At a time when we are collectively facing so many challenges in business, the need for strong leadership skills has never been more important. For Rob Thompson, the prospect of stepping up into his first permanent CFO role meant he was also looking for a leadership course to help him prepare for his next exciting career move.
He turned to ICAEW’s Financial Talent Executive Network (F-TEN), a global business leadership programme designed to get aspiring and new CFOs ready for the reality of operating at the board level.
“I joined Newable about two and a half years ago as deputy CFO, a new role that had been created as part of a succession plan in anticipation of the CFO’s retirement,” Thompson explains. “I’d heard about F-TEN and it struck me as being something that would help me embark upon my new role.”
Beyond the classroom learning, the opportunity to work with a coach or mentor and develop a network of like-minded finance professionals – core components of the F-TEN programme – were to prove a compelling proposition. “I’d had a very positive experience of coaching previously and wanted to recreate the experience. At the same time, the opportunity to create a new network of people facing similar career challenges from scratch seemed too good an opportunity to miss,” he explains.
“Other delegates on the F-TEN programme were all embarking on the same sort of journey as me and taking on their first roles of CFOs, or about to. To have someone else around to talk to and learn from was incredibly useful – especially coming out of the pandemic, where it felt like you had fewer opportunities to interact with people face to face.”
Programme participants are offered a choice of potential mentors or coaches to choose from. “I found someone straight away whose career and approach interested me. We had a chat facilitated by ICAEW and it went from there. The coaching is always invaluable – I think anyone can make use of that.”
Rather than focus on management theory, the programme focuses extensively on addressing the practical leadership challenges that people face, Thompson says: “It’s about how you think and how you emote on a day-to-day basis.”
Teaching leadership techniques is brought to life with role-play sessions using actors, something that Thompson admits on paper didn’t appeal to him but turned out to be incredibly beneficial. “I threw myself into it and got so much out of it,” he says.
Thompson believes the programme has fundamentally changed the way he does his job and has made him a more thoughtful leader. “I’m not just a different CFO, I think I’m a slightly different person because it reminded me of what’s important”. One of the things we talked about is how the outcome of any situation is a combination of the event itself and also your response to it. Having a chance to practice leadership techniques has given me a slightly different attitude and way of working with my team. The practical discussions that I’ve had with the coach about how to approach, lead and manage the team have been incredibly useful.
“Developing strong leadership skills is particularly relevant at a time when we are collectively facing so many challenges in business,” Thompson says “You can’t have a leadership style that fits everyone or every situation and everyone is dealing with their own personal problems and issues. It is important to remember that when you think about how you interact with people.”
Thompson’s advice to other ACAs thinking about enrolling in the programme is to bite the bullet. “If you’re already thinking about it, then you should probably do it. It will not only enhance your leadership skills but also give you a great opportunity to network and be coached or mentored. It’s a positive experience – it really is”.