Many people consider that hard work and a natural affinity with numbers are
sufficient to qualify for promotion in financial roles. Although a certain level
of technical skill is a pre-requisite, those with decision-making powers are
increasingly focusing on other factors such as leadership potential, strategic
thinking, and personal presentation: qualities considered at odds with the
stereotypical financier’s skills set.
Whether you are trying to gain promotion within your existing employer, move
into a new company or firm, or go right to the top by getting yourself into a
FTSE 100 company as CFO or FD, there are fundamental rules that can ensure a
greater success in securing that all important promotion.
So, what can you do to shorten the odds of success? Let’s start with the
basics. One of the first and most easily addressable changes that any candidate
can make is to ensure they have impeccable personal presentation.
By effecting a change in the way you look, stand, walk and talk, you will
start to look and feel like you are ready to take on a new challenge. In
short, it can change the opinion colleagues have of you and the impression you
have of yourself.
People often find that when upgrading their wardrobes, they feel a noticeable
change. They believe themselves to come across as more professional and
confident and as a result they do. Every individual is different, and you may
wish to adopt a long-term strategy of gradual alteration, or perhaps just
upgrade your presentation for key meetings or to give your confidence a boost on
particularly important or busy days.
Some of the best promotions are those which are widely greeted with approval
by everyone, not just those directly involved in the process. To achieve this,
it is important to closely examine the way you interact with others in the
office. Those in number-crunching roles are used to processing large amounts of
information quickly and efficiently, and to applying logical solutions. As a
result, their mannerisms can appear abrupt.
Those under the mistaken impression that people skills count for nothing will
invariably find it hard to adopt the skills required of a person assuming a more
managerial role. So as well as letting go of the belief that financial skills
alone are the ‘be all and end all’, think about your softer skills. Are your
presentation skills up to scratch? Are you a successful communicator? Do you
inspire and encourage others? Every office has a handful of admired and
respected leaders. Ask for their advice on how they foster this good opinion.
The next step is to start thinking and behaving more strategically. Strategic
people are expected to be thoughtful, contemplative and demonstrate a greater
insight into problems. Before an interview, it is a good idea to have researched
the kind of qualities the panel will be looking for.
Taking on board the advice of experienced, world-beating executives is also a
good idea (reading the management classics such as Jack Welch’s Straight from
the Gut is one suggestion). It is also important to understand the wider
concerns of the business. Consider investing some time in getting to know other
departments, think about what makes them tick and how each team contributes to
the business as a whole.
Start looking at the nature of the work you will be taking on, and how you
will demonstrate the desirable qualities.
Great leaders, as opposed to good managers, not only need to be more decisive
but are under pressure to make those decisions which produce the most profitable
Leaders should celebrate the achievements of others in their team, not only
to create a productive and enthused workforce but also, and more cynically, to
ensure no ‘dissent in the ranks’.
You can inspire your team with self belief that they can achieve great
things, and as part and parcel of this, motivate and train them to follow
through. By achieving company goals like increased M&A activity or securing
attractive net sales within your team, you are more likely to impress the
Finally, as a leader, you should make it your long-term goal to create more
leaders. Pass on your new found skills and make strategic promotions.
This will strengthen the team, and championing other people around you will
cement your bonds with them too. Above all, remember that a refusal to share
power will make you less successful, not more so.
An effective leader is one who ensures he is supported by other well-trained
and positive managers, and a collective sense of career progression is an
essential ingredient for a successful team.
Political party leaders who have been tempted to hoard power show us that
this only alienates other people, reduces the support that those at the top
receive from their colleagues and leads to instability and resentment.
Of course, it is important to demonstrate the technical skills required for
your new role, but bear in mind that your experience to date in this area will
By concentrating on making your softer skills more impressive, you are more
likely to distinguish yourself from your peers.
KEY TO SUCCESS
Take a good hard look at yourself: Think about the way you
hold yourself, the clothes you wear in the office, the way you speak, and even
the way you walk.
Identify differences between where you are and where you want to
be: Let go of some of that technical mindset.
Get strategic: Become more thoughtful. Resist the urge to
deliver an answer immediately, and instead help others to find their own
solutions by helping them develop insight into problems.
Think about the promotions board: Think carefully about what
the promotion board are looking for. Swot up on other disciplines within your
business to prove that you are thinking beyond the technical aspects of your
Become a leader: Follow the four key rules; celebrate the
achievements of those working for you; inspire your team with self belief;
motivate them to achieve; create more leaders.
Professor Khalid Aziz is chairman of The Aziz
Carter Backer Winter has acquired Edwards Financial Services, expanding its financial planning department
New growth opportunities in Aberdeen, North East Scotland, are being invested in by Grant Thornton
Colin responds to the call for 'Darwinism' in accountancy
A new partner, Dermot Callinan, has joined Saffery Champness from KPMG where he was recently the head of the UK private client advisory team