Coaching is something that you may be already doing as a supervisor. Do not assume that coaching is a soft skill; in fact, it is a mix of both technical and people skills combined in a unique fashion that produces great results for the leader who believes in and uses coaching.
Coaching is dramatically more challenging, yet rewarding, than the out-of-date command-and-control method of managing people. In command and control, the leader dictates the rules and tasks while adhering to a strict chain of command. Employees are not allowed to question these “orders” and can communicate with the leader only through established, formal channels. Because today’s business organisation is flatter and has fewer manager and supervisor positions, it is incumbent that you create and retain a personal connection with each employee who directly or indirectly reports to you. This is why coaching is so important to be a successful controller or CFO.
In coaching, the leader works to foster a personal and open 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 continuous, 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 organisational level
Coaching at the organisational level requires the controller 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 organisation’s success.
The skills that you use in coaching an individual are the same ones you use at the organisational 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 behaviours. Let us recap those skills.
Teaching and training. As the controller or CFO, you are constantly teaching others about the nuances of finance, accounting, and business management. Finance leadership positions are moving toward those of a constant trainer.
Counselling. You will need to hold the hands of other leaders and colleagues as you guide them through difficult situations and tough decisions. In organisational coaching, you will often act as a wise person who dispenses advice and suggestions. And you may need to dispense advice people may not want to hear.
Guiding. Coaches must guide the actions and decisions of other leaders as they make choices and decisions. Although it would be nice if every leader in your organisation had integrity, that is not always the case. Once you choose to be the controller or CFO, you must be willing to shape other leaders’ behaviours and decisions so that they stay focused on solutions and plans that benefit the customer, the organisation, and its stakeholders rather than themselves.
Learning. Although you are an accomplished professional, you still have many things to learn. By keeping an open mind and knowing that you can learn from the examples of other leadership team members, you will ensure your future success and discover that many other avenues exist to channel your talents in the organisation. Some controllers use their experiences and knowledge to become CEOs, venture capitalists, hedge fund managers, niche consultants, and operations executives. The controller’s job is a launching pad that opens the door to the unlimited opportunities available to the person who is willing to stretch beyond what is comfortable and predictable.
Questioning. One of a CFO’s more powerful tools is the use of thoughtful questioning. Instead of relying on declarative statements, a good leader uses questions to open minds to new possibilities. Often, executives and managers are so focused on their agenda that they cannot see beyond it. Because of your wisdom and experiences, you see what the leadership team needs to do to accomplish its strategic initiatives. Therefore, to be an effective CFO, you must acquire the habit of using questions – open-ended and probing – to lead the leadership team to create the conclusions that will help it reach the organisation’s goals.
Relating. One of the strongest ways that you, the controller, build bridges and foster relationships of trust is to use analogies, examples, and stories to get your point across. This means you must speak at the same level of the person being coached. The controller or coach will use examples and stories from many different sources. This requires constant listening, learning, and growing.
Listening. As the organisation’s internal coach, you will rely on the ability to listen with your ears, eyes, and intuition. Managers with hidden agendas or hubris will rarely speak clearly and address the issue. Instead they will circle around the issue. They will resist. They will deny that anything is wrong. Your job is to listen to what is said and unsaid in order 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 organisational conscience as you bring forth those things that need to be expressed and brought out into the open.
Using intuition. Over time, you will 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 organisation. Your intuition is both an asset and your ally for being an effective controller or CFO.
Creativity. The creativity that the CFO needs to be successful in getting others to change is being 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 organisation and other leaders can use to remove obstacles that hinder execution of plans.
Editor’s note: This 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. Rael is founder of The High Road Institute leadership consulting firm.