Today's business organization is flatter. It has fewer manager and supervisor positions, and therefore it is incumbent that finance managers create and retain a personal connection with each employee who directly or indirectly reports to them. This is why coaching is so important to be a successful controller or CFO.
Coaching is a mix of technical and people skills combined in a unique fashion that produces great results for the leader who believes in and uses coaching. It is dramatically more challenging, yet rewarding, than the out-of-date command-and-control method of managing people, in which the leader dictates rules and tasks while adhering to a strict chain of command, in which employees are not allowed to question "orders" and can communicate with the leader only through established, formal channels.
In coaching, the leader works to foster a personal relationship with each employee so that these human assets feel that they can tell you the truth when things are going well or going poorly. The communication channels used in coaching are more informal and dependent on continual, face-to-face interactions.
If you are a good coach, you will find that employees trust and believe in you and will do everything they can to ensure that you are successful. This occurs because you have repeatedly demonstrated to your employees that you believe they are valuable and want them to succeed.
Coaching is not controlling, because you are the guide who allows your employees to determine the agenda and goals.
Coaching is not managing, because you are using knowledge and insight to help employees come into their own wisdom.
Coaching is not micromanaging, because you are not doing the work, but instead trusting your employees and letting them successfully stumble so they quickly learn to succeed.
Coaching is not supervising, because you can coach anybody; it does not need to be an employee. You can coach a boss or a colleague. The process of coaching is consistent, and, once you master it, you will find many ways to use it to help others.
COACHING AT THE ORGANIZATIONAL LEVEL
Coaching at the organizational level requires the controller or CFO to be the conscience of his or her company. You must be the person who is willing to raise issues and counsel other leaders on the viability of their goals, plans, and policies. You must be seen as the professional leader who does not have any biases or an agenda other than the organization's success.
The skills you use in coaching an individual are the same ones you use at the organizational level. You must be able to listen beyond words, use questions to open up dialogue, build trust between yourself and your colleagues, and ultimately guide people's thinking and behaviors. Let's recap those skills.
- Teaching and training. Constantly teach others about the nuances of finance, accounting, and business management. Finance leadership positions are moving toward those of a constant trainer.
- Counseling. Hold the hands of other leaders and colleagues as you guide them through difficult situations and tough decisions. You will often act as a wise person who dispenses advice and suggestions. And you may need to dispense advice people don't want to hear.
- Guiding. Be willing to shape other leaders' behaviors and decisions so that they stay focused on solutions and plans that benefit the customer, the organization, and its stakeholders rather than themselves.
- Learning. Keep an open mind and know that you can learn from the examples of other leadership team members. This will ensure your future success and help you discover that many other avenues exist to channel your talents in the organization.
- Questioning. A good leader uses questions to open minds to new possibilities. Acquire the habit of using questions—open-ended and probing—to lead the leadership team to reach the organization's goals.
- Relating. Build bridges and foster relationships of trust by using analogies, examples, and stories to get your point across. Speak at the same level as the person being coached. Use examples and stories from many different sources. This requires constant listening, learning, and growing.
- Listening. Listen with your ears, eyes, and intuition. Managers with hidden agendas or hubris will circle around the issue. They will resist. They will deny that anything is wrong. Your job is to listen to get a sense of what the person is not saying or is trying to hide. By listening carefully and using questions, you become more the organizational conscience as you bring forth those things that need to be expressed and brought out into the open.
- Using intuition. Develop a keen sense of what to say and what not to say. This is sometimes called business sense but is, in fact, your intuition. It is wisdom you hone from experience inside and outside the organization.
- Creativity. Be open-minded to new possibilities. This skill works hand-in-hand with intuition. Your creativity comes to fruition when you think of tools, methods, or processes that the organization and other leaders can use to remove obstacles that hinder execution of plans.
This article is an adapted excerpt of the CGMA book The Traits of Today's CFO: A Handbook for Excelling in an Evolving Role, by Ron Rael, CPA, CGMA.
CGMA Magazine is published in conjunction with the Chartered Global Management Accountant designation, which was created through a partnership between the AICPA and CIMA. The magazine offers news and feature articles focused on elevating and emphasizing management accounting issues.