some major UK universities, to help them build the best people to ‘ramp up’ their investments. He is also a non-executive director of a number of digital businesses including lifestyle transformation and cruise travel companies.

Is it difficult to stay resilient in your first CFO role?

Russell believes there are many challenges faced by the first time CFO that will call upon the new CFO’s resilience.

As a new CFO you have been working hard to land your first chance to do the top job. You have aspired to the role for a long time, but its a massive step up. The fight to win the job was tough, but it’s only the start. Now the really hard work starts, so yes its going to take all the resilience you have in order to survive and then thrive.

Russell identifies two possible scenarios

Scenario 1: You rise to the new challenge, and perform well. but find it really stretches you and overwhelm comes from the volume and variety of work you need to undertake and the need to operate at a whole new level

Scenario 2: You perform poorly, you struggle with the huge range of new skills needed to do the top job. You were comfortable as head of the finance function, but the new role is a million miles from your comfort zone. You struggle to deal with your new senior colleagues, and overwhelm gets the better of you.

How do you stay resilient in Scenario 1?

A major issue in scenario 1 is that your personal time gets squeezed. You have little time to do personal development and your own training goes out the window. Your wellbeing is at risk from the overwhelm of your new responsibilities. To stay resilient you must:

  • Learn to leave behind the job you did before, you can’t afford to hang on to the safety security & comfort of the finance function
  • If your new job is in the same company then make sure you have replaced yourself with a great number 2
  • If your new job is in a different company then make sure the team around you is strong and capable to support you
  • You can’t be the outward face of the company while still looking inward, so you must be ruthless and jettison what you brought with you.
  • Avoid the familiar, throw yourself into the stuff you aren’t good at. You will become good at it in time.
  • You need a good mentor. We discussed mentoring in episode 5 of the GrowCFO Show
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness
  • Find the natural rhythm of your job. The regular requirements of the job won’t be apparent at first, you need time to settle in.
  • Let your team do the technical stuff, you don’t need to be the expert in everything

How do you stay resilient in Scenario 2?

The issue is you have bitten off way more than you can chew. You are drowning. You don’t have all the skills to do the CFO role.

Maybe you have been over promoted and shouldn’t be doing the job. There’s actually no harm in admitting this if it is the case. Not admitting it can be more dangerous, as the stresses and strains won’t get better over time they will get worse.

Over promotion is rarely the issue. The step up to CFO is a big one. Its rare for the CFO to arrive with all the skills needed on day 1. There are things you need to put in place:

  • A dedicated personal development plan. We look closely at building a development plan in module 3 of the future CFO programme
  • Avoid burning yourself out.risk off burning out. Sometimes you imagine the expectations on you are greater than they really are
  • Nobody expects you to be brilliant right at the beginning. The first 100 days are a critical honeymoon period. Use them well.
  • Module 9 of future CFO programme looks at how to best use first 100 days

Managing change is a huge challenge

Or is it? Don’t let the need to champion change overwhelm you. Just coming in, being new and fresh is big part of change. You bring something different to your predecessor, so don’t be afraid to be yourself and make your own mark:

  • You need to start with yourself. Lead it, live it, and influence other people.
  • The CFO needs to be the pivotal person changing the perception of finance in the organisation. Finance needs to become vital rather than functional. Functional can be automated and outsourced.
  • You must have your head around digital technology
  • Start by changing finance not the rest of the organisation.