Experience is said to be the best way to learn, but it doesn’t have to be your own experience. By leveraging the experience of others and seeking out learning and continuing professional education opportunities, you can gain knowledge, skills, and abilities that will help you to outperform your peers who take a passive approach to upskilling and professional development.
Observing or listening to the experiences of others, asking them questions, and leveraging the lessons they learned have helped me to become a more effective and successful finance leader. While technical skills are a requirement, soft skills such as an effective leadership style and persuasiveness play an even more significant role in our success. There’s a basic approach that can have a positive impact on career success and enable us to more effectively use all the management tools in our toolbox.
After many years of experience in leadership roles observing and managing others, I’ve come to appreciate the benefits of a simple, consistent, and disciplined approach in all we do and its subsequent impact on professional development. Success is often derailed when we lack discipline or perspective and disregard simple elements in all we do as finance leaders. When I only partially commit to following best practices, I don’t achieve the same level of results as when I do follow them. The three steps are preparation, perspiration, and perseverance. They’re simple, but they require discipline to implement.
Intuition and gut feelings are important, but we still need to be disciplined enough to prepare ourselves properly to achieve a level of comfort with the facts, context, and actions necessary to address issues successfully. That means delving below the surface to attain a deeper understanding of a situation and the people involved in it and acquire additional background information to better grasp the nuance and context of the issues in question.
Whether making a presentation or taking part in a meeting, individuals should never be caught unprepared. Don’t wait until just before a meeting or event to review the material, as you probably won’t have sufficient time to master it and put your best foot forward. Take time to prepare for a discussion or presentation well in advance so you can add the most value. Your review of the subject matter should go beyond just the material being presented. As you prepare, ask yourself questions that can only be answered by going beyond the basics. Take the time you need to find those answers. Prepare for a broader discussion of the material being discussed by broadening your perspective and deepening your knowledge.
I always prepare for questions that might go beyond the distributed material. This approach establishes me as more knowledgeable and consequently a person who’s often asked for their opinion, rather than having to find an opportunity to share my perspective. I listen to others to gain an understanding of different perspectives rather than focusing on my response to their comments. But if I’m asked for information that’s beyond my knowledge base, I’m never afraid to admit that I don’t know. When that occurs, I fill that knowledge gap.
Being proactive and prepared is a differentiator that sets you apart as a respected leader. This diligent approach will garner you the respect and support of your colleagues and the recognition of your superiors. My rule of thumb is once you think you’re prepared, go over it one more time for good measure. Practice makes progress, as they say.
Since being a successful leader requires more than intuitive knowledge, we all need to devote the effort to make certain that we perform our duties properly. I call this step “perspiration” because it takes work and effort to make certain that you’re intimately familiar with all the material at hand, and that often means investing the “sweat equity” to master everything you need to know to lead a team, department, or organization. When managers don’t make sufficient effort, they can get themselves into trouble by assuming they know more about the issues at hand because of their closeness to the subject, either through position, experience, or education.
I often review material at least two or three times to make certain that I’m confident in my understanding of the relevant facts of a situation, issue, decision, or undertaking. I do this to reaffirm my views and understand different perspectives.
Lead by example. Work harder than you expect the people who report to you to work. If you’re not sweating, then you probably aren’t working hard enough.
Even the best leaders experience setbacks, disappointments, and even failures. When the going gets tough, perseverance comes into play. Successful leaders seek an understanding of all positions, especially during a challenging period or crisis. They make certain to consider others’ knowledge and opinions to ensure that the best possible decision is made, not just to reaffirm their own position. They seek various perspectives, so they see all sides of an issue.
Leaders persevere in the face of dissent and obstacles to seek a greater degree of understanding, making certain that even if all parties can’t agree with the decision made, they can at least follow the rationale used to make it. Leadership isn’t about building consensus; it’s about having conviction and convincing the team to support the decision. Sometimes the best decisions include compromise, while other times they don’t. In either case, successful leaders persevere during tough times to bring closure to the decision-making process so the organization can make progress.
Leaders need to persevere in the face of challenges to bring focus and unity to the team and boost morale when the organization experiences difficulties. Successful people never give up when things don’t go according to plan. One of the best analogies for perseverance over time is the Grand Canyon in the United States, which started out as a small stream, became a river that carved out a gulley, turned into a deeper ravine, and over time became a massive canyon. It symbolizes how people tasked with a pursuit that requires continuous efforts over time can overcome all obstacles and achieve their goal through perseverance.
If you’re well prepared and you invest the necessary time and effort to garner deep knowledge and varied experience and have the tenacity to stick with the task at hand regardless of headwinds, over time you’ll achieve sustainable success and make a positive impact on your career, your employer, and the profession. Preparation, perspiration, and perseverance are key elements of my simple yet sometimes elusive approach to being a successful leader.
For more on this subject, check out the Count Me In podcasts: