How to behave when you land your first FD role

Kate Coles, founder of Enhance coaching and mentoring, on what to do when you’re promoted to financial director

Congratulations. You’ve landed your first financial director role; now the real challenge begins. With the whole finance function and the board looking to you, how do you transform yourself from being a senior team member to a company leader?

Under the microscope

 In leading the finance function, everyone is looking to you to not only set the tone and financial direction for a business, but also for your team. That will include goals and targets, what work to prioritise, how to treat team members and how to work with other departments. You are not only shaping their workload, but your behaviour actively impacts how the team conducts and presents itself.

You may understandably feel nervous or unsure in your new role, yet this is not the time to display vulnerability. A significant responsibility of your role is to inspire confidence in your leadership.

As a board member and team leader, your body language is under the microscope and any nervousness or doubt in your attitude will be magnified and reflected back by your team. Our experience has shown that in this senior level role, any display of behaviour from you will lead to copycat attitudes from your staff, whether relaxed, aggressive, stressed, or devil-may-care. You are truly leading by example.

This is not to say plaster on a smile and fake an attitude: authenticity of character is deeply important as you establish your personal take on being FD in the company. Even if you are feeling under immense pressure, keeping cool and leading your team calmly will bring benefits.

Nobody’s perfect

 It’s okay not to have all the answers. Your team and peers will respect you for admitting to limitations. It’s far better to flag an area you want help or support with than bluff it out, guess, or spend hours sweating out a solution, instead of using your team and peer group effectively.

Your team’s performance will follow where your mood leads and, in a virtuous circle, you will end up with reduced stress levels if you have a happy, capable team you are confident in delegating to.

Unconscious messaging

 When contributing to board meetings, presenting numbers or commenting on proposals, your demeanour will influence the outcome as much as your words. The board is your peer group, so you are not “being looked up to” per se; however, you are the resident financial expert. Your reactions will be noticed and interpreted, rightly or wrongly, by others.

It is all too easy to dismiss softer skills like body language, but that would be a mistake. Sit up straight, pay attention, look the part, play an active role. There are many tips out there for conquering nerves and making good impressions, ranging from learning a presentation by heart to having a private dance to a favourite song before your meeting – you need to find out what works for you.

Life through a lens

As FD you are now a highly visible member of your company, effectively a celebrity inside the business. Think about how celebrities are portrayed in magazines – what image they choose to project and how they perpetuate it. Are they always smiling? Always pouting? Always immaculate? Do they have outbursts and how does the media and public react? How would your colleagues react?

Work out what description you want attached to you: what qualities and image do you want to convey to others? Think about how you need to realise this through your actions and behaviours.

What headline would you get in a magazine? And, most importantly, is your behaviour recognised as genuine? The last thing you want is to be regarded as fake news.

Kate Coles is one of the founders of Enhance, providing coaching and mentoring to ambitious finance directors. For more information visit enhance.finance