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7 Key Supply Chain Leaders’ Skills and Why You Need Them

What are the essential skills you need to possess or develop if you want to become one of tomorrow’s supply chain leaders? Is it enough to have a business-related degree and a little supply chain experience, or is supply chain leadership a vocation for which you must work hard to acquire specific qualities? Rob O’Byrne from The Logistics Bureau shares his expert advice.


In reality, it’s probably a little bit of both. Indeed, many elements of supply chain leadership can’t effectively be learned through academic channels alone.

In any case, an excellent place to start is by knowing what the most vital supply chain leaders’ skills are and, of course, why you need them.

That’s what you’ll find in this article, so you can check which essential skills you already have, and which ones you might wish to enhance with some pragmatic supply chain education.

These Are the 7 Supply Chain Leaders’ Skills You’ll Really Need

1. Information Technology and Automation Knowledge

Before getting into this first section proper, I want to make one essential point, which I’ll expand on later in this article. Supply chain leadership is all about people using technology as a tool. Nothing is more important than working on your people skills if you want to be a successful supply chain leader.

Nevertheless, few supply chains run successfully today without the support of sophisticated technology tools, like warehouse management and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. For that reason, you need at least a modicum of IT understanding to work in a supply chain environment, particularly if you intend holding a leadership position.

To be a supply chain leader, you will need to be familiar with the use of enterprise software applications like WMS, TMS, and ERP, not to mention analytics software, which is increasingly becoming a staple source of leadership decision support.

Enterprise IT Skills at User-level

There was a time when supply chain leaders could rely on subordinate employees to do the hands-on work with business information systems, and be content to receive reports and Excel spreadsheets containing data for decision-making.

Those days are gone, however. Today you’re expected to find your way around the modules of your company’s ERP and business intelligence applications on your own. Furthermore, your need for technology understanding extends beyond hands-on use.

Understand IT as a Buyer

As a supply chain leader, your input into IT procurement will be crucial, and you must know enough about your company’s technology needs to discuss them with vendors. You’ll need to understand the relationship between ERP workflows and physical processes, for instance, to help prevent classic mistakes from being made, such as applying new technology to outdated, inefficient processes.

It will help if you know automation technology, too, since more and more companies are applying automation in distribution centres and warehouses.

Ultimately, strong interpersonal skills still trump technological expertise as a supply chain leader’s forte. However, a career at the head of your company’s supply chain is not one to consider if you don’t have some affinity for technology and its application in business.

2. A Grasp of Economics and Market Dynamics

The supply chain world is changing rapidly and sometimes unpredictably, in line with the market dynamics across many industries, all of which are being affected by rapid shifts in customer and consumer buying-behaviour.

Many markets that used to be purely local or regional have become global, as have the supply chains that serve them. As a supply chain leader, you will need to focus on what lies ahead and, to some extent, predict it. That can only be possible with a thorough understanding of the market dynamics relating to your industry and your company.

Of course, each industry and the niches within them are subject to unique and specific market dynamics. Supply chain leaders can work in any industry as long as they know their stuff, but this does mean that a change of employer can require some in-depth study, especially if the market is unfamiliar.

As a basis to quickly adjust to supply chain career moves, it will help a lot to be familiar with economics’ basic concepts.

To see ahead and lead a supply chain team effectively, you’ll need to understand what drives demand, supply, and pricing for the goods and services provided by your organisation and its competitors. These forces impact a variety of supply chain management elements, including the cost of goods sold and the cost to serve your company’s customers.

3. Understanding Cost-to-serve

Supply chain leaders play a very active role in the profitability of their employing companies. If you’re running a supply chain operation, your decisions impact the costs involved in supplying your organisation’s customers.

You will have a huge advantage and the potential to shine as a leader if you can quantify how your supply chain leadership decisions affect your bottom line. For instance, too few companies focus on the real costs involved with serving customers.

The result of this inattention is often a one-size-fits-all approach to service, inevitably leading to the over-servicing of some customers and the under-servicing of others. A single service offering can even impair profitability, perhaps creating a situation where logistics costs cause some sales to generate losses instead of profits.

If you understand the cost-to-serve concept and can apply it to your company’s supply chain activity, you’ll be able to identify unprofitable customers and products.

By developing a thorough cost-to-serve understanding, you’ll even be able to make decisions that improve the profitability of those customers and products instead of taking knee-jerk measures to cut losses.

Every company wants supply chain leaders who can make direct and positive impacts on the bottom line—but not every company has such leaders. That’s why familiarity with cost-to-serve is one skill that can help you stand out as a competent supply chain professional.

4. The Skill of Flexibility

The one thing you won’t find on this list of supply chain leaders’ “must-have” skills is innovation. You don’t have to be an innovator to be an outstanding supply chain leader, but you do have to support and drive innovation. Flexibility is the skill that will help you to do that.

Flexibility gives you the ability to let others do the innovative thinking. Your flexibility will give those creative thinkers the confidence to present their ideas, since they know that you will adopt them if it makes sense to do so.

Flexibility will keep you from feeling too comfortable in the status quo ever to let it go. Flexibility will ensure that change (often termed the only constant in supply chain management) will not faze you or cause you undue stress. In turn, your team will be encouraged to embrace, rather than resist, change.

Flexibility is one of the soft skills that differentiate successful supply chain leaders. That’s not only because of the changing nature of supply chain operations, but also because things don’t always go to plan—far from it if truth be told.

