Great Leaders, Veiled Vanity and Forgiveness

Today’s definition of a great leader has evolved.  Power, prestige, position have displaced others as pre-eminent qualities of a great leader.  I recently read a terrific post on Harvard Business Review that reminded me of one such displaced trait that some might even perceive as quaint.

The ability and willingness to forgive others has not only slipped in stature, some may now even believe it to be indicative of weakness.  However, revenge (as the opposite of forgiveness) isn’t proper strategy or leadership, but rather thinly veiled vanity as the following story about General Ulysses Grant illustrates.

In the historic Civil War battle for Fort Donelson, General Grant had asked for Navy support and ordered them in.  In their haste they got too close and were beaten severely.  Two had their steering knocked out by the fort’s cannons and began to drift down river.  Grant and his army were in a precarious position.  His 20,000 men surrounding the fort were equal in numbers to the defending confederates in and around the fort.  It is an axiom of war that the attacker nearly always needs an advantage of at least three to one to be certain of victory against a well-entrenched army.  Grant was an aggressive general who generated his own luck by pressing the enemy hard enough that they made mistakes.  As he continued his attack the defenders grew nervous and tried to escape by knocking a hole in Grant’s lines and escaping with their army.  As they made an attempt to do so, they made a fatal error when they delayed to gather supplies and ammunition. As the pressure slackened, Grant said, “the one who attacks first now will be victorious.”  He won the battle and secured the fort. It is a very rare event for an entire army to be captured.  General Washington had accomplished it at Yorktown.  Grant’s senior leaders were excited at the prospect of having the enemy regiments paraded in front of the victors, with bands playing and the opposing general ceremoniously handing over his sword.  When one of them asked General Grant when the ceremony would be held he responded, “There will be nothing of the kind, the surrender is now a fact.  We have the fort, the men, the guns.  Why should we go through vain forms and mortify and injure the spirit of brave men, who after all are our own countrymen and brothers?”

Great leaders, like Ulysses Grant, understand that forgiveness for mistakes, for perceived slights, even for war or debt, promotes a healing process and growth in individuals, teams, companies and nations.  This can seem counterintuitive when we’ve been programmed to believe in rewarding good behavior and providing negative consequences for improper behavior.  However, timely forgiveness can create indefatigable loyalty and strong team dynamics.

This certainly proved true for Grant and Lincoln as they famously moved toward rebuilding by forgiving, rather than demanding reparations or “vain forms.”

Seeking payback through humiliation or other means, regardless of attempts to veil it, seldom creates positive momentum.  As Mahatma Gandhi powerfully suggested, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

 David Chase has experience in small to medium private companies and large public companies as a senior operational and financial leader.  With 14 years in finance, a CFO of multiple entities and divisional EVP experience, Dave has a breadth of experience.  Dave has led or been instrumental in raising multiple rounds of equity and debt in excess of $450 million.


What a CEO wants from their CFO – part 2

This is part 2 of a what I’ve learned recently from many of our top CEO clients.  Part 1 let us in on the secret of what output a CEO expects from his or her CFO.  Part 2 turns to to characteristics that the CEO expects their CFO to have.

I’m glad to hear that Honesty place 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.

ImageI interpreted from their #2 ranked trait, Attention to Details, 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.”

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 development in all these key areas will make you a stronger CFO. 

David Chase has experience in small to medium private companies and large public companies as a senior operational and financial leader.  With 14 years in finance, a CFO of multiple entities and divisional EVP experience, Dave has a breadth of experience.  Dave has led or been instrumental in raising multiple rounds of equity and debt in excess of $450 million.


1. Integrity: Grandpa’s right, a handshake is all we need

Your name and your word…two of your most valuable possessions.  Do NOTHING to mar them.  Karl Maeser, an educator once said, “Place me behind prison walls-walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground-there is the possibility that in some way or another I may escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of the circle? No. Never! I’d die first!”

2. Complaining isn’t productive…Stop it.

A respected educator and community leader, Jeffrey Holland, once said, “No misfortune is so bad that whining about it won’t make it worse”.  Well said.

3. Never Give Up

Attack challenges like Jimmy Shea, Olympic Skeleton Gold Medalist.  Jimmy, had circulatory problems in one leg, which are so critical to the running start.  On the final run, he was behind midway through his run and went into the final turns: 13,14 & 15. The Doc had wanted to perform surgery before the Olympics.  Nope.  During that year leading to Olympics he walked every inch of the track every day looking for every advantage.  He found it in turns 13,14&15.

4. Risk it

Take chances in life.  As a risk-adverse person by nature, I kept on my office wall at work the reminder by the Great One,”100% of the shots you don’t take don’t go in”.  Wayne Gretzky.

5. Positive Attitude – Take sunshine with you everywhere you go

If there’s any big truth about life, it’s that it is shaped by your attitude. There is a story told about a stranger coming to town and asking if the town was friendly.  He was asked if he came from a similar town and when he responded that he had, he was told, “You’ll find the same here”.  Another stranger came to town and asked if the town was unfriendly.  He also was asked if came from a similar town.  When he responded that, yes, “my town was unfriendly”, he was told, “You’ll find the same here.” If, for example, you believe there is good everywhere and a silver lining in every situation, guess what? You’re probably right.

6. Give a gift to everyone you meet.

I’m not talking about a formal, wrapped-up present. Your gift can be your smile, a word of thanks or encouragement, a small touch, a gesture of politeness, even a friendly nod.  If you feel something, say something.

7. Assume people have good intentions.

Since you can’t read minds, you don’t really know the “why” behind the “what” that people do. Imputing evil motives to other people’s weird behaviors adds extra misery to life, while assuming good intentions leaves you open to reconciliation.

8. Forgive those who you believe wronged you

Mahatma Ghandi, preeminent pacifist, once said, “An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”  We all are imperfect and require forgiveness regularly…be cool, grant it as well.

9. Make a blooming decision would you!

Never let indecision impede your progress in life.  Though his name and thoughts at times were a little goofy, Yogi Berra had it right, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

A Real CFO Must Have A Backbone

I just read this piece entitled ‘CFOs Behaving Badly‘ by and have to say that I could not agree more.

Today, perhaps more than ever, CFO’s and Controllers must be able to stand up and do the right thing, regardless of what their CEO, Board of Directors or anyone else says or does.

This is a tough thing to do when everyone is talking about how a truly strategic CFO must be the CEO’s strategic financial partner, must understand and be intimately involved in operations and be a leader throughout the organization, however, we cannot forget that the fundamental responsibility that we have as CFO’s is to deliver Trust.

Management, employees, shareholders, creditors and others must be able to trust that we have the right people, processes and controls in place to deliver timely and accurate financial reports and information. They must be able to trust that there is sufficient transparency and that information is neither being withheld nor subject to being ‘spun’ to accommodate an ulterior motive.

In order to earn that trust, we have to have the courage to say ‘no’ sometimes and stand for what is right – even if it costs us our job. Frankly, a quality CFO will not want to work around or be associated with a CEO or Board that allow greed, selfishness or personal interest to pervade the philosophy of an organization.

While I don’t condone Talos Partner’s CFO’s tactic of wielding a bat in order to make his point, I do respect his courage to take a stand – are you willing to do the same?

Author: Kent Thomas