CFO Studio Magazine, 3rd Quarter 2012
By Cindy Kraft, the CFO-Coach

You made it! You’ve landed in the CFO role of a plum company. You’ve got the corner office with a magnificent view. Now, you can finally kick back and rest on your laurels, right?

Not if you want to: a) stay in the position awhile; or b) keep your career on an upward progression. Matt Bud, chairman of the financial executives networking group (FENG), often quips, “you’re only ever between searches.” That is sage advice. The moment you adopt the mindset that your search is just some future event, you might find that you are actually only one short step away from being completely caught off guard.

Take for example the CFO at the movie producer/distributor new regency. He was terminated after three months in that role but had 13 years with the company; and he is the fourth CFO the company has had in four months. Can you do anything to ensure that you don’t meet the same fate as the new regency CFO? Not really. But there are certainly things you can do to be effective in your new role and still be prepared for a shorter-than-expected stint.

Let’s look at five proactive steps you can take to enhance your career after landing:

1 | Build trust with ALL the players. Trust is established over time, by saying what you’ll do and then actually doing it, constantly acting in a manner that is consistent with your spoken words.

So build trust with all the players, from your team, to the board, to the shareholders and/or investors, to the third parties with whom you interact, and with your customers or clients. Every person within each of those groups might hold that next great opportunity in the palm of his or her hand, so being authentically branded as a trustworthy CFO will only solidify, and add credibility to, your reputation. You are who you say you are.

2 | Make a difference. It isn’t what you do in this new role that will matter. It is how you impact and how that impact leaves the company better than when you stepped into the role.

A new credential, greater responsibility, and a bigger team are all the “what,” things you do or you have. Identifying problems and eradicating them; eliminating or mitigating risk; fixing broken processes; and slashing costs set up the “how.” Those are the tangible impacts. Value!

Being a difference-maker, a problem-solver, is key to your salary and bonus conversations in your current position, but it is oft en also key to your being hunted for that next — dream — opportunity.

3 | Be known. An old cliche reminds us that if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything. There is a lot of truth in that statement, particularly when it comes to your positioning as a CFO who is “different and unique” from his or her peers.

A CFO recently asked the question: “how do I move forward now that I’ve been fired for being ethical?” Well, his first step might be to turn his strong stand for something — his high value around ethical behavior — into the foundation of his personal brand. There might be other CEOs and companies out there that don’t want his strong stand on ethics, but I would venture a guess there are also many that do.

Since strong brand positioning precedes you, whether you are walking into the office of the CEO, the boardroom, or the office of a potential new client, your visible reputation matters. So …

4 | Stay visible. The new definition of networking is: Who knows about you? It really doesn’t matter in today’s economy who you know or if you have 500+ connections on LinkedIn, unless they know about you.

Spend a few minutes deciding, in light of your three- to five-year goals, who you need to know and who needs to know about you in order to make those goals a reality. And then, work toward raising your visibility among those internal and external prospects on a regular and consistent basis.

5 | Don’t burn bridges, no matter how much you might want to. The CFO who was fired for being ethical probably can’t do much to prevent the burning of bridges. Others took care of that for him. However, when you choose to sit in the driver’s seat of your career, you have a much better opportunity to choose how best to structure your exit strategies so that you aren’t leaving burned-out bridges everywhere you’ve been.

Swallowing pride, anger, hurt, and injustice doesn’t come easily to any of us. Carrying it around is dangerous to our careers and our health. At a recent networking event, a gentleman approached me and immediately launched into his sob story about how he was a victim at his last company. Not only did he point fingers at everyone else, but his diatribe went on for 20 minutes before I tried to escape — only to be followed and subjected to another 10 minutes of his story.

Whether his feelings are justified or not, he not only burned bridges, he continues to set fire to himself and his career every single day. Do the opposite of human nature: Work through the anger, forgive, forget, and move on — because that befuddles and intrigues other people.

Congratulations on landing! Now, get busy doing the things you need to do to position yourself for that next great opportunity!

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