Tag Archives: authentic leadership

The Art of Self-Mastery In Indirect Procurement

Self-mastery is a critical skill in indirect procurement but you might have to endure a few steep learning curves before you nail it. 

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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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Indirect Procurement: Leading By Taking Responsibiity

Authentic leadership is especially important in indirect procurement. Pauline King discusses why taking responsibility is a key aspect of this.

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I was recently at a lunch with a former member of our indirect transformation program. I wanted her view was on how we achieved so much and so quickly. Her answer surprised me.

She made no mention of classic procurement methods; it was all about authentic leadership. Indirect procurement, with its high change impact, power struggles and need for excellent business partnering, is especially in need of this kind of leadership.

But what does this mean in the day to day? Thinking back over authentic and inauthentic bosses and my own mistakes in aiming to be an authentic leader, one theme is about taking responsibility. Here are three examples from my past experiences that demonstrate this.

  1. Be confident to make tough decisions 

I’ll never forget the first leadership team meeting with the best boss I ever had.

Bruce told us that each of us should be doing our own job and not the job of our direct reports. This was a powerful message for me because I realised that I had been covering and doing damage control for one of my team leads, Dirk.

Dirk had many talents, but he was not comfortable challenging the business. In indirect procurement, this is fatal.

It was September and we were setting up for the following year’s project pipeline and savings commitments. The numbers were not on track.

We were reviewing his numbers when I realised he hadn’t completed the final, and crucial, step of getting the senior business managers’ sign-off.  With a sinking feeling, I saw I would have to step in and ‘do his job for him’.  It was time for a hard decision.

In this case, it was especially difficult because I had worked closely with Dirk and appreciated his knowledge and skills in many ways.

But, he deserved to hear it straight that he hadn’t stepped up despite many feedback sessions. I didn’t see him being able to develop this particular skill. We instead focused on his considerable strengths and worked successfully to find him a new role. He went on to have great impact.

  1. Manage Relationships Effectively 

During a particularly difficult phase of a worldwide P2P rollout, my responsibility was to lead the global indirect implementation. This was in coordination with my teammates, the regional heads.

One of the most complex regions was in Europe with its many countries and languages. There were endless calls between global and region Europe to hammer out the operational details. One particular teammate, John, the head of Europe seemed to be putting roadblocks in place that didn’t make sense.

I made an error in blaming John and, worse still, being vocal about it. I didn’t take the time to understand his reality on the ground.

Luckily for me, our boss was very blunt and told me:

  • Work with your colleague to fix the disagreement
  • Never complain in public about a team member

I apologised to John and spent time with him discussing how we both thought we could bridge our differences.

Ultimately, he became one of my closest colleagues and together we led the rollout in Europe to success.

  1. Train your team to be independent 

The best way to coach people to take responsibility is by giving them the space to act alone.

I was once working on a series of difficult projects, one of which was reducing travel cost by implementing high-end video conferencing. In order for it to be impactful, a fast worldwide rollout was needed.

Serge was the procurement lead and had never done such a project before.  He had, however, developed a great relationship with his business client. I was convinced, with some support, that he could do the job.

One of the first tasks was in finding a clear way to measure the savings and bring that to the P&L. Together with the travel manager, we did some brainstorming on how to get the data and make the case, reviewed what external case studies we could use from providers and what the storyline could be for senior management. Serge went away with the task to put together a first draft with his colleague.

What he came back with was terrible: no clear story line and fuzzy numbers.

We did another brainstorming session and gathered some more data. At the end of this round, I thought Serge had enough to bring everything together. But, once again, he again came back with meandering slides and no clear way to measure the savings.

I knew he could do better.  I looked him in the eye and told him he had what he needed to pull the deck together and that I was convinced he could do it. And sent him away.

Several days later, Serge came back with the frame that we then polished and successfully got approved. With this success behind him, he stepped up and drove the project through, not only deepening his relationship with his business client, but also increasing his visibility in the company.

Believing and then saying, ‘I have full confidence’ to an employee is a powerful message.

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