14th June 2024

Become an Influential Finance Leader: How to Ask Great Questions

Do you ever feel stuck in your role as a finance leader? You know the business proposal has flaws, but saying “no” feels like overstepping…

Well, there is a way to influence strategic-level decisions without making ultimatums. The secret sauce? Asking powerful questions.

Think about the most influential finance leaders you’ve worked with. They likely weren’t the ones constantly saying “no.” 

Instead, they probably had a knack for having productive conversations by asking all the right things. 

In this article I give you actionable tips on how to gain influence outside of the finance team by asking questions that:

  • encourage deeper conversations 
  • uncover potential issues (without you saying no)
  • foster collaboration across departments (i.e. outside finance!)

How to ask the right questions

Here’s the magic: questions are more effective than statements in influencing others. 

Imagine a business leader in your company proposes a new project with questionable ROI. 

Instead of bluntly saying, “This won’t work” (or being afraid to come across as rude so not questioning it at all!) you can ask, “What would we need to do to ensure a positive ROI on this project?”.

This approach achieves two things:

  1. It shifts the focus: The business leader is encouraged to think again about the project’s viability, rather than defend it.
  2. It fosters collaboration: You’re working together to find solutions instead of talking about problems.

Why questioning helps finance leaders gain influence

Finance is excellent at analysing data (the “what happened” and “why”). But you can be way more influential by helping other business leaders define the “so what” or the “next steps.” 

Instead of simply presenting financial data, if you can ask the right questions, you can prompt the business leader to consider the implications.

You could ask questions like:

  • “How could altering the pricing structure on this product drive volume?”
  • “What impact would this decision have on our cash flow in the next quarter?”

These “so what” questions guide the conversation towards the bigger picture and help with strategic decision-making.

If you can be the person asking questions that lead people to think differently or find better solutions – you can see how this helps increase your sphere of influence in the company. 

Key tips for asking powerful questions

Asking powerful questions takes practice. 

People might initially be confused or even defensive. Here are some key tips on refining your approach to questioning:

Ditch the “why.” 

“Why” questions can come across as accusatory, even if you ask them nicely! Try replacing the word “why” by rephrasing your question to start with “what,” “how,” or “could” to encourage an open, ideas-based discussion.

Embrace “how.” 

The “how” question opens up a lot more possibilities for where your conversation or meeting could go. 

It encourages people to contribute their own ideas and is solution-focused.

Instead of saying, “I don’t think this project will have a positive ROI,” try asking, “How could we invest in this project in a way that increases the potential ROI?”

Practise makes perfect 

The more you practise asking effective questions, the more comfortable you’ll become.

Try not to be discouraged by misunderstandings, keep refining your approach and you’ll see your influence increase over time.

Now it’s your turn 

Asking powerful questions is the secret weapon of influential finance leaders. 

If you can be awesome at this, you can move beyond presenting numbers to becoming someone who helps others find great solutions (that you agree with from a finance point of view!). 

You can become a trusted advisor that guides strategic conversations and shapes the future of the business!

Ready to become an influential finance leader? 

Start changing the way you ask questions today. Remember, practice makes perfect, and if you need help thinking this through for your specific situation, get in touch with me. 

For more on this topic:

Oliver Deacon

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