What Character Traits a CEO wants from their CFO

Hello.  My name is Dave C.  I…am a CFO.  That’s what I do well.  I fancy myself as meriting a few other monikers like Strategist, Leader, and Adrenaline Junkie.  Are these appropriate qualities for a CFO?  If so, am I focused on the right output the CEO and the business need to thrive?  Recently we asked our top CEO clients what information THEY want from their CFO.  130 of them eagerly responded, anxious to let us know what output they value from their CFO and the character traits they expected them to have.

What CEOs Expect from their CFOs

1. Accurate, reliable, and timely financial statements

It shouldn’t come as a surprise for a CFO that number one is accurate, reliable, and timely financial statements.  Years ago when I got my first shot at the CFO role I read a Deloitte & Touche pamphlet that should have been entitled, “Training wheels for the CFO”, but was actually called, “Breathing Lessons.”  They agreed with the CEO and labeled solid financial statements as the “dial tone”.  Frankly, without it nothing else a finance team does really matters.

2. Cash Flow Forecast

Secondly, our CEOs wanted a good Cash Flow Forecast.  Note I didn’t say, “Cash Flow Statement.”  Very few senior financial personnel would have ranked this #2.  They’d have ranked it as important, but #2?…not likely.  Too many of us focus on the income statement and the balance sheet and forget about cash flow.  To use my mother’s words, “Shame. Shame.”

3. Budget to Actual Comparisons

4. Key Metrics


Take note that three of the four explicitly (and truth be told, all four in reality) require analysis.  CEOs fully expect that we interpret the information we are feeding the organization.

And the fact that the other work we do is much lower in the rankings doesn’t mean that it is irrelevant.  A more proper interpretation would be that without these four deliverables, we aren’t delivering the basics of what the CEO wants from us.

Character Traits a CEO wants from their CFO


I’m glad to hear that Honesty places high enough above all others that it is clearly the winner.  Headlines these past few years have led me to wonder how much people really value this timeless trait.

I interpreted from their #2 ranked trait, Attention to Detail, that they didn’t necessarily want us buried in the details, but rather, they were saying, “Please don’t miss something important because you’re flying too high.”

The third most valued trait was being a Strategic Thinker.  It wasn’t long ago that few people expected the CFO to think about much more than the numbers.  This has very clearly changed.  The CFO must contemplate what the numbers mean and relate them to the ongoing operations and strategy of the organization as much as they focus on their accuracy.

Our request to our CEO clients was a forced ranking.  Don’t make the mistake of believing that the remaining 9 traits are low in importance.  On the contrary, they cannot be neglected either.  Consciously devoting a little time to develop in all these key areas will make you a stronger CFO.

Categories: CFO Services, Leadership