For almost four decades, I’ve trained undergraduates at Cornell University who moved on to succeed financial services.
I haven’t taught them how to use spreadsheets. I haven’t taught them accounting. What I have done is to impress on them the importance of developing the specific behavioral leadership skills necessary to move agendas.
It doesn’t matter where you earned your MBA, or how wonderful your quantitative skills, your ability to develop pitch books and conduct research. Finance is, now more than ever, a complex people industry.
In finance, multiple teams, cross-cutting turf, tiered services, product variety, and complex organizational structure makes the challenge clear: If you don’t have the capacity to move agendas in cooperation with others, it is unlikely that you will succeed, no matter how good your ideas are.
While you may be able to come up with good ideas, you have to fundamentally understand that gaining support is something that has to be earned, and something that you have to focus on continuously. You have to master the interpersonal skills of an agenda mover. Without these skills, it is unlikely that you will succeed.
You have to know whom you’re dealing with. Before you launch your ideas you need to anticipate the agendas of others. Simply put, you must do your homework. And like it sounds, it is a methodical exercise where you analyze the type of arguments that others may make to challenge your idea, presentation, or analysis.
Even in finance, if you think that numbers alone will carry the day, you’re wrong. By thinking about challenges that people will make against your idea, you will be able to formulate responses that address some of their concerns.
You have to focus your message to make sure it is clearly heard. You have to justify your ideas by presenting convincing supporting arguments. When you are asked what is so unique about your idea, your credibility is being challenged. You have to be prepared to defend not only your credibility but also the credibility of your idea without getting trapped by your ego.
You have to pitch your idea in such a way that you get others on board. You have to make sure that others understand the potential benefits of what you are trying to do, not only for the organization, but also for them personally. You have to get them to overcome the fear of failure and get comfortable with your position, and give them a sense that you’re seriously committed for the long run.
The one lesson for success in the world of finance is that you have to have the ability to move ideas and agendas. You can’t do it alone. Therefore, you need to keep the focus on only on your intentions and aspirations, but the intentions and aspirations of others.
Those who are successful in finance careers understand that they need to be agenda movers. That means having the political and managerial competence to gain support, enhance their legitimacy, and get things done.
As you move your career in the field of finance, make sure you master the core skills to mobilize people to your side and keep them there. These skills are often taken for granted. In the case of my students, these are the skills that make a difference.
Samuel B. Bacharach is the author of The Agenda Mover: When Your Good Idea Is Not Enough. He is also co-founder of the Bacharach Leadership Group and is the McKelvey-Grant Professor at Cornell University.
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