How to get your Finance Black Belt for a more successful career?

How to get your Finance Black Belt for a more successful career?

Recently when talking with a fellow finance professional our conversation switched over to which martial arts style is best? Which is better, jujitsu, kung fu, karate, judo, krav maga, tae kwon do, or something like Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)? I’m not an expert in any of these, but having dabbled with a few of them each has its comparative advantages and downsides. And it got me thinking why it’s important to your career success to have access to Finance ‘Black Belts’ and ‘Masters’ at their craft.

In martial arts there’s lots of black belts in the world, who have spent years mastering their art, and in turn can help others become better. Because most of the time ‘black belts’ will beat those who are only at the lower stages like ‘white’ and ‘yellow’ with their skill, applied knowledge and level of mastery.

And if you want to become a ‘black belt’ or earn your ‘black sash’ then you’re probably looking at picking one style and working at it until you’ve developed some level of mastery. The wrong way to do is to jump from beginner class to beginner class in all these different styles; you’d always be a ‘white belt’, end up confused and frustrated because you’re always coming up short on reaching your full potential.

This is ironic because I used to be that same beginner jumping around different roles starting in the mail room scanning invoices, to then going to Accounts, General Accounting, Auditing, Management, FP&A, Stakeholder Relations, Treasury, M&A, Business Partnering, Commercial Finance, Pricing, Analytics, Transformation, I’ve probably missed a few but you get the idea I’d be good, but never a great finance professional.

At some point, you need to choose a martial arts style, commit to practising that way, getting better over time and accepting that there will be some hard won lessons. There’s no avoiding the work or the practice if you want the results.

It’s similar for those of us who want to be successful and have a meaningful career as a Finance professional too. There are many approaches, many ‘black belts’ to learn from, many courses to go on, books to read, qualifications to take and a lot of work to do. If you jump from role to role, course to course, book to book, website to website, you’ll always be a beginner.

At some point you need to pick an area and go deeper with it.

How much deeper? Well you can find out by answering the following three questions:

  • Suitability: Will it be something you can continue to enjoy doing even when it’s tough? A common trait I see in people who are struggling in their finance careers is that they read a new book every month, watch lots of videos and attend lots of courses, but rarely go deep into any one area of their work. When you discover an area or role within finance that resonates, you should immerse yourself in it.
  • Acceptability: Will it be a sustainable role or area that you can focus on, has the right conditions (pay, prospects, etc… and is unlikely to be considered robotic work)? It would be easy to read a book or listen to a podcast, and move on to the next one. It’s a lot harder to insist on putting ideas you’ve learned into practice and hold yourself back from moving onto new ones until you’re seeing results.
  • Feasibility: Can you access the necessary resources and capabilities to be successful in the area or role you choose? I want to encourage you to stop reading new books, going on new courses, consuming a wide variety of videos and podcasts. Instead, pick a style and go deeper into learning what is necessary to avoid and stay away from as well as what to implement and do in order to be successful at it.

And this is why on the Strength in the Numbers Show we keep ensuring you can freely access finance guest mentors, who are in effect the finance ‘black belts’, and can help you answer these questions. They share with you their stories on thing things they’ve found challenging and where they’ve improved so that you can more quickly figure out the suitability, acceptability and feasibility of the areas you’re working in so that you can enhance your chances of having a more rewarding and successful career in Finance. And as parting thought

Ultimately, the information guest mentors share won’t change things for you, it’s the application of that information will.

So what Finance Black Belts Do You Know? Or does having a mentor really matter?

The author Andrew Codd is the producer of the Strength in the Numbers Podcast which aims to create more influential finance professionals worldwide who solve meaningful problems for their organisations and in return have fun, rewarding and successful careers in finance.