Jack McCullough, Founder & President, CFO Leadership Council recently connected with CFOs across our 27 chapters on their rookie mistakes starting out in their careers & the big lessons learned.  He shares his findings.

Jack McCullough, Founder & President, CFOLC

Several CFOLC members recently shared their “rookie mistakes” from earlier in their careers. It’s no surprise that I received some interesting responses. You’ll find as you read through them that most are easy to relate to and may have been one of your “rookie mistakes” too. Well, except the person who wrote back, “I can honestly say I never made a rookie mistake. I was just that good.”  I know this individual and can say his streak of perfection survives until today.

Why ask for “rookie mistakes”? I think it is important for a couple reasons. 1. It shows growth, reflection, and insight to see how far we’ve come as professionals. 2. We can use these insights to mentor others and keep them from making the same mistakes. And of course, they were really funny.

And, let’s close with the greatest error of all: “My mistake was running out of money! Never do that!!  That’s sound advice right there!
Jack McCullough, Founder & President, CFOLC

After reviewing all the responses, there were two overarching themes; communication and relationships. Makes sense, right? At the rookie stage, you’re just getting your feet wet in a new company culture, learning the ropes and taking everything in. Most CFO are technically well-prepared for the role, but it is the softer skills that often need developing.

Relationship Building

Let’s cover relationships first. Here are a few “rookie mistakes” regarding relationship building.

  • “Not meeting all the other executives. It’s so important to know your entire team, not just in the world of F&A.”
  • “Not cultivating a strong relationship with individual board members and large investors. This is extremely important as these are the people that will be making decisions about you and your performance as well as the direction of the company.”
  • “Sitting in my office for two weeks instead of walking around and getting to know the team. Not just your direct reports but the entire company. It got me off on the wrong foot.”
  • “Biggest mistake of rookie CFOs is continuing to work with their head down and not spending enough time talking with other executives and other people outside of Finance. Also, need to spend time with significant suppliers, customers, and other outside parties.”
  • “Build relationships across the organization to work as a strategic partner in adding value. Priority setting, emotional intelligence, and relationship building I would say are the top of my things on the “to do” side.”
  • “Not taking the time to build a relationship with operations.”

Which one of these responses can you relate to the most? The takeaway here is to foster relationships with the people you are going to work with day in, day out. Leaders who are strong communicators can rally the team and get better results as an organization unlike one who sits in their office with the door shut.  It’s also the best way to get to know your business.  An accountant can do his or her role well without understanding the company.  Not so for a CFO or, these days, a controller.

Glad This Wasn’t Me

Before we cover the “rookie mistakes” regarding communication, here are a few responses that make you say, “Glad that wasn’t me”.

  • “Get drunk at the company Christmas party.”
  • “Assume that the company has casual Friday without checking and rocking your Metallica T-shirt to work.”
  • “Call the predecessor a moron before finding out she is the wife of the President.” Hey, don’t be so judgmental.  Who amongst us hasn’t called the boss’s spouse a moron?

Communication Faux Pas

Now, on to communication. This ties in well to the first most prevalent theme, relationships. Because if relationships are lacking, so is communication. Here are some of our esteemed colleagues’ communications faux pas include:

  •  “Communicating negative financial results to a stakeholder prior to my boss knowing about it.”
  • “When a company is engaged in a lawsuit, DO NOT talk about it in an email. Do not email your attorney unless the email is marked, “Attorney/Client Privileged”.”
  • “Brief board members in advance of board meeting on a new and potential significant investments or expense items.”
  • “Navigation skills between the CEO and BODs, especially when there are differences of opinion.”
  • “When presenting financials and analysis to non-financial people, do not assume that everyone speaks finance. Tailor your presentation so that everyone can understand.”
  • “When asked to do something by your CEO, get it in writing. There have been times where there’s been a miscommunication between the CFO and CEO. better to restate in an email back for confirmation than second guess.”

And, let’s close with the greatest error of all: “My mistake was running out of money! Never do that!!  That’s sound advice right there!

“Above all, use these responses as a reminder of how important workplace relationships and communication are in your organization.”
Jack McCullough, Founder & President, CFOLC

After reading these responses, I hope it served as an opportunity to see how you have grown from a rookie up the career ladder. Above all, use these responses as a reminder of how important workplace relationships and communication are in your organization.

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About The CFO Leadership Council

The CFO Leadership Council offers both live & online programs that feature expert panels and interactive sessions driving meaningful conversation and leadership development among our membership. Our collection of leadership development resources contain pragmatic insights and advice sourced directly from our members and industry experts.  Recordings of CFOLC webcasts are made available to our current CFOLC members. CPEs are now offered for our webcasts to current CFOLC members only.  To learn about our membership and connecting with our growing CFOLC community, visit www.cfolc.com.

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