Q and A: New President-CFO Relationships, COVID, and Coaching
What is different about new CFO/president relationships with new realities concerning public health and working from home?
It is always challenging for CFOs and presidents to form new relationships, even when the president recruited the CFO. They need to develop a mutual understanding of priorities, financial realities and possibilities, campus politics, and expectations for process and inclusion. It is a lot to do while they are also meeting other staff and dealing with operational issues and challenges.
Not being able to meet in person and not being physically near each other to allow for casual interactions and follow-up means that every interaction is scheduled and formalized. It also precludes the inter-personal dynamic of the senior team meetings and the personal relationships and insights gained from those settings.
Why--and when--do new CFOs or new presidents need coaching?
When one person is new to their role, it is especially important to prioritize relationship building and deeper shared insights. Without an established relationship, the focus of dialogue tends to be on problem solving and addressing issues. As a result, the priorities and issues can be disconnected if there are underlying assumptions and perspectives that are not fully vetted in the new relationship. Coaching is not about finding answers but rather focuses on careful listening that can help to illuminate undiagnosed differences or misunderstandings. Understanding the technical aspects of an issue can also sometimes impede a deeper dialogue of the principles and objectives of the circumstance. It’s important to have a mutual understanding of all the issues—big picture and tactical.
Having a mutual understanding sounds great, of course, but what does that really mean?
The person who has been at the institution longer will have a history or perspective of what issues are important and how they have been addressed and interpreted. The new person will bring questions and new perspectives that may challenge established thinking. Sometimes these perspectives reflect an incomplete understanding of the nuance and details, and other times these new perspectives will reflect a fresh perspective of possibilities and interpretations. In the case of the latter, it’s important to relate new ideas to established institutional goals and objectives. Without that, discussions can devolve into “we’ve always done it this way” or “that will never work here.”
How can a coach help?
A coach can listen to the main dialogues and narratives and to the private frustrations and rationalizations without emotional attachment. This can enable them to help identify areas for specific exploration and for key questions to pursue together by the parties. The coach does not need to and should not seek to answer these questions but rather can help to expose and frame them in ways that make their exploration non-threatening and productive for further dialogue.
What circumstances would be helped by a coach that people might not think of?
Major issues of budget alternatives, campus frustration over transparency, strategic initiatives and external review or stipulated actions are all pressures which can heighten the importance and impact of unresolved misunderstandings or mis-matched expectations. If there is any feeling of mistrust between senior members of the executive team, that is a sign that some form of coaching may be helpful.
Vice President, Consulting and Business Development