In today’s rapidly evolving economy, every company needs to be looking for an
edge to satisfy its customers’ needs and deliver a healthy return for
shareholders. Not too long ago, having a strong CEO as the unquestioned leader
was enough; however, today, every employee needs to help lead the company to
success. This is especially true for finance professionals, who occupy a unique
position within the company that allows them to understand the financial and
operational drivers of success.
This understanding holds great responsibility, but it also provides a tremendous
opportunity for finance professionals to expand their role and influence as
trusted leaders. Such leaders are reliable, technically competent, and capable
of providing business insight. They have the ability to communicate precisely
what has and will likely happen, helping drive decisions that lead the company
in the right direction at the right time.
Given that the trusted leader concept is somewhat nebulous, it helps to consider
a well-known example. There’s none better than a leader at his best during a
time of crisis. In late 1982, James Burke led Johnson & Johnson through the
Tylenol poisoning crisis that killed several people and threatened to destroy
the faith of its customers. Although Burke was the CEO, the lessons learned from
his leadership during this crisis equally apply to finance professionals today.
Burke was a proven leader who had steadfastly earned the trust of his employees
through insight, influence, and excellent communication. He foresaw the risks
and took decisive action that saved the Tylenol brand.
Burke’s admirable leadership demonstrates the power and efficiency of a good
leader. However, trusted leaders don’t have to be CEOs. They can, and should,
exist at all levels of the organization. So what does it take to become a
trusted leader? First and foremost, finance professionals must be very adept at
the technical aspect of their jobs. All business partners must know this basic
assumption is true before they give their trust.
Beyond that, it takes the right attitude — one that focuses on learning new
skills and going beyond the task at hand to make the business successful.
Business associates presume that trusted leaders have the right experience to
help them navigate the ambiguity in today’s environment. It’s not necessary to
have a 10-page résumé, but it certainly helps to have experiences that provide a
basis for guidance.
Trusted leaders also have to be capable of working up and down the hierarchy,
and they must be comfortable dealing with opposing, and often conflicting,
Last, trusted leaders must not be afraid to lead. It sounds obvious, but too
many finance professionals get hung up in the hierarchical order and are afraid
to step into the light as a leader when the company needs them most.
The journey to becoming a trusted leader is not an easy one, nor is it simply a
checklist that can be marked off. Trust has to be earned through time and
consistent effort, but in the end, the payoff is much greater than the effort
expended. Trusted leaders can get things done more expediently and with less
cultural friction, which allows a company to work more efficiently and adapt
more quickly. Efficiency and adaptation are two key elements for satisfying
customers’ needs and delivering a strong return to shareholders. With a reward
this great, it’s a journey worth taking.
About the Authors
David Elrod, CMA, CPA, is a financial director at Microsoft. Geoff Norby,
CMA, CFM, is a finance director at Johnson & Johnson (J&J). Mr. Elrod and Mr.
Norby are members of
IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) Leadership Academy,
which strives to enhance leadership skills and recognize leadership achievements
among IMA members. David can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org and Geoff can be
reached at email@example.com.