Why do the best financial leaders start with themselves?


Finance is money management. It is analytical in nature because investing, lending, borrowing, saving and budgeting ultimately end up in the income statement. There is a tendency to have an analytical bent. Precisely. Logical.

However, as financial leaders become leaders of people, the skills that once served them may no longer be sufficient. Unlike P&L, people are not always logical – they have emotions and opinions. So how can finance professionals be as effective with people as they are with models and spreadsheets?

The answer is to develop your intelligence for holistic impact in the workplace.

Howard Garner identified 8 types of intelligence in his theory of multiple intelligences. He proposed that people are not born with all the intelligence they will ever have, but can be developed throughout life and accelerated by focused learning efforts. At any age, everyone has the capacity for all eight intelligences, they are always at different levels of expertise.

So what intelligences are highly relevant to the business workplace and people leadership?

There are 4 intelligences critical to today’s corporate workplace:

  1. logical-mathematical: this is about quantifying things, making hypotheses and proving them. While AI will help process and structure data to be insightful, humans ultimately make decisions, and logic is the foundation for decision making.
  2. linguistically: this is finding the right words to express what you’re thinking – physically, verbally and in writing. This manifests itself as effective communication in the workplace. Being able to express your point of view in a persuasive and persuasive way is a critical intelligence, whether it’s in-person, virtual or hybrid environments.
  3. Intrapersonal: this is about understanding yourself, what you feel and what you want. Being “self-aware” is the language often used to describe this intelligence in the workplace, and it is this intelligence that allows people to receive and act on constructive feedback, rather than reacting.
  4. interpersonal: Here you can sense other people’s feelings and motives. It’s “reading the room” and understanding other people’s strengths and styles so you can adapt yours to be more effective and influential. Interpersonal intelligence uses empathy to build trust and allow diversity to flourish.

In general, finance, supply chain, and IT functions generally require higher competency in logical/mathematical intelligence, while sales and marketing functions typically require higher competency in linguistic intelligence.

However, as you move into people management and leadership roles, intrapersonal and interpersonal become increasingly important. This is because your effectiveness is through people and as a leader of others, not as a technical expert. Being able to understand how others see you, as well as being able to connect, lead and influence different people becomes critical to success. The older it gets, the more critical it becomes. Understanding which of the intelligences you need to develop more becomes crucial.

So what actions can finance leaders take to develop holistic intelligence in the workplace?

  1. Be aware of different intelligences and your natural preferences. In addition to an IQ test that measures thinking and problem solving, there are useful profiling tools such as Myer Briggs or Gallop Clifton Strengths Finder which can give a deeper insight into oneself in relation to others.
  2. Invest in developing other intelligences relevant to the next level. You may need to be an expert in finance now, but if you aspire to be a leader of people, then you will need to develop other intelligences, such as interpersonal.
  3. Learn from people who are “not like you”. Research consistently shows that diversity brings better problem solving, innovation and business growth. Look for people unlike you and collaborate with them. Ask for feedback. Even observing people of different strengths will raise your awareness.
  4. Find a mentor who is strong in the intelligence you want to develop. Ask them for feedback and advice. Learning something that is not our normal behavior takes more effort, and enlisting the help of someone who is good at it can reveal our blind spots
  5. Think about your growth path and make adjustments. Each person is unique and the better we understand ourselves, the better able we are to recognize what we need to increase our impact.

Finance is a highly valued function, but like all functions, it can overdevelop a certain intelligence. So start with you – understand your strengths and development opportunities in all relevant workplace intelligences and watch your influence spread and your career advance. It could land you the CEO!


Written by Rowena Millward.
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