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.
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.
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.
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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