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A man decides to run for mayor. His primary platform is the construction of a new community center downtown. In his speeches and online campaigns he touts the center as the missing link to a thriving downtown with weekly events, family activities, and a central meeting space that’s accessible to everyone.

His opponent is running on a platform that supports the development of a new hotel on the east side of town on the notoriously seedy J Street. She also touts the social benefits of the proposed hotel, but that’s not all she talks about.

“Sure,” she says, “the upfront cost is a significant investment, but in just three years, our community will see a return on investment of 45 percent! This new hotel will not only make J street a safer place to live for our local families, but it will attract tourist dollars and create much-needed jobs in our community.”

Come voting day, the woman is elected mayor. The man can’t figure out what he did wrong. The community center would truly benefit the city in so many ways. Why couldn’t his friends and neighbors see his vision and understand its value? Why did they choose the hotel over a community center that local residents could use and enjoy?

It all comes down, whether you like it or not, to the money.

Why no one takes you seriously

Let’s look at another example. I had the privilege of working with a woman who is changing the face of Vancouver through her business. I’ll call her Audrey. Audrey is collaborative, confident in her own power, and her work stands to greatly benefit her city as a whole. She had just one problem. Audrey told me that no one was taking her seriously.

What the heck? This didn’t seem right, so I asked her to show me her business plan. “Let’s start with your financials,” I said. Turns out she hadn’t created a strategic financial plan for her business.

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When you lack a financial foundation, you’re doomed to flounder and eventually fail. You have to be able to show your prospects how your product or service will make or save them money. Once you can show how you’ll deliver a significant ROI, you’ll make the sale. Show your prospects that they will profit by investing in you and you will succeed. It’s as simple as that, but until you can do this, people won’t take you seriously. 

Put money first

While it would be lovely to live in a world that values social and environmental benefit over financial return, that’s simply not the reality.

The reality is that in order to get into a leadership position and see your ideas through to fruition, you have to sell the return on investment first and the non-fiduciary benefits second. This is because running a successful business relies on making a profit (or on attracting grants and private donations).

It all comes down to the money.

As a leader, you have to be financially savvy. You need to understand the financials of your company and how you can use this data to help your organization achieve its goals. If you can figure this out and relay it to your superiors, you’ll be miles ahead of your peers and will quickly move up the ladder. (Check out Susan Colantuono’s TED Talk on this subject: The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get.)

Take the time to calculate what you’re worth

The next time you present a new idea to your boss, ask for a raise, or update your resume, think about the bottom line. How can you link your professional accomplishments to financial savings or financial gain for the company? How will your innovative idea increase profit?

I know that demonstrating the fiduciary benefits of your role at a company or of a new strategy isn’t easy. It often requires a significant amount of research to determine how your actions have monetarily impacted the company. This extra work, however, is necessary if you want to move ahead.

For example, as the Head of Santa Cruz Waldorf School, I was able to show that I increased our net assets by 51% and increased enrollment by 23%. These concrete numbers mean far more than just saying that I was an effective Head of School with the ability to engage with the community.

Think about how you can show your employer that you’ve improved the company by a quantitative amount. Craft your resume or your proposal for a raise with this in mind.

Show your leadership skills: Learn to talk financials

We need to stop avoiding the topic of money. Profit isn’t a dirty word—it’s how businesses succeed and make a real difference. This is why triple-bottom-line companies are gaining in popularity. They recognize the role that profit plays in helping both people and the planet. (They also, of course, recognize that there’s more to running a business than just making money.) The Tugboat Institute takes this idea even further with the Evergreen 7Ps.

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Don’t shy away from backing up your ideas and your accomplishments with financial proof. Take the time to prove your worth with quantitative data and I promise, it will pay off, for both you and the company lucky enough to hire you.


I’d love to hear from you …

Can you think of one professional achievement that you could quantify? Share it in the comments below. If you’re struggling with demonstrating the ROI of one of your accomplishments, please also share in the comments and I’ll try my best to help.

Special offer for aspiring leaders: 

Looking for one-on-one leadership consulting? I am now offering consulting services to clients who are seeking to achieve their greatest professional potential while affecting positive change for people and the planet. Contact me here with the subject line ‘Leader in the making.’