02/22/2012 06:48 pm ET Updated Apr 23, 2012

Improving Your Reputation

Recently a magazine editor asked me to respond to questions from his readers who were mainly Chief Financial Officers and future C-Suite executives. As I reflected on the theme of some of the best questions, it struck me that readers in any executive management position make decisions each day that either enhance his or her reputation or hurt it. So, if you are interested in enhancing your reputation in and with the financial community, consider the following suggestions.

Changing the CFO Image: 

The title "CFO" is a bad word these days. Have we brought that on ourselves or is it the fault of the media?
- Bryce in London, England

Dear Bryce,

I agree that the position of CFO is the most misunderstood and underappreciated position in a corporation. My personal experience as a CFO showed me that being an example of integrity is the most important part of the role. Once others see that the CFO challenges the status quo in an effective manner by working through the current management and executive processes, others will appreciate what a high impact and important job it is. It doesn't matter if we or the media created the negative aura. What matters is that each of us who has financial skills uses them to build trust between the company's management and employees, customers and investors. In time, the reputation of the CFO position will rebound.

Courage Quotient:

Can you identify a leader with a high CQ (Courage Quotient) and walk through how that is making him or her a better leader?
- Jill in Cleveland, OH

Dear Jill,

The example I used in my book Shaking the Globe is John Bryan, who served as CEO of the Sara Lee Corp. for many years. I worked with him to gain personal knowledge. He stood up for his beliefs even in the face of the most fearsome of naysayers. He also showed empathy for others and willingness to stand out when an opportunity to help others presented itself. These traits made him a better leader as he embraced diversity and made sure he and others recruited and retained the most talented people available through formal and informal channels, regardless of race or gender.

Transparency Overkill: 

Having a high CQ means more open and direct communication. Am I supposed to let everyone view my financials at will?
- Lew in New York, NY

Dear Lew,

Never disclose private or confidential information. That being said, I think we over-dramatize what is confidential when, in fact, it is not because much of the information is already available either through analyst reports, public filings or presentations. I learned that when I, as CFO, would ask someone within my company for information, if he said it was confidential, normally that meant he did not have the analysis or data. Transparency kills unsavory practices by putting a spotlight on available information and usually builds better communications throughout an organization by minimizing the reliance on rumor or innuendo to understand the process of a decision.

Decision-Making Optimization: 

Do you have any insights or research that may point to practical ways in which individuals, business functions and entire organizations can increase the speed of their decision-making?
- Mary in New York, NY

Dear Mary,

Your question about how can you increase the speed of decision-making has a simple but complex answer, 'it depends.' One of the most important aspects of decision-making speed is driven by the type of industry in which your company competes. Some industries, such as airplane manufacturing, require a great deal of lead time and technological development before management will make an investment. The risk of being wrong carries a high price tag. Just imagine the delays of the Boeing Dreamliner and the effect that will have on future decision-making in the company. The second important aspect is how the company makes decisions. You need to determine if decisions are made through directive, participative or consensus means. Obviously, the directive approach will be the quickest approach and often is found in start-up organizations in which most employees know each other and have no legacy systems or processes to be followed. In addition, customers and competitors may require the company to speed up decisions due to a change in the ecosystem of the industry. Point this out to your management to create a sense of urgency and need for speed.