Deloitte US CFO talks emotional intelligence

Connecting with others becomes as important as knowing the numbers.

Times have changed since Pete Shimer, CPA, joined Deloitte more than three decades ago.

The firm has grown and expanded significantly from its origins, and Shimer, the CFO of Deloitte US, has changed, too.

“I believe that I’ve grown in my experiences, being here at Deloitte for 35 years, and in my experience of raising four now adult children,” said Shimer, who coached youth soccer and basketball teams on which his children played. “I [have had] lots of lessons around preparation and how to go forward in competition.

“My competitive nature, largely developed during my time as a college athlete [as a basketball player at the University of Washington] coupled with a desire to build teams and not worry about who gets credit for the results — both of those things have been part of my DNA and helped get me to where I am today, and both have influenced how I view others, how I help people become part of a team, and how I help build teams successfully in an emotionally intelligent way.”

He believes leaders need to focus on more than just numbers these days; they must also help their organisations get ahead by using a high degree of emotional intelligence.

“It’s something that cuts across the entirety of the C-suite, in my view,” Shimer said of the need for increased emotional intelligence.

More diversity, he added, has brought different views to organisations. CFOs need to be able to respond to differences in points of view and differences in the way people think. While finance personnel will always need to have a high level of technical expertise, they can take their careers to the next level by combining financial know-how with emotional intelligence.

“The relationships between CEO, CFO, CIO, CTO, CMO, and COO used to be more siloed, and you didn’t need to have that [emotional] intelligence,” Shimer said. “You had to be a subject-matter expert and you had to be able to go deep in your subject matter, but you didn’t have to be as wide [knowledge-wise]. You had to be deeper.”

Listen more than you speak

Regardless of the business that they are in, he added, today’s CFOs must connect with people that they would not necessarily have connected with in the past and think in their terms. By extension, CFOs need to harness their emotional intelligence to get through difficult situations.

“And if you don’t focus on it, then you’re destined to encounter much more challenging situations than ever before,” said Shimer. “That [requirement], to me, is something that has changed significantly over time.”

Shimer believes that emotional intelligence is primarily an experiential, rather than an innate, skill. He practises emotional intelligence by striving to listen more than he speaks, to “suspend self-interest” and to put himself in other people’s shoes.

He tries to develop emotional intelligence within his team by having a member share a meaningful quote during the weekly team meeting. Each brief session allows Shimer to get a glimpse of the quote-sharer’s “personal soul”.

“When people come on to my team, I have a very direct conversation about the fact that they are coming into a team that cares about communication and cares about what other people think,” Shimer said. “It cares about the individual. It doesn’t care about who gets credit. It’s more about the team result than the individual result, and we practise that [approach] on a regular basis.”

Speaking in plain language

Jonathan Simnett, a director at London-based Hampleton Partners, looks for emotional intelligence in the CFO when getting to know a company for the purpose of an acquisition. An emotionally intelligent CFO is as vital as an astute CEO in the M&A process, and emotional intelligence can have a marked effect on final negotiations.

“That is no place for a blustering bull in a china shop,” said Simnett, who has written on the importance of emotionally intelligent CFOs.

The best CFOs stand out to Simnett for their creative ability to glance at a set of company accounts, instantly spot key issues in a strategic context, and describe them in plain English.

“A CFO worth their salt needs to be able to assemble and pick out the key elements of budgets, forecasts, and accounts and communicate them effectively — not just to other leaders in the business, but to the company as a whole,” Simnett said.

A great CFO, he added, must also be able to look for the right investments, acquisitions, or exit strategy while contributing effectively to day-to-day operations. Emotionally intelligent CFOs stand out through their self-motivation, emphasis on a team-based approach, and ability to differentiate a leader from a boss.

“A boss commands; a leader asks,” said Simnett. “A boss drives employees; a leader coaches them. A boss depends on unquestioning authority; a leader generates goodwill. A boss inspires fear, whereas a leader generates enthusiasm.”

A leader also sorts out problems, shows others how to do things, and develops people, while a boss “uses” them.

— Monte Stewart is a freelance writer based in Canada. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Neil Amato, an FM magazine senior editor, at Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com.