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It may sometimes seem like an impossible task to reach the heights of the accounting and finance industry. It’s certainly not easy, but there are ways to make the rise to a CFO or Finance Director position less daunting… 

…one of those is to heed the advice of those who’ve already done it, like our founder and Managing Director Chris Argent.

Chris held finance leadership roles at companies such as CMS Distribution, BT and SSP Group before moving into Enterprise digital transformation roles at John Lewis, Amazon, British American Tobacco and Vodafone.

When seeking advice for finance and accounting professionals who have their eyes on the prize of leadership, he’s the perfect one to speak to – so I did.

Remember, this is a quick guide so it won’t have all the answers, but it will certainly put you on the right track to the top…

How it feels to start a leadership role in finance

I thought it would be best to start by evoking some memories for Chris on how it felt to enter senior finance positions.

“I was always excited to take on any position”, Chris said. 

“It usually meant that I had done a great job: I’d got the team’s confidence, I’d got the leadership team’s confidence, I’d probably delivered on a project or delivered on my role over a long period of time.”

“With a promotion and stepping up into a new role, there’s an affirmation that goes along with it that you’re doing the right thing.” 

“At the same time, you have a new team, and you have new responsibilities, and you will have to adjust to that.”

Learning from your team

“Managing people can be daunting. This is especially true in large teams, where not only are you managing them, but you need to be seen as a leader as well.” 

“There are new things to learn from those people, from the new responsibilities that you’ve been given. I’ve sometimes in the past assumed that my success will continue by doing the same things that I did before – I’ve been wrong to assume that.”

“When you move up into a new position, speak to your peers, to people who are already doing that job, and to people who are in your new team.” 

“Take on a broader set of ideas so you can bring something new to the role.” 

“I would meet lots of people in the industry, I would listen to webinars, I would do my own research.” 

“I recommend the book ‘First 100 Days’. It’s about targeting key decisions that need to be made within the first 100 days of any new role.”

“It also encourages you to have a series of conversations with your boss and your team to set expectations and make sure you’ve got the plan right, you’ve got the right resources, and you’re really trying for significant change – not necessarily implementing the change, but setting the tone for change in the first 100 days.”

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Friends, foes, focusing on yourself – what changes when you become a finance leader?

Next, I moved on to asking Chris about things he didn’t expect, or things that become different when you go from finance team member or accountant to CFO.

“I think what changes as you move up the ranks is your peers become both friend and foe.” 

“When you’re a team member, you’re all on the same page and the team is likely to be structured. There’s more of you as well, so there’s naturally camaraderie, shared approach and even the sort of social side of things is quite natural.”

“As you move up into leadership positions, you’re responsible for a team and you are focused on your own role and position. Creating a team of leaders is actually quite different to creating an operational team that you have full say over.”

Managing a team and managing your vision

“You will have experts in the room, you will have strong personalities, because that’s how they’ve got there – you will have peers challenging you.”

“Like I say, it could be friend and foe. So I think you need to be ready to manage across as well as down as you start to move into those leadership positions.” 

“For my first couple of leadership roles, that really surprised me, because I thought ‘everyone’s gonna get on, and we’re all going to work according to how I’ve worked as a team’.”

 

“As the pressure comes on with those senior roles, you’re focused on what’s going to make you a success, and have less time and brain space to worry about other people across the team.”

 

“A CFO trying to manage an expert team is a huge task. The people that get it right have a strong vision, treat everybody as individuals – they really get the people management side, the coaching side. They lean into problems, they never shy away. That’s obviously why they’re in the senior position that they are.”

What NOT to do to become a finance leader

I wanted to close the interview with some valuable takeaways. So, I asked Chris for advice on what you should all avoid if you want to advance into a finance or accounting leadership role. 

“I would avoid being a traditional accountant. I would avoid being normal in a group.” 

“Put your hand up for projects. If you have time to do things, then don’t just think ‘oh, great. I’ve got some time to go shopping or pop to the pub or whatever.’” 

“Go to your boss and ask, ‘Is there anything else that I can do?’, or ‘I’m interested in doing this this Friday project’. Just put your hand up.” 

“I know a lot of controversial characters who have gone on to become great leaders. Some people might have looked at their behaviour and gone ‘this guy doesn’t fit into a finance team’ or ‘this person should be getting disciplined for that behaviour’, and ‘this is totally overstepping the mark!’”

“From a leadership and HR perspective, sometimes there’s a reason for that behaviour. It’s because they’re bright, it’s because they want the next project, it’s because they are challenging the status quo – all really good trades for a good leader.” 

“If it doesn’t come naturally to you, then go and learn from other people. Try not to be normal – unless you want to stay in the same role for 10 years and have no leadership experience.”

Want MORE tips and strategies to advance your career?

We have over 50 industry experts to do just that. Elevate your career at the virtual GENCFO live Summit, in partnership with ACCA, on the 8th and 9th of June 2022.

Whether you are looking for ways to advance, or ways to optimise your organisation, or ways to manage you and your team’s mental health, there’s definitely a session for you at the Summit.

Click the button below to explore GENCFO live and build your agenda…