#26 How to Improve Your Soft Skills with Catherine Clark

How to improve your soft skills with Kevin Appleby and Catherine Clark on the GrowCFO show

Research shows that soft skills contribute towards 80% of your career achievements.  Despite this, most people prioritise developing hard skills and do not have an action plan to improve your soft skills.  This is particularly true of the finance leader community, who spend much of their career learning technical accounting skills.

The CFO role has evolved significantly during recent years.  You will need to master a significant number of soft skills to successfully deliver your role.  I asked experienced CFO Catherine Clark for her insights.  Catherine is GrowCFO’s lead professional mentor and has significant experience of performing the Board level CFO.

Importance of soft skills

Soft skills are highly important to becoming a finance leader.  They are the qualities that make your leadership successful.

Soft skills are the human skills that you use in teamwork, leadership, collaboration, communication and dealing with people.  These are sometimes known as the emotionally intelligent skills and help you to tune in with other humans.

To many people, certain soft skills come naturally.  Others will need to invest time in learning these.

Most accountants will learn your hard skills through your qualifications.  People consider these to be a given as you become more senior.  You will then need to differentiate yourself through your soft skills.

Finance leaders have an incredible amount of knowledge and provide a unique perspective to your management team.  Soft skills allow you to articulate knowledge in a way that creates significant impact. 

Communication is a vital soft skill

Most experts state that communication is the most important soft skill.  Many people feel overwhelmed in their roles and rely upon your communications to provide clarity. 

Finance leaders play a huge role in sharing the bigger picture, the purpose and the performance of an organisation.  This enables people to understand their role in contributing towards the business.

Your gravitas, presence and how you show up must provide comfort to people.  Your finance leader role is particularly important towards making people feel safe within their roles.

The CFO plays a key role in providing business confidence to the Board and stakeholders.  Therefore, the CFO must always look calm and in control.

Your body language contributes towards 55% of your message, your tone contributes 38% and your voice 7%.  Therefore, you need to be able to communicate through your body language as well as through your words.

Most people across the organisation will not have access to the information that you possess.  You must therefore continuously communicate with everybody to help motivate people to achieve your company’s ambitions.

Listening skills

Your listening skills are also a vital part of communication.  These include asking people the right questions at the right time.  You need to actively listen to people to help them feel their worth in the organisation.  This often results in a huge impact on people’s performance.

Active listening helps you to understand other people’s perspectives.  This also supports your decision-making and allows you to factor in a wider range of insights.

You can assess your listening skills by trying to recollect what somebody has told you after a conversation.

Why is storytelling so powerful?

Storytelling is an essential form of communication as it helps to bring things to life.  People absorb information in different ways and may find it easier to relate to stories.

Finance leaders need to adapt their communication to different audiences.  Most other people will not possess your level of technical ability or access to information.  Storytelling can help to bridge this gap.

Showing vulnerability

Vulnerability can be a great approach for building a connection with people.  This helps people get to know you better and portrays you as being more approachable.  People are prepared to show much more vulnerability within today’s culture compared to previous generations.

Most people feel vulnerable in many ways and may find it easier to relate to others who experience similar emotions.

How to improve your soft skills

Finance leaders need to start by acknowledging the importance of soft skills.

You should start by continuously self-assess your current levels of performance. For instance, think about how others may perceive you.  Then, consider the impact of your behaviour amongst your colleagues.

Look around you for strong role models and weak performers.  Observe their behaviour traits and determine what may work for you.  However, do not attempt to become a clone of somebody else as you need to remain as yourself.

Once you have determined your shortfalls, you need to create an action plan to improve your soft skills and dedicate significant time towards practising this.

You will need to develop excellent soft skills to become the best finance leader that you can be.

For more details, finance leaders should work through GrowCFO’s Soft skills competency module

Mentoring will improve soft skills

Soft skills are much harder to learn than hard skills, which you can often learn via textbooks.

A professional mentor will work with you to determine your career aspirations, address your skills gaps and challenge you in the right areas.  In addition, they will become your biggest supporter and will help you to reach your highest level of potential.    

Mentors work through specific scenarios with you to determine how you can develop each skill as you work through your career.  Your mentor will also challenge you and provide honest feedback, including delivering the harder messages.  You will move forward together to achieve your aspirations.

In summary, soft skills are essential towards your career but can be difficult to develop. As a result, finance leaders need to dedicate significant time towards methods to improve your soft skills to achieve your full potential.

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