CEO and CFO Leadership Traits
Every Business Needs for Success

Leading the charge.

  • Inside the Mind of an Innovative Founder
  • Leadership Traits of a Successful CFO

Starting and running a successful business is not for the faint of heart, especially with all of the changing plans and strategies coming out of the pandemic. Effective leadership takes courage, vision, agility, creativity, and good old-fashioned grit. It also takes financial savvy, a firm grasp of processes and best practices, technological know-how, and the ability to inspire people.

CEO & CFO Leadership Traits

When these traits all come together, magic happens. Even the most talented CEOs know that their #1 job is building high-performance teams that will complement their strengths.

 That starts with hiring a trusted CFO. Strong CFOs balance the optimistic forward motion of the CEO with strategic grounding and hard data. They provide financial insight and data-backed analysis to support effective decision-making.

 The CEO needs the CFO to help plan calculated risks without rushing in blindly. It takes both to run a successful startup. But what exactly does that look like in a leadership context? 

Let’s zoom in on the qualities that successful CEOs and CFOs bring to the table.     

Inside the Mind of an Innovative Founder

Innovative founders see things other people don’t. They are brimming with ideas and insights, and they confidently believe they can use those ideas to make money with a new product, service, or business model. They have both technical know-how and the ability to inspire and motivate.

If we break that personality down, here’s what makes an entrepreneurial CEO tick:

Strategic Vision

Innovative founders are the type of people who see a possibility at every turn. They are optimistic and tenacious. That’s why they feel confident that the market needs what they have to offer. But creative vision alone isn’t enough. Successful CEOs also need strategic foresight to ground that vision in reality so they can anticipate outcomes and risks.

Learning Agility

A learning-agile leader is someone who learns from past experiences and applies those insights to future decisions. These leaders can adapt quickly to change and are willing to try fresh ideas when the old ones aren’t working.

Ability to Drive Growth

According to Harvard Business Review, the most powerful trait of a successful CEO is the ability to reliably deliver results. That means putting the right team in place, monitoring key performance metrics, knowing how to make rapid course corrections, and being able to see opportunity even when things don’t work out as planned.

Social Leadership

Successful CEOs have a deep knowledge of people and how to motivate them. They invest in building relationships, celebrating the wins of others, helping employees buy into the success of the business, and collaborating so everyone can do their best work.

Ability to Handle Complexity

High-growth companies require leaders who can make smart decisions in complex and ambiguous environments. In these situations, they need a willingness to accept data-based feedback on ideas, and then synergize that feedback with the overall strategic vision.

Underlying all of these traits is a strong foundation of optimism, courage, and a willingness to assume responsibility for outcomes (both successes and failures).

The strength of the CEO is his or her optimism in the face of risk. But CEOs also need someone to counterbalance their tendency to leap before looking. That’s why bringing the right CFO on board from the very beginning is critical.

Leadership Traits of a Successful CFO

Choosing a CFO isn’t just about financial credentials. Most entrepreneurs don’t need an accounting policy expert right out the gate; they need a jack-of-all-trades. In this context, successful CFOs must display:

Financial Vision

The optimism of the CEO must be balanced by the financial foresight of the CFO. CFOs inform the CEO’s vision with cold, hard numbers. They should also be willing to roll up their sleeves and get the job done.

CFO and CEO Leadership Traits

Strategic Mindset

A forward-thinking CFO will put the structures and practices in place to prepare the company for future growth stages. The right person will work with the CEO to create a viable financial plan, even if that means focusing on one financial metric at a time to support long-term financial health.

Flexibility & Agility

Numbers are not flexible, but CFOs must be. When things don’t go as planned, the CFO should be able to pivot quickly. For example, if gross margins are too low, the CFO and CEO will have to work together on ways to reduce expenses while also increasing value for customers.

Willingness to Take Calculated Risk

Risk comes with the territory in the startup world, but it’s not necessarily natural to a finance person. Successful CFOs need to know when taking a risk is worth the potential payoff, and when they should tap the brakes.

Appropriate Counterbalance

One of the most important roles of a startup CFO is to counterbalance the CEO’s optimism and drive. When the CEO is forging ahead with an idea that isn’t supported by the numbers, the CFO needs the courage to stand up and say so and to offer alternative ideas.

Business Leadership Working Together

A successful CEO welcomes input from the CFO, because he understands that no one’s ideas are invincible – not even his own.

At CFO Alliance, we come alongside you with the financial leadership and expertise you need to position your business for long-term success. From providing CFO-level leadership that works in tandem with your vision to walk with you step-by-step through an acquisition, we serve as an extension of your team through every stage of your growth journey. 

Ready to transform your finance function? We’ll show you how!

Call us today to start the conversation.   

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