For aspiring finance executives, you’ve probably come to know a thing or two about the Four Faces—Strategist, Catalyst, Steward, and Operator. Still painting a healthy picture for those looking to climb the ladder, the last few years has seen these roles grow and branch out as finance has become more tightly intertwined with the rest of the organization.

Strategists need to see potential outcomes. Stewards need to take control of other areas. Catalysts need to be more agile, and Operators need to empower others to drive efficiency. But how have these roles diversified and what should you do to adapt?

What Skills Do You Need to Develop for a Shot at Tomorrow’s C-Suite?

As highlighted in a recent CFO article, tomorrows CFO will need to go beyond the four faces model, now seeing a healthy number of new responsibilities in coming years. Though some will be familiar, others will require a new approach.

1) Strategist: A Familiar Face and Expected Role

One of the well-known roles of today’s CFO is the strategist. Expected to shape the future of the organization, your ability to plan initiatives and allocate resources in the steps leading up to a goal is pivotal. Though this has become more challenging during the COVID pandemic, a return to normal will require a return to big picture approaches.

This ability to be a trusted strategic adviser is crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to one industry veteran. “The current crisis is fundamentally a financial one and, as companies change their business models, the CFO has to be front and center in that decision-making process,” says Jack McCullough, president of the CFO Leadership Council. 

2) Cross Functional Expert

Tomorrow’s CFOs will need to go beyond the finance-only mentality and have a firm grasp on operations.

“While general manager experience isn’t realistic for many CFOs, there are other ways to learn more about and understand other areas of the business.”

Terry Coelho, executive vice president and CFO of specialty pharmaceutical company BioDelivery Sciences International, adds that “[CFOs should] Go out with a sales rep to see what challenges they’re facing and hear what customers are saying. If you manufacture goods, walk the production line and learn more about the logistics challenges.”

3) Data Storyteller

One of the biggest needs for any finance department is a person who can present, and new technologies have allowed key players to do even more with data.

“Stakeholders want CFOs to not only report the numbers but also share the story behind them. […] the CFO needs to be able to walk people through the meaning behind data so that they understand the implications and next steps on the journey.”

Learn more about your path to becoming a data storyteller in our recent webcast on the power of business intelligence.

4) Psychic

You’re not simply presenting the facts, you’re predicting the future. Financial planning is one thing, but tomorrows CFOs will need to get even more out of forecasting, providing accurate information quickly and efficiently. Scenario planning will be a bigger part of strategy, and you’ll need to answer questions about unwritten tax policy, potential regulations, and a variety of other unknowns.

5) Digital Enabler

To get to the role of a data storyteller, psychic, and expert strategist, you’re going to need to put the right technology in action to deliver this. Tomorrow’s CFO needs to be a driver of digital transformation, and today’s finance executive can lead projects to prove this.

Balancing technological aspirations with risk management, cybersecurity, and governance, finance executives have major opportunities to lead digital change.

6) Technology Researcher

Even before you enable, you have to be able to hold your own with IT people and the sales teams trying to convince you. Making decisions is an artform, but before you settle on a technology, you need to have a clear picture of what everything means. This is where the role of technological researcher comes in.

Aspiring finance leaders don’t need to be systems experts—they simply need to know what’s possible and feasible.

7) Agile Expert

Pivot has been thrown around a lot—but you can’t pivot if you don’t have agility. Tomorrow’s CFO needs to adopt a mindset that’s open to new approaches. The business landscape will be more fluid than ever, and with changes hitting you from every side, you’re going to need to react. One of the biggest takeaways? Get comfortable with the unknown.

8) Team Builder

Finance hiring can’t be controlled by the HR department. Though understandably time consuming for anyone within the finance space, you’re hiring for growth and culture—not simply to check a few boxes.

We discussed this in our article on the five things you should do to position yourself on a path to promotion, noting that,

“Your CFO brought you on for a reason—he or she needed someone worthy of trust, someone that wasn’t in need of micromanagement, and someone who could provide an at-a-glance look. Your role thrives on pulling the right levers to get the machine working, but as a CFO, you’re hiring people to operate and maintain this accounting machine.

“You cannot be a successful CFO if you’re in the weeds on month-end close, financial reporting, or bogged down in the day-to-day functions of finance and accounting,” says Weitzel. “I think this is the most important [tip for aspiring CFOs].””

9) Empathetic Leader

Though some CFOs have impressive technical backgrounds, that generally is not their key to success. The soft skills are what make a great executive. True leadership goes beyond delegation and being good at what you do. Especially in the last year, you’ve had to manage a stressed and remote team, work with customers who just didn’t seem to have the inflow, and more.

This is where empathy comes in and can help to solidify relationships not only with employees, but with customers and suppliers as well.

10) Communicator

With finance more intertwined with other departments, communication will continue to ramp up in importance in coming years. In the past, CFOs might have been focused on communicating with investors and shareholders. Today, they’re sharing company messages and information with employees, customers, suppliers, and the community. 

Learn More: Controller to CFO | The Path to Promotion (On-Demand Webcast)

As a controller, you play a vital role in the organization. An unsung hero and a key player who steers the company through the best and the worst of times, you might be happy in your role. However, you also might be looking for the power and prestige that comes from grabbing the ring and moving into the CFO office.

Interested in getting a promotion? Learn the secrets to success from a CFO that was a controller for multiple organizations. Click here to watch Controller to CFO: Path to Promotion on demand.

Additional Resources

Five Things to Avoid on Your Path from Controller to CFO

Are Licenses Worth It?

The CPE Challenge: Affording Your Continued Education and Focusing on What Matters

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