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Indirect procurement is a function with high requirements for stakeholder management. Cultivating excellent stakeholder management skills means developing self-mastery – a key part of authentic leadership.
In the workplace, ‘Just being yourself’ doesn’t mean letting it all hang out, unfiltered. It requires a self-mastery founded in self-awareness. It means building on this to calibrate ones own reaction to and interaction with colleagues. I’ve had experiences from good and bad bosses along the way and I’ve made mistakes that have helped me learn to be a more authentic leader.
The blind spot of conviction
Early on in my career I was lucky to be part of a small, young team developing the, then new, idea of strategic sourcing in indirect procurement for a large bank.
We had an innovative boss, Harry, who inspired us with his passion for the new concept. And, with just 10 of us, and a supportive CPO, we were starting to make a big impact.
However, there was a new CFO who didn’t understand what we were doing. He simply didn’t care about the hundreds of millions of savings the team was generating. As you can probably guess, this was before the banking crisis!
Harry had a choice to make. He could have decided to keep a low profile and deliver value in other ways. After all, there were plenty of projects to work on that didn’t require massive change management and senior sponsorship.
Instead, he made an ultimatum to the new CFO, so convinced that he was right and that his arguments would be compelling.
It didn’t turn out the way he had planned. The team closed and disbanded one month later. Unfortunately, Harry’s lack of self-awareness made him naively unaware of the politics of the business and the consequences he might face.
Leading a team through change
The procurement management team I was working on at a large Swiss company was about to go through a major transition with the retirement of our charismatic CPO. He had many great qualities but led by command and control.
His manager, Peter, knew we needed to evolve to be capable of running the business independently. The stakes were high for him due to a high level of outsourcing in direct procurement and high savings commitments in indirect procurement.
The first shake-up was a reduction of the team. Peter joined the meeting with the new smaller group. I didn’t know him well, and was nervous about what his expectations were.
He told us that we had to be ready to lead procurement differently as our new boss was not a procurement person. He admitted that our new team wasn’t yet ready for the challenges ahead but that we would be supported to grow and develop.
Over the next year, Peter joined our meetings regularly to give us input and encouragement. He didn’t discuss the pressure for us to become an independent team. He backed up the risks we were taking with new high change projects. He also gave his personal support with one to one time.
Much later, I asked him about that time and how much pressure there had really been. He told me he hadn’t been sure the team would make it and that the pressure from the CEO had been intense.
His self-mastery at that moment allowed us to have space to grow and successfully step up to the plate.
Not filtering and scaring my team
It was the end of summer and we were in the second year of our indirect transformation. The team had delivered the first year, but our credibility was far from cemented.
One of my team leads, Mary, revealed that her team’s numbers were not sure for the year. Worse still, we had recently submitted an updated forecast to senior management.
Mary and I reviewed her project details. She couldn’t answer all of the questions to the level I needed in order to be able to revise the numbers.
I was surprised at this; she was highly capable, but she hadn’t yet fully learned how to measure savings in financial terms or to appreciate the importance of forecast accuracy.
We were under a lot of pressure and I panicked. Having scrutinised the details with Mary I understood the situation, but the cost was high and I was unsuccessful in shielding my stress from the team.
Fortunately Mary followed up with me. She explained what the effect of my unfiltered actions had on her and the team. She felt undermined and made to feel foolish in front of her team and her team members themselves were frightened.
I had failed my team by allowing high pressure from upwards to go unfiltered downwards.
After apologising to Mary, we talked frankly about what had happened. She got more insight into what she needed to do and I agreed to never behave in that way again.
It was a deep learning experience in the importance of maintaining self-mastery, especially in high-stress moments.
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