A Newly Appointed Corporate Officer
A 36 year-old CPA left the audit practice of a major accounting firm and accepted the position of CFO with a $200 million publicly-held manufacturing company. Having benefited from coaching while in the partner track of the public accounting firm, she requested and was granted the opportunity to participate in a Leadership Development Coaching process focusing on her transition to the new corporate role.
While with the accounting firm, the executive had moved rapidly through its career ladder. Performance evaluations described her as technically sound, a good team player, and accomplished at creating and maintaining client relationships. She was not considered as polished as needed to handle the subtleties of internal politics and played the role of the “teller of the truth” however well received the truth may have been. Her comments were typically well worded and she got her points across, but she rarely accomplished her persuasive purposes and often engendered “push back,” even though her command of facts was exceptional. The executive also displayed defensiveness in response to corrective feedback, however well intended.
The executive first met with the Leadership Development Coach before assuming her new role. The two undertook an analysis of key stakeholders (the CEO, her fellow officers, and direct reports) with whom she knew she would need to interact and created a blueprint by which she could conduct her first meetings with each of them. Her goals in the initial contacts were to establish an understanding of how each person preferred to work, the expectations each held for the other, and ways in which the two could contribute to each other’s success. The executive and the Coach also planned a discussion between the new CFO and the CEO, focusing on a clear articulation of the expectations he had for the position, its short- and medium-range objectives, and its long-term goals. The discussion was intended to gain a mutual commitment to meet at 30, 60, and 90 day intervals to review the progress the CFO was making and to solicit feedback on her performance.
The executive followed the plan and completed a successful round of conversations during the first two weeks of her arrival. Although the responses she received varied from person-to-person, she considered each to be productive in its own way and each allowed her to gain a better understanding of the corporate culture as well as of the person with whom she spoke. The frank and mutual discussions prepared the way for future exchanges of feedback, with a lot less threat than she had experienced before.
The executive and the Leadership Development Coach met in-person or talked over the phone nearly every week for the next six months. The two identified situations as especially challenging for her, arrived at scripts and strategies she could follow in dealing with them, and helped her delay her typically rapid, although not always productive, responses. The executive was thus able to think through what had seemed like automatic responses in the past, arrive at better ways of saying what was on her mind, and keep more of her thoughts to herself. This process of filtering or self-editing allowed her to gain control over some of her emotional reactions as well, and added considerably to her professional flexibility.
The CFO was surprised by the result of the scheduled conversations she had with the CEO. He proved to be very interested in her developing into the role she was to fill and, at her request, expedited the process by which she gained a presence with the Board of Directors and key investors. By the close of the Leadership Development process the two had successfully teamed in preparing for and presenting at the annual shareholders meeting, the CFO had negotiated more favorable banking relationships for the company, and she had established herself as a resource to be called upon by her fellow officers.