Controllers Must Change Their Habits to Become CFO Material

One of the themes of this site is the importance of taking ownership of one’s own career. The most effective career development is planned, goal-oriented, and deliberate. In this vein, the following article (though dated in some ways) contains insightful and relevant general principles for an aspiring CFO: Why Controllers Aren’t CFO Material: And what you can do to change that.

Korn/Ferry International conducted a study of “what controllers have to do behaviorally, at least, to be viewed as good candidates for that CFO position.” The study focused on decision-making styles and showed that controllers tend to be uni-focused, short-term task oriented, and focused on logical presentation in their conversation habits with others. In comparison, their CFO counterparts “[were] found to be multi-focused and social, participative, always soliciting ideas from others and wanted everyone to participate in gathering ideas and brainstorming ideas.”

Perhaps the most interesting take-away from the article is this:

Styles are not in-grained because of the type of job they’re in, although that might add to it, but for the most part, both experts agreed that these operating styles are more a habit and like any other habit, they can be changed, some easier than others. People develop styles. They are not genetically-engineered or “hard-wired” even though they may appear to be so.

This means that, in spite of certain behavioral tendencies that can become ingrained habits, a reflective and thoughtful controller can focus on changing thought patterns and habits of interaction in order to develop CFO characteristics. While staying focused on a large number of daily tasks, a controller can implement the discipline of collaboration and adopt an approachable demeanor that engenders confidence toward the controller within senior managers and co-workers alike.

The article provides this list and description of “emotional competencies” that CFOs need to have:

  • Ambiguity Tolerance. CFOs need to be comfortable in dealing with uncertainty, diversity, variety and unanticipated change involving people.
  • Composure. They need to remain collected and unflustered in the face of uncertainties, difficulties and frustrations.
  • Empathy. They must make the effort to understand people objectively and accurately. This would include understanding others’ strong and weak points along with their motives and preferences.
  • Energy. They must have the capacity to invest mental energy in dealing with complexity without losing motivation.
  • Humility. CFOs must willingly modify their own behavior methods to accommodate the styles and preferences of others.
  • Confidence. CFOs should be willing to take on assignments that are highly challenging and involve high amounts of risk, especially those that may be riddled with conflict.

Finally, here are six tips for controllers who aspire to develop into CFO material:

  • Take a hard look at yourself and identify your strengths and weaknesses and then work toward modifying your style.
  • Ask a trusted colleague to provide feedback and use that to make changes.
  • Identify a mentor or strong role model who exemplifies the qualities needing development.
  • Seek out an executive search coach to address and work on your weaknesses.
  • Seek out learning opportunities such as seminars that focus on skill sets.
  • Investigate job rotation or move into different departments that would provide opportunities to acquire or hone your desired behavioral skills.

3 thoughts on “Controllers Must Change Their Habits to Become CFO Material

  1. Harry

    Great article.

    It’s always a pleasure to understand the attributes and characteristics that make up a professional in any given context. The tips add value also, as they may be applied in other contexts.


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