Creative Leadership

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” – Jack Welch

Being a leader is a commitment. You are charged with guiding and supporting your team through the good times and the bad. Creative leaders can make enormous contributions through a focus on concentration and self development. So what does this mean exactly? During a recent webcast with Steve Wolff, a CFO for healthcare, technology & SaaS companies, as well as co-chair of our Chicago chapter, breaks down why it’s so important for leaders to commit, contribute and concentrate. He also shares top tips for improving your leadership skills in today’s current climate.

Pro tip: Leaders provide one another calculated and targeted support. They never feel ashamed to ask for help.

Wolff, a true history buff, cites leaders from the past, including Eddie Rickenbacker, Lillian Aubert and Charles Whittlesey, who always led confidently, but yet were still human. His advice is that true leaders are not afraid to be out on the front lines, but also know when they need help from others.

Pro tip: Leaders know their limits. They take care of themselves while maintaining a positive outwardly appearance.

Being a leader doesn’t mean ignoring your own needs. A creative leader know that taking care mentally and physically equates to self preservation, not self indulgence.

Pro tip: Leaders test, retest and crunch data again and again to stay objective in the hunt for optimal solutions.

Wolff advises that this is where some of that commitment to concentration comes into play. As a leader, it’s okay to tell your team you can’t make a decision at this time. It’s wise to entertain multiple viewpoints in the quest for the optimal solution. Specifically for CFOs, it’s important to aim for the center of these five overlapping spheres: the co-pilot, the investigative reporter, the alchemist, the fortune teller, and the cop. He explains that a CFO is responsible for each of these roles (or better yet, guiding the optimal team member to fill each role). The CFO is typically the co-pilot to the CEO; the investigative reporter digs up data to effectively drive better business decisions; the alchemist who transforms that data into usable information; the fortune teller who predicts the future, but by relying on the data; and finally the cop who maintains compliance and internal auditing.

Pro tip: Leaders master their functional discipline. They excel at both mentoring and coaching even if it trains them out of a job. They are an inspiration to others.

Creative leaders coach their team with any resources necessary, whether internal or external. A successful CFO does the work, especially is all the spheres (co-pilot, investigative reporter, alchemist, fortune teller, and cop) aren’t staffed accordingly. Part of this bigger picture is recruiting. A CFO can’t just hire a talented team, it has to be the right team. Four key questions that every CFO should ask during the interview process include (1) Where are you going, (2) Where have you been?, (3) What do you love? Specifically, what drives you at work?, and (4) What do you fear? In other words, what would make you quit or hate your job?

Pro Tip: Either hire and care for the whole person or fail.

Wolff shares from personal experience throughout his career that if you’re not positively impacting, you won’t feel rewarded. He suggests hiring the whole person (don’t forget the four important recruiting questions!) and mentoring them through their entire journey.

Pro tip: Have an agenda that’s bigger than you or your pocketbook.

Marry money with the mission whenever possible. Provide for your team and your organization in order to win big.

Pro Tip: Don’t lose sleep over the small things. A contrarian mindset can help and be ready to improvise.

As a CFO, you might not always have all the answers. The key is leading the team in way that supports the little things, as well as the big picture.

In addition to all Wolff’s words of wisdom, the audience chimed into to share some of their top leadership secrets. Here are three additional pro leadership tips:

  1. Care for your people and work for them.
  2. Walk the talk.
  3. Empower people who don’t yet have a leadership title. Coach them to act like a leader before they actually become one.

No matter how much coaching you receive, being a leader is always a work in progress. Just remember that no matter how many times you stumble, always commit, contribute and concentrate.

Related Articles

Future Finance Organizations Will Require Modern CFOs

How CFOs Navigate The Future Of Finance

Questions Are The Answer: Leveraging The Power Of Inquiry In An Age Of Digital Transformation

About The CFO Leadership Council
The CFO Leadership Council offers both live & online programs that feature expert panels and interactive sessions that drive meaningful conversation and leadership development among our membership. Our collection of leadership development resources similar to this article contain pragmatic insights and advice sourced directly from our members and industry experts.  Recordings of CFOLC webcasts are made available to our current CFOLC Premium & Virtual members. To learn about our membership and connecting with our growing CFOLC community, visit

Want to Continue the Conversation?
We’d love to hear from you. Post a comment about your experiences or provide feedback below to continue the discussion about how creative leadership in the current climate.  Or contact Kristin Todd, Vice President of Marketing, [email protected].