Sophia Toh, an executive coach and CEO of Illuminate U Coaching, dedicated 20 years of her career to the corporate world before embarking on her coaching journey.


She held executive finance and accounting positions at Kraft Heinz and Procter & Gamble (P&G), where she managed the financial aspects of multibillion-dollar brands. During her tenure, Toh served as CFO of Walker & Company Brands, a P&G subsidiary, and as CFO of a $5 billion business unit and vice president of financial transformation at Kraft Heinz.


Strategic Finance: How can accounting and finance professionals lead the way in navigating a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) environment at their organizations?


Sophia Toh: As the backbone of an organization, driving governance, financial clarity, and strategic direction, accounting and finance professionals can navigate the VUCA environment by leveraging data-driven insights for informed decision making. By fostering adaptability and continuous learning, they stay ahead of industry trends and technological advancements. Operating often in the proverbial eye of the storm, they play a pivotal leadership role in cultivating a culture of psychological safety, encouraging innovation and risk-taking, while also serving as stewards to ensure corporate governance.


SF: How did you empower your team to navigate the VUCA environment when you were a CFO?


ST: I focused on the five C’s of leadership:


Connection: I work to ensure my team feels connected to me as their leader.


Clarity: Especially in a VUCA environment, I make sure to provide clarity in my communication with frequency and transparency. Many times, people on the front line can help create solutions because of their proximity to operational problems, and providing enough context is essential to execution success.


Community: I encourage my team to collaborate and share ideas with each other to build trust and teamwork.


Care: I strongly believe that by demonstrating my authentic care and respect for my team, we build trust and psychological safety, fostering a healthy and high-performing team culture.


Consistency: I make sure my words and actions are consistent. As a leader, the buck stops with me, and I need to demonstrate my commitment to support the success of my people and my organization.


SF: What are the four stages of psychological safety, and how do they play into VUCA and what accounting and finance professionals do on a daily basis?


ST: I am a certified trainer and facilitator for the Four Stages of Psychological Safety. The four stages are inclusion safety, learner safety, contributor safety, and challenger safety. These stages facilitate an environment where individuals feel included and empowered to learn, contribute, and challenge the status quo without fear of repercussion. In the VUCA world, accounting and finance professionals deal with rapid changes, uncertainties, and complex data. Psychological safety enables them to adapt by fostering innovation, collaboration, and resilience. They can confidently speak up, navigate risks, share insights, and propose solutions, which is crucial for making informed decisions and driving strategic initiatives.


SF: In your role as an executive coach, how do you instruct accounting and finance professionals to be leaders in their organizations and make positive changes?


ST: Coaching is forward-looking. As an executive coach, I partner with, but do not instruct, my clients in a creative and thought-provoking manner to unlock their potential, guiding them toward achieving personal and professional goals. I assist my clients in developing self-awareness, clarifying goals, and overcoming barriers to success. Through personalized strategies and action plans we co-create, I help clients enhance their leadership skills, improve decision making, and navigate complex organizational dynamics. Executive coaches act as catalysts for leaders’ development, aiding them in leading more effectively and achieving excellence. My finance and accounting training, along with 20 years of experience, has enabled me to quickly understand my clients’ corporate and work environments when partnering with them.


Sophia Toh will be a keynote speaker at IMA’s Americas Accounting & Finance Conference, themed “Inspire Tomorrow,” taking place June 9-12, 2024, in San Antonio, Texas, where she’ll co-present “Thriving in a VUCA World: Psychological Safety and Leadership.”  

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