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Salesforce CFO on kindness as a catalyst for exceptional leadership

Amy Weaver says soft skills, particularly kindness, is of paramount importance in leadership roles to drive positive outcomes for businesses and individuals

While technical expertise remains essential, it is the ability to connect with others, inspire collaboration, and most importantly lead with kindness, that truly sets exceptional professionals apart.

This was the message from Salesforce CFO and president Amy Weaver during a speech at Lehigh University on 20 May 2023.

“Kindness is not a weakness in the workplace, it’s a strength and real leadership is not the ability to dominate and control others but the ability to bring people together across any differences to get things done,” said Weaver.

Weaver encouraged the graduates to adopt a more compassionate and inclusive style that resonates with the needs of today’s workforce.

Her speech went on to highlight that successful leaders understand the value of embracing differences and creating environments where everyone feels valued and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives and skills.

Challenging the traditional leadership paradigm

The importance of soft skills in the workplace, especially for finance leaders, cannot be overstated.

Weaver, who is also a member of Lehigh’s Board of Trustees, said the attributes that were often celebrated in “great leaders” included an iron hand, ruthlessness, and a killer instinct.

She also noted a radio program had recently aired a segment that positively compared executive leadership traits to those of psychopaths. Furthermore, she told students that in some industries, especially in Silicon Valley, employees were told “to tolerate the brilliant jerk.”

Weaver added that treating people with respect, civility and decency and carrying yourself with humility and honesty was “real leadership”.

The power of empathy in challenging times

Leading with empathy allows CFOs to connect on a human level during difficult situations including layoffs. By demonstrating understanding and compassion, CFOs can acknowledge the impact of their decisions while treating employees with dignity and respect.

This approach fosters trust, eases tensions, and mitigates potential negative effects on morale and productivity.

Daisy Corporate Services’ CFO, Kris Lee, previously told The CFO that transparency, an open-door policy, and empathy are among the key elements of how CFOs can handle communicating bad news, especially job cuts.

“Communication is key. There should be an ongoing dialogue between key stakeholders to ensure that there are no surprises,” said Lee.

He said it’s also critical for the CFO to focus on transparency and honesty. “This means being straightforward about why the cuts are necessary and how they will impact the company and its employees,” he said. At the time he said empathy was crucial.

“CFOs should put themselves in the shoes of those who will be affected by the job cuts and communicate the information in a way that is respectful and considerate,” Lee explains. “Involving employees in the decision-making process, where possible, can also help to mitigate the negative impact of job cuts and create a sense of ownership and understanding among those affected.”

Not communicating cuts correctly has the potential to lead to decreased employee morale, decreased consumer confidence, and negative publicity for the company.

Additionally, in some cases, it can be difficult to attract and retain top talent if employees perceive the company as unstable or uncaring. Empathetic leadership also provides support and reassurance to employees, showing that their well-being is valued even in challenging times.

While CFOs often face the daunting task of delivering challenging news, such as layoffs, the ability to approach these situations with kindness, understanding, and effective communication is crucial.

For Weaver, such a time came earlier in 2023 after the software giant announced it planned to layoff 10% of its work force, or about 8,000 employees, and scale back office space amidst economic uncertainty, The New York Times reported.

“Tough news must be delivered, there will be disagreements in the workplace, and an employee may have to be fired,” she said, adding that while it is not easy, doing the job with kindness improved the situation for all stakeholders.

Beware the perils of burnout

Being kind to oneself also promotes mental and emotional well-being. Leaders often face immense pressure, high expectations, and challenging situations.

Weaver reminded the graduates to be kind to themselves as a strategy to avoid burn out.

“As Lehigh graduates, you’re already leaders in your field, as you rise through the ranks of your professions, the pressures will only grow,” she said.

“In theory, you could work all the time. But if you do, and take my word for it, you will burn out,” she said, adding that overworking posed a very real risk of losing the camaraderie and optimism they felt at graduation day.

“Because when we’re self-absorbed and tired and stressed in our own life, we cannot be kind and civil and decent to others. So even as you’re relentless and devoted in your work, take care of yourself,” said Weaver.

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