Why CFOs should develop their executive presence

Employees and stakeholders want to know who companies’ leaders are.
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· 4 min read

CEOs have traditionally been the public faces of their companies. But companies and CFOs benefit when CFOs become more visible, according to Trish Backes, group senior vice president and virtual market lead at uncapped communications, a specialized health communications agency. She spoke with us about how CFOs can develop more of an executive presence and why they should.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why is it important nowadays for CFOs to develop their executive presence?

More and more we’re seeing that investors—even employees—are wanting to see their leaders, see who’s making up the bench strength behind any given company. CEOs have traditionally been more front and center when it comes to executive visibility. From a communications perspective, we want to make sure that more than just the CEO is being seen.

How would you define executive presence?

There are two ways you can think about it. There’s your presence when you’re in a room with someone and you can say, “She or he has an executive presence.” And in that case, it’s about exuding confidence and leadership, but not arrogance.

But from a communication standpoint, I’m thinking about executive presence as it relates to how you are showing up to the right stakeholders. That can be through speaking opportunities—so an industry panel or a functional expertise type of panel.

Another way you can show up and become visible —and probably one of the easiest, by the way—is by putting yourself out there on social media channels. To that end, spotlighting your executives, including your CFO, on the company’s LinkedIn page, for instance, is a fantastic way to start. Oftentimes, seeing your leaders, including your CFO, spotlighted provides a sense of confidence about whose hands the company is in.

What you can also do for executive visibility is participate in earned media interviews. You can work with your comms person to have a voice, whether that be as an industry leader or a subject matter expert.

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CFOs are busy folks. How would you convince a CFO that doing this can benefit them?

First, I would say that speaking about and contextualizing your company’s value proposition are not soft skills, “nice-to-have” skills. That is a very fundamental part of the job. Executive visibility is not peacocking. Instead, you’re providing context for what you’re in charge of day in and day out, which is the financials. Meanwhile, you are demonstrating your subject matter expertise, you are demonstrating your financial acumen. You are demonstrating your strategic point of view.

How can CFOs improve their executive presence?

Start internally. One way CFOs can do that off the bat is something like an employee town hall. Maybe every town hall or employee quarterly meeting, there’s a 10-minute financial update from the CFO. That would be a small way to practice your contextualizing skills. You’re working on a muscle by refining your message based on your audience’s needs.

Are there other benefits you’ve found to having increased CFO visibility?

We have found that putting the CFO out there reflects so positively on the company. Where we hear it, which frankly surprised me a little, loud and clear, is that the HR department is saying, “You wouldn’t believe the number of resumes we’re getting. And they’re saying, ‘Well, I follow this on your LinkedIn.’”

Another thing we’ll see is increased interest from the analyst community that’s covering the space. And then certainly, when your leader is appearing in a top publication, it’s bringing eyes on the company and their mission and their value proposition. CFOs, just like CEOs, are responsible for sharing the reason to believe and by sharing the reason to believe, you’re gaining the trust and the interest of so many different stakeholders.

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