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Team leadership: a key ingredient in the CFO sauce

I’ve read a number of articles lately regarding what makes a great CFO. They list key attributes, such as business acumen and the ability to lead the business with the management team, but one attribute that’s consistently missed is that a great CFO needs to be a strong leader of her team.

At Ernst & Young’s Northern California Entrepreneur of the Year Award gala event, each award nominee said that the honor would not have been possible without the dedication and support of his or her team. The same applies to a CFO: in today’s world, a CFO’s responsibilities go beyond the debits and credits to include oversight, regulatory filings, HR and IT, as well as being a key member of the management team. Obviously, a CFO needs to hire and retain top-notch performers in order to meet all of her responsibilities.

So how does a CFO build an outstanding team?

First, understand—and acknowledge—your strengths and weaknesses, and hire people whose skills complement yours. In fact, hire people who are more talented than you. We recently worked with a CFO whose strengths lay in M&A and business operations, so he hired a VP of finance with strong technical accounting and operations experience. He also brought in others to handle work that his team was either too stretched to handle or lacked the skill set to complete.

Second, be a mentor. Sharing your knowledge and experience can give valuable insights to key players on your team and increase productivity. In my business, I know where the landmines are. Sharing this knowledge with my team helps them be more productive and make better decisions, which is a win-win for everyone. In addition, don’t underestimate the insight you can gain from those working for you. Younger employees can teach us old-timers how to operate effectively in today’s social media environment, for instance—and though their work styles can be quite different, we could learn a lot from them about teamwork.

As your company grows, it’s important for you and your team to keep learning. Keeping up on today’s ever-changing rules is a no-brainer, but it’s also critically important to stay on top of the context for business operations, like the changing global economy, market shifts and technology advances. This is key: increasingly, CFOs and their accounting teams are moving away from being mere gatekeepers and scorekeepers. Ongoing learning is essential for taking on a more strategic role in a company. And applying critical thinking to decisions and their impact on the business—not just the impact to the financial statements—can be both challenging and rewarding.

Third, remember that communication is important. Everyone says this, but I’m amazed at how often CFOs don’t practice it. Keeping everyone in the know about where the business is heading, your vision for the finance function and how the team can add value helps build a stronger team, among other things.

Last but not least, give credit where credit is due. I’ve seen great teams fall apart largely because they felt undervalued. Openly rewarding top performers not only gives recognition to the person or team, but also sets standards by example and inspires loyalty and a desire to go the extra mile (or miles) when required.

A great CFO needs a great team supporting her. Creating a learning environment, encouraging team members to stretch and grow, recognizing success and communicating your vision will go a long way in helping you be a great CFO.