Traditionally, CFOs have been known foremost for their financial acumen and analytical skills rather than for their soft skills, such as social networking, communications and storytelling.
But in today’s environment the ability to influence, collaborate and communicate effectively with others across generations, the workforce, leadership, and clients and customers is just as important for CFOs, says Pete Shimer, Chief Financial Officer and US Managing Partner, Finance & Administration, at Deloitte.
He discusses how emotional intelligence (EI) helps him build high-talent teams, communicate effectively and strengthen decision-making, and what it means to be an emotionally intelligent leader.
“Unless you have an appreciation for how other people might see the world differently from you, whether it’s your clients, your staff, or other C-suite executives, you are going to have a difficult time building and maintaining strong relationships”
What does it mean to you to be an emotionally intelligent leader?
Effective leadership is about taking in all of the information, synthesizing it and then making a decision and standing behind that decision. Many leaders are afraid to make hard choices or bold decisions, even if they think the choices are the appropriate ones because they’re worried about the consequences and want to avoid conflict.
Emotional intelligence helps me be a bolder decision-maker because it provides a framework for understanding the consequences of decisions and how they might impact people, and for incorporating that understanding into the decision-making itself.
Leaders are also defined by the teams they build. Regardless of how skilled you may be, you need to rely on other highly skilled people for success.
So to me, being emotionally intelligent is also about how well leaders can fit their own technical skills, experience and business know-how within the paradigm of a team and how well they can utilize and rely upon the skills of others to achieve common goals.
For example, I view myself as somebody who understands the technical details and really enjoys the analytics, but who also excels at interpersonal relationships and prioritizes bringing people and groups together to find common ground.
Unless you have an appreciation for how other people might see the world differently from you, whether it’s your clients, your staff, or other C-suite executives, you are going to have a difficult time building and maintaining strong relationships over the long term.
How do use emotional intelligence in your role as a CFO?
Whether I’m working with my team, other leaders in the firm or clients, I try to put myself in other people’s shoes and dig deeper to really understand their needs and expectations, what they’re thinking and why.
I find EI critical to my ability to develop and sustain a talented finance team, and to foster trust, open communication and camaraderie among team members. One simple, yet effective example is the way we begin our weekly staff meetings.
Each week, a different team member offers a quote or statement of the day and briefly explains why it’s meaningful, why it struck a chord. Those quotes and statements help us all learn just a little bit more about each of us and who we are.
Starting our meetings that way sets a collaborative tone, helps deepen the connective tissue between people, and gets each of us to stop and think about our bigger purpose here. And it literally takes one to two minutes.
Outside my team, I use EI to communicate and build relationships with other leaders across the organization and with clients.
CFOs often work closely with people who may not be trained in finance, and they need to understand different viewpoints and effectively communicate their own. My EI skills help me anticipate and address the questions or convictions of other leaders while staying true to my views and the analysis my team has put together.
For example, when I work with other leaders across the organization, I have my team boil down the financial details into an executive summary, which I use to explain the finance insight or analysis in the language of the function I’m working with, as opposed to communicating solely in finance terms.
That helps create a stronger dialogue, which is more productive than a one-way communication in my opinion.
“An emotionally intelligent leader understands that strong leadership means thinking about and doing what is important for the team and the organization as a whole rather than for a specific individual”
Could you highlight one or two aspects of emotional intelligence that help you be an effective CFO?
Two aspects are particularly important. The first one is the ability to be calm and act with deliberation when the pressure mounts instead of giving in to emotions and being overly reactive.
Distressing situations or issues of concern are inevitable. Those are the times when CFOs most need to be the voice of wisdom, reason and objectivity. Control over one’s emotions and reactions is particularly important for CFOs who report earnings and communicate with the investor community, but it’s also critical for interactions with other leaders and the board.
The second one is self-awareness – understanding one’s strengths and weaknesses, and acting on that knowledge. For instance, I build my team with the skillsets that supplement my abilities. Then I rely on their abilities, delegating responsibility and allowing them to do things their way – even if they choose a way that’s not my first choice.
Delegating can help make others more effective because they respond by working hard to live up to the responsibilities entrusted to them. For instance, when I rely upon someone who’s better at strategy than I am, to help me make strategic development decisions, it makes me a more effective leader.
How do you work on improving your emotional intelligence skills?
Deloitte has developed a couple of tools for relationship-building that I have found to be helpful in honing my EI skills. One is the Business Chemistry® framework for helping people understand how they and others think, behave and respond to people, and to apply that understanding in a business environment to better relate to others.
I also draw upon another Deloitte methodology developed to help people create what we call “moments that matter” – opportunities for exceptional experiences that generate lasting value and spark deep relationships.
One of that methodology’s key takeaways for me is the importance of walking in other people’s shoes, which I mentioned earlier. Another is being able to suspend self-interest in the service of helping others for a bigger purpose.
That lesson helped me get through a challenging point in my career when I wasn’t selected for a position I had sought. It taught me the importance of committing to the success of the colleague who did get the role, as that was the right thing to do for both us and the organization.
Honoring my commitment in that personally challenging time taught me a lesson in the value of putting others ahead of myself.
In practical terms, how can CFO sharpen their EI skills?
There’s no better way to practice EI than participating in a team or group activity. I have coached a lot of sports teams, and those experiences have helped me learn how different people react under stressful circumstances and to figure out how to respond positively to those situations.
I’ve found that team and group activities help participants develop a greater awareness of their own role and skillsets and how they fit into achieving success as a group. An emotionally intelligent leader understands that strong leadership means thinking about and doing what is important for the team and the organization as a whole rather than for a specific individual.
It’s about combining the golden rule – treat others as you want to be treated – with being mindful of the perspectives of others.
About the Author
This Deloitte CFO Insights article was developed with the guidance of Dr. Ajit Kambil, Global Research Director, CFO Program, Deloitte LLP; and Lori Calabro, Senior Manager, CFO Education & Events, Deloitte LLP. For more information about Deloitte’s CFO Program, visit www.deloitte.com/us/cfocenter.
Copyright © 2017 Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved.