Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » CFOs: It can get lonely at the top

CFOs: It can get lonely at the top

CFOs must recognise the importance of their own mental health, and the importance of general self-care, if they are to avoid burnout as a result of their ballooning responsibilities

In the bustling ecosystem of corporate leadership, the CFOs role, akin to the CEO and CTO, has metamorphosed dramatically.

From ledger-keepers to crucial strategic partners, the evolution has expanded their remit, endowing them with added responsibilities. This shift, while empowering, carries a latent consequence: a sense of isolation.

Alka Tandan, the CFO of Gainsight, tells The CFO the distinct experiences that come with senior leadership roles had underlined the need of having a solid group of direct reports.

Tandan admits that while some aspects of her work were anticipated, there were also unexpected difficulties.

“I’ve learned that there are things you can prepare for and things you can’t,” she says emphatically. “And [the importance of having internal support] was one of them.”

Tandan emphasises the value of having a supporting team because she understands that being a senior leader can occasionally feel isolated, saying, “When you are a senior, you are kind of hanging out on your own and having a strong network of direct reports is invaluable.”

As these financial stewards grapple with the intricate maze of fiscal decisions, their professional solitude often mirrors the CEO’s solitude at the helm, and the CTO’s in the technical trenches. Yet, these feelings of isolation are not a fait accompli.

Leveraging the power of communication and robust professional networks can offer solace in this strategic solitude, though the experience varies with individual resilience, organisational culture, and industry specifics.

Navigating the responsibility maze

CFOs face a multitude of challenges as they navigate the complex and ever-changing business landscape.

Previously regarded as “mere functionaries or gatekeepers focused on risk management,” today’s CFOs are expected to be opportunity creators and catalysts for development within their organisations, according to Phil Halbish, CFO at Who Gives A Crap

One of the foremost challenges encountered by CFOs is striking a delicate balance between short-term financial goals and long-term strategic objectives. This involves making difficult decisions and effectively managing competing priorities, all while ensuring financial stability and growth.

Additionally, the increasing complexity of financial systems and reporting requirements demands that CFOs possess a deep understanding of technology and data analysis.

By harnessing digital transformation and leveraging valuable insights, CFOs can drive innovation and create a competitive advantage for their companies.

CFOs must also grapple with talent management, foster a positive organisational culture, and adapt to the digital transformations that impact every facet of the business.

These evolving responsibilities add layers to the traditional role of CFOs; seeking support systems and mentorship to deal with these competing responsibilities is crucial, says Halbish, now more than ever.

Drawing parallels to the support systems found in sports teams, Halbish says he has “been very fortunate” over his career to have a “pretty diverse set” of mentors around him,

These mentors have allowed Halbih to “talk to about any challenges” he has faced. “Or anything else that is on my mind at any given time,” he tells The CFO.

Preventing burnout

Not leaning on these support mechanisms could lead to CFO burnout.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

“It is characterised by three dimensions: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job; or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”

South African CA and founder of Part Time FD, Murray Barnetson, was diagnosed with burnout in 2017. The diagnosis came after 17 years of relentless work, and at the time, he was offering fractional CFO services to at least 15 clients.

In a Deloitte reported published in June 2022, research revealed 70% of the C-suite are seriously considering quitting for a job that better supports their wellbeing.

The survey of senior leaders revealed that the great resignation and the war for talent were among the factors leading to C-suite burnout and that both employees and the C-suite were struggling to prioritise wellbeing.

Marko Sebastian, CFO of Volkswagen Autoeuropa, says he learned a valuable lesson from a colleague about the importance of self-care and work-life balance in avoiding burnout.

Sebastian said his colleague had said employees should try to live their life around three pillars: the professional life, the importance of friends and family and the notion of self-care. Sebastian said the last pillar was “quite innovating” to him.

“This perspective has resonated with me, and I strive to prioritise not only family and work but also to value and care for myself. It’s an essential shift from the past,” he says.

Was this article helpful?

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to get your daily business insights