Accounting and Management
To be an effective leader, women must "face facts and fears,” Blythe McGarvie, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, told Network of Executive Women members at the NEW Executive Leaders Forum, Aug. 1, 2012 in Los Angeles.
Accomplished leaders courageously face their fears and take action, McGarvie told more than 250 cpg/retail industry executives in her opening address, "Take on the World: Building Your Courage Quotient.”
The former chief financial officer for BIC told the crowd of mostly women there are four types of leaders: Conventional leaders who are pleasant, but don’t make a difference; compliant leaders who do not participate with passion; challengers who are willing to question but are often ignored; and courageous leaders, who are not afraid to stand out and speak up.
The first step toward building courage and taking action, McGarvie said, is reading. "Examine how others have done it,” she advised. "It’s that simple. John F. Kennedy was always reading a book, and was notorious for stealing magazines.”
McGarvie recommended two books: Man’s Search for Meaning, a story of survival in Auschwitz by Victor Frankel, and Drive by Daniel Pink, which explores autonomy, purpose and mastery.
Having and working toward a dream is important, too. Blythe related how she once imagined a castle in the sky in Italy or France and read about other women who had the dream life she imagined. When she ended up working in Paris, her husband got a job in Buffalo, N.Y. "I’ll come visit you,” she negotiated.When acting on her fears, Blythe adheres to four principles: Be fair, be firm, be friendly and be frank. For example, when her Paris job didn’t turn out to be the growth opportunity she expected and presented a host of problems, she couldn’t sugarcoat the circumstances. She was frank about cutting dividends in half – a necessary measure.
Wrapping up her rousing address, Blythe quoted Winston Churchill. "Courage is standing up and speaking. Courage is also sitting down and listening.”
Joining the C-suite at major global corporations has proven elusive for all but a relative handful of women, but a Deloitte study, “The Journey to CFO: Perspectives from Women Leaders,” based on in-depth interviews with 15 leading women CFOs in the United States and Europe, found common traits, skill sets and influences that forged these women into leaders at their respective companies. Their experiences could serve to illustrate what it takes for any finance executive, woman or man, to become or excel as a CFO. “We found there is no single path to becoming a CFO at a leading company, but the interplay of key personal traits and values, shaping moments in their journey, key relationships and specific skills are vital to creating the total package essential to being a top level CFO,” says Ajit Kambil, PhD, global research director of Deloitte’s CFO Program, Deloitte Services LP, and author of the study.
Among other findings, the study identified five traits common to these CFOs that have proven essential to their success: curiosity, courage, perseverance to mastery, self assurance and ethical responsibility. In a separate interview, Blythe McGarvie, former CFO of BIC Group and Hannaford Bros. and now CEO of Leadership for International Finance (LIF Group), named many of those same traits as she offered her insights based on her experiences in the C-suite and as a board member of several multinational firms. She also discussed what CFOs need to be successful leaders in a global organization and in the boardroom.
Q: What distinguishes the standout CFOs from the rest in today’s global business environment?
Blythe McGarvie: The CFOs I know who do a really good job in the global context are doing a few critical things really well. Number one, they discover what their CEO wants to accomplish from a global business perspective and align themselves and their functions with that global vision. Maybe the goal is to have or build a presence in China, to extend the brand worldwide or to adopt a low-cost manufacturing or service model. Whatever the CEO and the Board prioritize, the CFO must understand that and support the global vision.
When major economies are constrained, business leaders find their growth engines stuck in low gear. At times like these, financial leaders need to collaborate more closley with their operations counterparts and drive precision in performance management.
Division of Faculty & Research
Harvard Business SchoolSoldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163