'CFOs are well placed to be CEOs of the future'

We have always known that CFOs have one of the most difficult balancing acts of all C-suite figures: they are asked to be detail-oriented experts while, at the same time, they are expected to generate a strategic vision at the highest level for a company’s financial path forward.

Psychometric research from Russell Reynolds confirms that CFOs display unique leadership and behavioral characteristics that allow them to take on this distinctive set of C-suite challenges. ‘Inside the Mind of the CFO’ found that for CFOs aspiring to become CEOs these traits can both fuel and hinder their pursuit of the top job.

Unsurprisingly, the study’s examination of the attributes of 129 CFOs across a battery of well-known psychological instruments showcases a set of characteristics that we might consider core to risk management. Compared to their executive peers, CFOs are far more diligent (12% more), data-oriented (13%) and detail-conscious (13%).

However, what is fascinating is the extent to which CFOs are effectively a mirror image of their C-suite colleagues on key traits. For instance, CFOs are more likely to respect rules compared with the overall executive population, while CMOs are far more likely to challenge rules. Similarly, the CFOs psychological scores demonstrate that they often actively dislike selling, whereas General Counsels’ scores indicate that they enjoy the selling process. Here we see the CFO acting as a valuable counterweight to the rest of the C-suite – they keep the senior team in balance.


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