Financial Leadership: The CFO Playbook for Strategic Decision-Making

The role of the CFO has evolved beyond the finance function, and from mere gatekeeping to becoming a strategic business partner. Leaders across companies agree. According to Brainyard’s Fall 2020 CFO Insights survey, “38% of non-CFO leaders say the CFO has broad responsibility in the company versus 10% saying the focus is solely finance.”

“Finance chiefs today often oversee more than just the books. They are increasingly in charge of human resources, information technology, and elements of enterprise risk management,” says Wall Street Journal’s Mark Maurer. “Companies increasingly want skilled general managers who possess strategic savvy and a firm grasp of operations in the CFO seat.”

CFOs are in a unique position to bridge the gap between strategy and finance. But to become influential leaders, CFOs should combine instinctive and analytical approaches to support the business as a whole. THE CFO AS A LEADER: WHAT DOES IT TAKE? CFOs can use their financial expertise to inform decisions and actions in all company areas. But many CFOs lack the skills to offer this leadership.

In KPMG’s The View from the Top, 45% of CEOs were concerned about their CFO lacking “commercial (i.e., non-financial) experience and knowledge,” whereas 41% believed they lacked “necessary leadership skills.” A deep understanding of operations and connecting with other business leaders is central to being an excellent CFO who can steer the organization. “As a CFO, you must put in the work to learn about every aspect of the business so you can manage it effectively,” says Tim Steinkopf, former CFO turned CEO of Centrify Corporation.

To lead their business, CFOs also have to expand their intuition to think about risks differently. Instead of always protecting the organization from risk, they need to strategically take the right risks that propel the company closer to its goals. “Get comfortable with the unknown; with moving forward by conferring with your experts, trusting your gut, and learning from your mistakes,” says Robert Rostan, CFO of Training the Street.

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