Always Lead With Why

WANTING SOMETHING DIFFERENT

In my work as an outsourced CFO, I spend much time with business leaders whose companies have come into transitional times. Sometimes, they’ve run out of cash or soon will. Some grew revenue 100 percent over the last year and expect to do the same this year. Some need to restructure operations. Many of my clients are expanding into new markets with new products and are unsure of the compliance challenges ahead.

Regardless, these executives share a common trait.

They seek a change in the trajectory of their organizations and have engaged me to work within their companies to recognize and remove the issues impeding their progress.

These founders want something different.

CHANGE REQUIRES CHANGE

The standard Board slides for a CFO of a VC-backed company generally include trend lines of one measure or another—cash, revenue, expense, deferred revenue, bookings, etc. Years ago, I had one particular Board member who consistently asked me why the slope of the line changed on every single graph I presented. No matter what the slide was, he always asked me this question.

What he really wanted to know was if I could explain to him what had changed in the business. He knew that the slope of the line changed because something caused it to change. Something different had happened. 

He (rightly) expected his CFO to be able to explain to the VC what had changed in the business that resulted in a change in the organization’s performance. He demonstrated a fundamental understanding that change itself was caused only by change. He was looking to me, as the CFO, to appreciate that I also understood that. 

As a point of fact, I did not then understand that I was accountable as the CFO for digesting why the slope of the line changed. Not how much, or what was the impact of it… but why.  As the chief Financial Officer, he signaled to me that I was responsible for understanding deeply what was occuring in the business becuase that is what really drove results. Its about the WHY. 

WHAT YOU ARE IS WHAT YOU GET

I am always brought in by an executive who wants to work through complex business challenges. Through the lens of an experienced CFO, my role is often to lead an organization through uncertainty.  The differences between leaders who manage well through change and those who stumble lay in their expectations of themselves. Those who lead well through change know they are the change. So while I am brought in often to effectuate change,  I am not the change. They are.

In the anecdote above,  that Board member expected me to understand and explain the changes in the business, but he did not expect me to be the change. I am not the CEO, not the Chief Revenue Officer, not the Head of Product or VP of Marketing. Instead, he understood the difference between my task and theirs.

As the saying goes, if you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.