How CFOs and CEOs of Different Stripes Can Communicate Better

CFO and CEO Communicating

Editor’s Note: This is the final post in a three-part series on the different types of CFOs, CEOs, and how they can best communicate with each other. In this post, we offer tips toward better, clearer and more productive communication between CFOs and CEOs. In the previous post, we outlined the four basic types of CEOs. In the first post, we outlined the four basic types of CFOs. 

What we shouldn’t have here is a failure to communicate.

Now that you know what type of CFO you are, and what type of CEO you’re working with, you should have a better idea of how to communicate with them in a manner that speaks to their core agenda, attributes and values.

Here, we provide CFOs a handy cheat sheet for crafting a communication strategy that’s tailored to the kind of CEO to which they report. Following, we outline the ideal pairings—and least ideal pairings—of CFO and CEO working relationships. Then, to help you improve that working relationship, we offer a general strategy tip for formulating your talking points with the four types of CEOs, regardless of what type of CFO you happen to be.

Finally, we assign each CEO a likely StrengthFinder strength theme, which is based on a more than 40-year study of human strengths, and offer tips from the book StrengthsFinder 2.0 to work the best with this type of CEO.


Here’s an overview of the CFO Types and their descriptions.

CFO Type Description
Scorecard Systems thinker
Cost-Cutter Focused primarily on expenses
Finance Functionalist Experienced and deep knowledge of finance
Growth Guru Change agent with M&A experience.


How to communicate with the Entrepreneurial Founder CEO

Recap: Hands on by nature, they typically like to have weekly meetings with direct reports from every department in the company. They also like to know what’s happening in every nook and cranny of the company. Sometimes, they struggle to let go of an initiative or project they’ve identified as critical to the company’s future. And everything’s critical to the company’s future.

Pairs best with: The Scorecard CFO.

Clashes with: The Finance Functionalist.

General Strategy: Coach your CEO to let go. You have the ability to help their company grow, if only they would let you. But competency matters to them. Communicate your competency to get the job done.

StrengthFinder theme: Achiever

Tips: “Recognize that this person likes to be busy. Sitting in meetings is likely to be very boring for him. So only invite him to meetings where you really need him and he can be fully engaged.

…Ask him questions such as “How late did you have to work to get this done? or “When did you come in this morning? He will appreciate this kind of attention. 


How to communicate with The Braveheart CEO

Recap: Like Mel Gibson in Braveheart, these types of CEOs are big on inspirational speeches, vision and leadership. In an essay for Medium, Alex Schiff, the co-founder and CEO of the note-taking app Fetchnotes, says Braveheart CEOs are the: “type of people you want to believe in, even if you have doubts. They frame everything they do in terms of changing the world…This CEO is incredible at attracting employees and investors, and keeping them motivated too.

Pairs best with: The Cost Cutter.

Clashes with: The Scorecard CFO.

General strategy: Pick one aspect of their vision, and use your arsenal to make it reality. Show them how your work accomplishes part of their vision. But, also be prepared to be a counterbalancing force against potentially risky moves.

StrengthFinder theme: Communication

Tips: “Take the time to hear about this person’s life and experiences. He will enjoy telling you, and you will enjoy listening. And your relationship will be closer because of it.


How to communicate with The Custodian CEO

Recap: Steady and true with their hand on the proverbial plow, these are CEOs who have led more than one other firm before. They are so-called professional CEOs. They’ve made mistakes and learned from them, and as a result, often see themselves as conservative custodians whose responsibility it is to steward the company well, for however long a time they are in charge. 

Pairs best with: The Finance Functionalist.

Clashes with: The Growth Guru.

General Strategy: Focus on a message that tells a story of cutting costs and streamlining operations. Don’t try to rock the boat too soon. Instead, sell your work from a stewardship point of view.

StrengthFinder theme: Consistency

Tips: “Be supportive of this person during times of great change because he is most comfortable with predictable patterns that he knows work well. 


How to communicate with The Calf-Fattener CEO

Recap: Inveterate leaders, these CEOs are growth-minded, and see their task as preparing a company for growth-mode, if not for immediate sale. Like Custodians, they are resolute, and better leaders and listeners. Strategy-minded, they are even less likely to be involved in the day-to-day than Custodians.

Pairs best with: The Growth Guru.

Clashes with: The Cost-Cutter.

General Strategy: Help them go beyond cost-cutting mode into growth mode. Couch your work in terms of growth, and short-term profit.

StrengthFinder theme: Strategic

Tips: “Always give this person ample time to think through a situation before asking for his input. He isn’t likely to voice his opinion until he has played out a couple of scenarios in his mind….In addition, “When you hear or read of strategies that worked in your field, share them with this person. It will stimulate his thinking.

What other tips would you offer to improve the CFO and CEO working relationship?


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