Ideas are easy. Implementing them is the challenge.
Leadership in organizational structures is fleeting. Leaders take on the tough tasks and provide a vision and direction for attaining their goals. Managers follow the plan and try to insert efficiencies along the way. In supply chain management we often use the term “leading practices” when in actuality, we are referring to common practices across a sector.
When one organization continues to issue competitive bidding process for services, following the practices of its peers, we consider this to be following a leading practice. When another organization is first in its sector to adopt a vested outsourcing strategy, we are observing leadership in action
Leaders are not satisfied with the status quo. The need to drive innovation is inherent in every leader and thus every industry. Followers value leadership because while they can perceive when something needs to change, they tend not to accept the professional and personal risks associated with driving that change.
Change is perhaps the only true constant – but leaders must articulate a vision before real change can happen. Such a vision does not necessarily come from a brief and illuminating epiphany, but more often from leaders’ abilities to perceive that which is beyond the noise in the market or the confusion in the messages. Leaders instead appreciate nuances during the discovery and presentation of new ideas while accepting a reasonable level of risk. Leaders are also not too humble to draw from successful ideas of others and give credit where due.
What makes a person a leader? First, it is their self-conviction in knowing what needs to be done and their commitment to following that goal. They realize when it is beyond their personal resources to reach their goals without the commitment of others. A leader is less concerned with the how of change, allowing for their followers to utilize their own ideas and energy for carrying out that change. A leader is more focused on the why of change.
Leaders paint the picture of the future and have their audience – their followers – understand how their roles can complement the vision. This aspirational aspect of leadership is concurrent with the inspirational communications within the organization and to its external stakeholders.
Leaders need to create the buy-in. Without followers’ commitment to the vision, success is doubtful or compromised. Buy-in requires credibility, a focus on common interests, shared passions, resilience and an emotional connection created by the leader. People need affirmation that a leader is authentic before they will hear the new message. Leaders anticipate both a certain level of resistance and the occurrence of conflicts. They need to listen to concerns and adequately address them in their action plans. A guiding strategy requires an approach in accord with the organization’s values. Changes in behaviour indicating a stronger alignment with the leader’s vision can provide evidence that the buy-in is taking place.
In supply chains, we see these changes in behaviour when leading practices – such as adopting total cost of ownership – replace pursuing the lowest cost; when public organizations utilize the buying power in procurement to positively affect social and economic development; when targets are set to ensure diversity across supply chains; when we see inclusive opportunities for people who face employment barriers; and when value for money exceeds arbitrary budget limits and considers benefits to the community as a whole. That is leadership. Leadership begins when we start to think outside the books.
Larry has been in the supply chain management field as an author, manager, business trainer, academia, and consultant for many years. Larry has worked in both the private and public sectors. Recently he has been co-facilitating NECI eSeminars, classroom sessions, and online modules. His new book, Good Planets are Hard to Buy is now available on Amazon.com.
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