How to avoid being lonely at the top

Becoming finance director is the start of a whole new journey – and often a lonely one, says Kate Coles

As finance director, you are top dog in your company’s financial arena. You no longer have a more senior finance person to check in with or defer a decision to.

Sounds great … you’re in charge.

On the flip side, your responsibilities have just multiplied exponentially. Not only are you responsible for the whole of the finance team’s activities, whether they report directly to you or not, but the decisions which you make, at both team and board level, will shape the future of the whole business – for better or worse.

That’s a lot of responsibility. How do you stop it from weighing you down?

The burden of responsibility

 The psychological impact of the increase in responsibility is one of the hardest aspects to adapt to in your new role. Technical problems can be researched, and skills can be learned. Yet taking ownership of critical decisions that may make or break your business is an emotional weight that cannot easily be prepared for in advance.

But although there isn’t a practice paper, there are two key actions which will help you bear the load of a finance director.

Build a network – and use it

 Most finance directors have no peer within the confidential boundaries of their business who they can discuss issues with. If you are fortunate enough to have a financially trained peer, whether your CEO, a non-executive director or another board member, it is worth investing time and effort in building up your relationship. Having a sounding board within the company can be invaluable in helping you make confident, balanced decisions.

For those who do not have a financial peer within their company, finding a mentor or a business network to support you can help to lighten the load and bring problems back into perspective.

Do not feel that you must have all the answers just because you are FD. Recognising where you need support and asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness, and you will find your tenure as finance director far smoother if you leverage the knowledge and abilities of those around you.

Relaxation is serious business

 Some people adapt more quickly than others to new roles, but everyone has some sleepless nights.  When you feel isolated in a situation the pressure rises and problems appear worse than they may be.

Stress poses a real threat to anyone in a position of responsibility, especially if there is no easily available peer group or outlet available. Although there may be vast quantities of work to do, it is vital you ringfence time aside for you to do the things you love.

Whether playing sport or an instrument, gardening or cooking, doing something for yourself and relaxing will have a positive impact on your life both at home and at work. Great ideas appear when you least expect them. Taking time out is one of your responsibilities, even if it’s not explicitly on the job spec. Don’t feel guilty about switching off.

Enjoy your company

Humans are a social species. Although being finance director gives you a unique position in the company, it does not mean you have to go it alone. You will find the role far easier and more enjoyable if you build and maintain a strong network around you, both in and out of the office, and your company will benefit too.

Despite the blood, sweat and tears it has taken you to reach the top, it is a great social support network that will keep a smile on your face while you’re there.

Kate Coles is a founding partner of Enhance, providing coaching and mentoring to ambitious finance directors. She can be reached on kate.coles@enhance.finance