Why do the best financial leaders start with themselves?


Finance is the management of money. It is analytical in nature because investing, lending, borrowing, saving, and budgeting ultimately culminate in an income statement and balance sheet. There is a tendency to be analytical. Exact. Logic.

However, as finance managers become people leaders, the skills that once served them may no longer be enough. Unlike P&L, people aren’t always logical – they have emotions and opinions. So how can financial experts be as good with people as they are with models and spreadsheets?

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

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

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

There are 4 intelligences essential to working in today’s business:

  1. Logic-mathematics: it’s about quantifying things, making assumptions and proving them. Although AI helps process and structure data to be insightful, people end up making decisions, and logic is the foundation of decision making.
  2. Linguistic: it’s finding the right words to express what you want to say – physically, verbally and in writing. This manifests itself in effective communication in the workplace. Being able to express your point of view convincingly and persuasively is an essential intelligence, whether in person, in virtual or hybrid contexts.
  3. Intra-personal: it is about understanding yourself, how you feel and what you want. Being “self-aware” is a language frequently used to describe this intelligence in the workplace, and it is this intelligence that enables people to receive and act on constructive feedback, rather than react.
  4. Interpersonal : This is where you are able to sense the feelings and motivations of others. It’s about “reading the play” and understanding the strengths and styles of others so you can tailor your own to be more effective and influential. Interpersonal intelligence harnesses empathy to build trust and allow diversity to flourish.

In general, Finance, Supply Chain, and IT functions generally require a higher proficiency in Logical/Mathematical Intelligence, while Sales and Marketing functions tend to require a higher proficiency in Linguistic Intelligence.

However, as you move into people management and leadership roles, the intrapersonal and the interpersonal become increasingly important. This is because your effectiveness comes through people and as a leader of others, rather than as a technical expert. Being able to understand how others perceive you, as well as being able to connect, lead and influence a wide range of people becomes crucial for success. The higher it is, 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 workplace intelligence?

  1. Be aware of different intelligences and your natural preference. Beyond an IQ test that measures reasoning and problem solving, there are useful profiling tools like Myer Briggs or at a gallop Clifton Highlights Finder which can give a deeper insight into yourself compared to others.
  2. Invest in the development of other relevant intelligences for the higher level. You may need to be a financial whiz now, but if you aspire to be a leader, you’ll need to develop other intelligences, like interpersonal skills.
  3. Learn from people “not like you”. To research has consistently shown that diversity improves problem solving, innovation and business growth. Look for people who don’t look like you and associate with them. Ask for feedback. Even observing people with different strengths will increase 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 signing up for help from someone who is good at it can uncover our blind spots.
  5. Reflect on your growth journey and make adjustments. Each person is unique, and the better we understand ourselves, the better we are able to identify what we need to increase our impact.

Finance is a highly valued function, but like all functions, it can over-develop a specific intelligence. So start with yourself – understand your strengths and opportunities for development across all relevant workplace intelligences, and see how your impact grows and your career thrives. This could lead you to the position of CEO!


Written by Rowena Millward.
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