No Matter How Bright the Star, One Isn’t Enough

Here's why finance executives who fail to adequately develop their teams limit their own career potential.
John ToueyApril 5, 2019

If recent National Basketball Association playoff finals have shown us anything, it’s that two — or even three — star players are better than one, even if that one is LeBron James. The greatest player of all time may be able to get you to Game 7, but if he’s outnumbered he probably won’t be able to snag that elusive title.

The rush to create super teams over the past several seasons demonstrates the degree to which the NBA understands this — but it also applies to the business world. If finance executives don’t try to make stars of the people who work for them, then they’re most likely not going to make the most of their own career potential either.

LeBron: Standing alone

But first, let’s get one thing straight — you are most likely not the LeBron James of the financial officer world. If we use that as a starting point, the need to develop a great team becomes even more important, not only in terms of meeting your company’s performance expectations, but also in raising the ceiling for you as a leader.

The lack of a strong team impacts a financial leader in two ways.

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First, if you’re spending a good part of your day, and most likely your evenings, doing the work of your direct reports, then you’re not doing the job you were hired to do.

You’re also limiting your bandwidth to take on opportunities that will develop your personal skills and raise your profile. This is true whether you are a CFO looking to expand into a senior general management or operations position or a direct report to a CFO looking to move into that chair.

Second, you often can’t leave your chair unless you have someone in your direct report group who can fill it once you’re gone. In the past few years, I’ve seen more and more financial leaders getting dinged by their CEOs for not having an appropriate succession plan in place in their departments.

At the moment it’s a very tight labor market, and even if the economy cools off, the workforce demographics show us there are simply fewer executives available to replace those who will retire in the next several years. If you’re not developing your successor today, it will infringe on your own promotability tomorrow.

John Touey

So, what can a progressive financial leader do to ensure that they are developing a super team in their department? Here are a few suggestions:

Let go: Again, you are not LeBron. Trust that the other people on your team can do their jobs, in some cases better than you can. It will both free up your capacity and provide your direct reports with greater job satisfaction.

Be a coach, not a player: By taking some of the “doing” off your plate, you will have a greater capacity to coach your team. Creating performance objectives, collaborating with your staff, and giving and receiving actionable feedback will all drive your team to higher performance.

Give your people stretch assignments: I can guarantee that much of the work your team is doing is not preparing them for your job. Executives work broadly while their direct reports work narrowly. Be cognizant of this and get your people out of their comfort zone by giving them projects that will broaden their skill sets.

Look to your boss to do the same for you as you are for your team: Get in front of your boss. Make sure you’re getting your own stretch assignments, particularly outside of your area of expertise.

If you feel your development as a senior financial executive has stalled, make sure you are examining how well you have been doing in developing your own team. While the bottleneck is most likely not a lack of capability, you can help grow that capability only through your team’s professional development.

And just maybe, if your team is strong enough, they can at least make you look like you’re as good as Lebron.


John Touey is a principal at executive search firm Salveson Stetson Group with 20 years of experience providing executive search, human resources, and management consulting services to organizations in the healthcare, financial services, utilities, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. Follow him @JohnTouey.

LeBron James photo: Keith Allison, flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0. No changes were made to the original.