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Leading Through Strategy CFO Series

An Observation

During my career, I have had the opportunity to interact with a range of high performing finance executives and have observed their common quest: “How can I become a better leader?” Over time the intensity of this pursuit has observably become more heightened. What’s driving this increased interest by already successful leaders to become even better and what might be needed?

So What’s Driving the Quest?

It is well recognized today’s business environment operates at an increasing pace, driven by several influences. These include increasingly sophisticated technology, connected global markets, the emergence of new competitors and heightened innovation.  All present new opportunities but also unforeseen disruption.  In response, organizations are adopting extended enterprises, new operating models, and matrix flatter organizations.

Although this environment presents exciting opportunities, it also brings daunting leadership challenges.  Executives must be able to lead evolving, complex, virtual organizations.  Acceptance of cultural diversity must be balanced with a common organizational culture. Talent profiles are shifting quickly.  Agility, empowerment, engagement, and speed of decision-making must be realized.  High performance must be delivered.

Our Learnings

Interacting with the many members of The CFO Leadership Council we have heard and observed their challenges in leading today.  They recognize high intellect and strong functional skills are no longer sufficient. These are just table stakes for today’s leaders. The complexity of today’s environment demands a multi-dimensional range of capabilities.

However, defining and formulating the needed capabilities into a useful model is difficult to accomplish given the demands leaders face.  They look for a readily available, multi-dimensional framework that can be easily applied to guide their own and their leadership team’s growth.

Our Leadership Guidance

Aligning our insights with available leadership research, we have formulated a set of guiding leadership principles and a multi-dimensional capability framework.  The principles and the leadership capability framework are complementary since they both apply a multi-dimensional orientation.

Guiding Principles

The leadership journey is best launched when a set of leadership principles is applied to guide the development of a leadership growth mindset. We provide seven principles we believe leaders will find beneficial in guiding their growth:

  • Leaders have a defined sense of purpose and are mission-driven;
  • Leadership is on-going journey, not a destination;
  • Leadership begins with objective recognition of one’s strengths and development needs and reconciling them to the environment one is immersed within;
  • Sustained practice, seeking of objective feedback, and on-going refinement is required;
  • Leadership extends beyond leading others; it is also about leading oneself; how one works across the organization and how one delivers performance;
  • The benefits of effective leadership is best realized when one’s abilities are extended through the teams one leads;
  • Understand the organization one is immersed in and adopt a style that balances who you are with what fits and is an observable model of the organization’s culture (or one that is desired).

Leadership Capability Framework

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Four distinct but highly interdependent dimensions comprise the framework.  Balanced development across all aspects promotes overall leadership growth. Each dimension is supported by a set of capability attributes. The attributes utilize wording designed to enable users to visualize leadership “in the flesh,” and the leadership “styles” one should strive for. A summary of each dimension is highlighted below.  The included framework exhibit details each dimension and its supporting attributes.

Leads Self  – Effective leadership begins with leading oneself since these capabilities are leveraged across the other dimensions.  Leads Self attributes include: having an objective understanding of one’s strengths and development needs; being disciplined in one’s improvement; confident but not being arrogant; possesses emotional intelligence; has a resilient, adaptive character complimented by integrity and a trust winning style.

Leads Others – Heightened organizational diversity requires a leadership approach that actively seeks to understand individual and team capabilities and style differences.  Then, this understanding  is applied to create tailored leadership approaches  that result in high performing individuals and teams.  Attributes include: overtly and actively seeking to understand others perspectives and capabilities; guiding and enabling others development; leading and resolving team conflicts; having effective communication abilities and bringing sustained energy and motivation to the team.

Knows the Organization – Today’s complex extended organizations require leaders who can navigate the organization effectively, understand how it “works’ to create value and where its centers of influence reside.  To succeed organizational skills must transcend one’s functional area.  Attributes include: a strategic systems thinker, having organizational agility,  a change agent, an influencer,  builder of internal networks and alliances, and knowing how gain needed resources for one’s team.

Delivers Performance – The apparent overall success measure applied by many organizations of their leaders is the delivery of performance.  Unfortunately, some leaders focus their leadership approach on the desired performance “outcome”. Our view is that performance is best realized by mastery of the above three dimensions in combination with the capabilities and style leaders apply to deliver performance.  The attributes include: diligence is driving to results, sets priorities effectively, possesses an open, problem-solving mindset,  is innovative and adaptive to change, fact-based in their decision making and accountable for one’s results.


In working with leaders, we recognize having a set of leadership principles and a framework is only a starting point for one’s leadership development.   Having a perspective on how to apply the concepts is where the rubber meets the road.  Future articles will explore each of the framework’s dimensions and share considerations for how one can develop personal strategies and action plans to bring the framework alive.

John Gimpert is the National Programming Chair & Chicago Regional Director at The CFO Leadership Council. 

One of the goals of The CFO Leadership Council is to provide to financial executives our thinking on Leadership.  We believe Leadership is an on-going iterative learning process.  We know no better what to advance the discussion of Leadership than to share it with others.   We are open to hearing your thoughts about our leadership perspectives.  Contact John at [email protected]

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