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BLOG: An easy way to CFO indispensability?

Lisa Yoon | Oct. 17, 2011
For CFOs seeking more C-suite recognition, or up-and-coming managers working toward the CFO post, one approach seems clearly advisable: Become indispensable. To those so committed, October's Harvard Business Review offers "Making Yourself Indispensable," by John Zenger, Joseph Folkman and Scott Edinger, of leadership-development consultancy Zenger Folkman.

For CFOs seeking more C-suite recognition, or up-and-coming managers working toward the CFO post, one approach seems clearly advisable: Become indispensable. To those so committed, October's Harvard Business Review offers "Making Yourself Indispensable," by John Zenger, Joseph Folkman and Scott Edinger, of leadership-development consultancy Zenger Folkman.

Reading the article (the full version of which requires a subscription) presents some useful, if perhaps sometimes counterintuitive, thought.

Developing finance leaders, for example, often try to improve in their areas of weakness. But according to the authors, this approach is misguided. Better, they suggest, is to improve the skills that complement that strength, honing it into a profound asset --- a method they describe as the executive equivalent of cross-training in sports. "What makes leaders indispensable to their organizations," they write, "is not being good at many things but being uniquely outstanding at a few things."

That makes sense, considering that no well-regarded, high-profile CFO is known for being invaluable at everything the job description requires. Google Inc.'s Patrick Pichette, for instance, is considered a key player in the company's growth through innovation in ever-expanding Android market and social-networking initiatives. Turnaround and restructuring prowess brought recognition to Timothy McLevish of Kraft Foods. And indeed, McLevish's leadership in Kraft's restructuring and takeover of Cadbury led to a major new appointment in August. He's now chairman of the company's Project Management Office, heading up the separation of the food giant's planned separation into two companies in 2012.

The authors' idea behind the "cross-training" leadership model is their observation that in athletics, training in two related activities produces greater benefit than can either activity alone. On the surface, the concept naturally extends the conventional leadership development approach: "As a practical matter," the article says, "cross-training for leadership skills is clear-cut: (1) Identify your strengths. (2) Choose a strength to focus on according to its importance to the organization and how passionately you feel about it. (3) Select a complementary behavior you'd like to enhance. (4) Develop it in a linear way."

The rub, however, is a discouragingly complicated Step 3 -- choosing that complementary behavior to enhance. To do that, the authors identify 16 main leadership competencies, each accompanied by up to a dozen complementary behaviors or skills, "whose development will strengthen the core skill." (They categorize the skills under the headings of Character, Personal Capability, Getting Results, Interpersonal Skills and Leading Change.)

Between the main and companion skills the article lists an unwieldy and somewhat confusing array of more than 100 leadership attributes that advancement-minded executives should comb through on the way to making sense of their career path. Making the list even harder to follow, some of the 16 core skills share the same companion skills, while several core skills are listed as complements to yet other core competencies.

 

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