The leadership role of the finance director is often characterised - caricatured, even - as being about numbers and analysis, providing clarity in complexity and seeking out the killer facts that support a course of action.
Good analysis is of course important, but I would argue that leadership is very much about people. Whether we realise it or not, a finance director will set the tone, influence the office culture and demonstrate effective behaviour every single day.
Setting the tone is important for any leader. For example, if the finance department is striving to provide excellent internal customer service, the finance director needs to demonstrate a strong service mentality and emphasise the importance of service, association and wellbeing. 'Association' is the need to build teams and organise, and 'wellbeing' is about doing this in the context of helping individuals to flourish.
The cultural tone is very important to us at the RNID. We have invested a lot of energy in our management and processes, based on a set of key values: championing the cause and brand, promoting teamwork, inspiring leadership, building trust and delivering results. This gives our staff and volunteers a shared language and makes it clear that we should pay attention to how we do things, as well as what we do.
Values are important, and so are the management skill sets that turn them into reality. Leadership is not all about good management, but it is important. If we neglect management, we can fall into the trap of focusing exclusively on strategy without placing enough emphasis on execution. In the context of the often multidisciplinary teams that finance directors lead, it is important to develop management practices and disciplines in order to make sure leadership is grounded in the day-to-day realities of the role.
Traditional leadership theory tends to focus on the individual as leader. However, creating a team culture where sharing leadership is encouraged is very empowering and can be of great benefit to organisations.
Leadership is a social process, not just a personal skill set. To achieve this shared capacity, we need to create a culture where learning, support and development are privileged. Unlike in traditional leadership, where an individual generates the goals and ideas, the leader in a team culture is the storyteller - or 'meaning maker'. Such a leader helps to tie views, experiences, goals and aspirations together in a way that is coherent, leads to well-executed delivery and is consistent with the values of the organisation.
- Paul Breckell is executive director of finance and corporate resources at the RNID