Viewpoint: CFOs need to make ethical leadership apparent

CFOs need to be trustworthy financial stewards of an organization, and it's critical that employees and external stakeholders view them as such, writes Forbes contributor Joseph Holt. 

A CFO's reputation is key, especially at a time when greater transparency and ethics are demanded from companies, Mr. Holt said.

Brad Buss, CFO at SolarCity Corp., a subsidiary of Tesla, said in an interview with the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics that a CFO's reputation is so critical that "once it’s tarnished, you’re unemployable."

CFOs should strive to bolster their reputation as ethical leaders by making moral concerns an explicit part of their leadership agenda, Mr. Holt said.

Many leaders assume they will be seen that way as long as they quietly do the right things for the right reasons. However, this is not the case, Mr. Holt said. 

Most employees are multiple layers removed from CFOs and have little interaction with them. As a result, they don't know the extent to which their finance leaders' decisions are based on moral or only financial considerations.

"That [good] reputation will enable the CFO to help set a positive moral tone at the top of his or her company and attract and retain the best people in a tight job market," Mr. Holt said.

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