For example, during supply chain improvement projects, it’s not uncommon for things to crop up, requiring plans to be changed. An inflexible leader may doggedly try to drive through with the original strategy, becoming ever more frustrated in the process and hampering, rather than helping the situation.

Inflexibility often manifests in the belief that changing a plan is an admission of poor planning, but in many cases, that is an erroneous presumption.

Don’t fall into this trap. Work on your flexibility as a leader. Accept that plans should always be work-in-progress, and adapt your approach when required. You can’t plan for every eventuality, and while flexibility is a virtue for supply chain leaders in general, it’s an absolute essential in project management.

5. Project Management Skills

Aside from flexibility, there are many other project-management skills that you’ll need as a supply chain leader. Of course, a lot depends on what leadership role you are in, but if you are headed to the top, you’ll probably hold several management positions on the way up, most of which will see you leading projects from time to time.

If you make it to the C-suite or, indeed, to any senior leadership position, it will help you and your managers do a better job if you understand the fundamental principles, pitfalls, and challenges inherent in project management.

The most crucial project management skills to acquire as a supply chain leader are as follows:

  • The ability to negotiate successfully for resources, budgets, and schedules
  • A high degree of personal organisation
  • A proactive approach to risk management

Of course, the above-noted skills are also valuable for supply chain leaders generally, not just as part of a project-management skill set. I’ve simply noted them here because they are the carry-over skills most likely required in a supply chain leadership role. To elaborate:

  • Personal organisation will be vital for keeping track of numerous projects for which you are likely to be a sponsor and meeting your obligations toward them.
  • You may sometimes be called upon to support project business cases, hence the need for negotiation skills.
  • When deciding if you’ll approve a requested project, knowledge of risk management will help you ask the right questions about the proposal and business case.

6. The Ability to Get the Best from People

So how about those people skills I briefly mentioned earlier?

I can’t put it any more plainly: the ability to lead, manage, influence, and inspire other people is the number one fundamental, essential skill that all supply chain leaders and managers should possess.

It is entirely possible to learn the necessary skills, but a word of caution is due. If you don’t enjoy team building and developing professional relationships with lots—and I do mean lots—of other people, don’t choose a supply chain leadership career.

On the other hand, if you love working with people but just don’t see yourself as a great leader, you probably have exactly the right mindset to succeed in a supply chain leader’s role.

There is nothing wrong with being self-critical, as long as you have the will to learn what you need to learn, and the energy to commit to your personal development. Being passionate about teamwork and enjoying interactions with others is half the battle in succeeding as a supply chain leader.

The 3 Cs of Supply Chain Leadership

Communication: First and foremost, you need to communicate well … to articulate sometimes complex concepts in a way that anyone within your company can understand, regardless of whether they have supply chain knowledge or not.

Dependent on whether your company operates internationally, you might benefit from communication skills that extend beyond your native language. It’s becoming ever more common for enterprises to give preference to bilingual or multilingual leadership candidates.

Collaboration: Secondly, you will need to be able to foster collaboration, a critical element in any modern supply chain.

It won’t always be easy, because sometimes you’ll be asking teams inside and outside of your business to collaborate and work together despite competing priorities and expectations. To ensure these parties collaborate, you’ll need to draw on communication, persuasion, and relationship building skills.

Change: Change management is another people skill in which you might wish to receive some special education or training. If you are planning to graduate from a role where you’ve been used to participating in, but not leading change efforts, experience alone may not be sufficient to help you take people through challenging changes. Resistance to change can be hard to overcome.

The impact of changes within your supply chain can affect employees on a very personal level. You’ll need to know how to empathise and to listen actively to what people are telling you. Without these skills, your leadership can quickly be rejected during periods of change, purely through fear of the unknown and a sense that you don’t appreciate employees’ concerns.

Get the Best From Yourself

Finally, while the need to interact effectively with other people might seem obvious, you shouldn’t neglect the development of the person most impacted by your skills and abilities—yourself.

Supply chain leaders should be able to conduct regular self-assessments and identify their areas of weakness.

We never stop learning and developing, but by having the ability to self-appraise your skills honestly, and work on those areas that need it, you can acquire new expertise at a rate that keeps pace with the ever-changing supply chain environment.

Getting the best from yourself also means having the ability to curb your ego. Learn to recognise when somebody else in your team exceeds your aptitude for a specific task or responsibility.

Let that individual take the lead, and be happy to follow and learn from her. Not only will that free you to play a part in which you can use your strengths, but you’ll also be empowering the other person and helping her to reach outside of her comfort zone.

7. The Know-How to Negotiate

As a modern supply chain leader, it won’t only be your reports and colleagues that you need to interact with effectively and skillfully, but also those outside your organization. Moreover, both internal and external interactions will often involve the need to negotiate.

Supply chain leaders must negotiate often, and even if you’re not doing so on a one-to-one basis, you’ll probably find yourself in scenarios where you’re part of a team of people trying to broker a deal or arrangement.

Negotiation Scenarios for Supply Chain Leaders

Some examples of possible negotiation situations that you might get involved in, and in many cases, lead, include:

  • Procurement of IT services and solutions
  • Contracts for logistics services
  • Brokering deals with product vendors (for direct or indirect supplies)
  • Putting together contracts or service level agreements with customers
  • Negotiations with employee groups or trade unions
  • Business merger/acquisition negotiations

Why do Negotiation Skills Matter?

Negotiations are typically transactional, but often take place between entities or teams engaged in long-term business relationships. Whether you are the lead or a mere participant in the negotiation, your skills will influence the transaction’s outcome and the trajectory of the broader relationship.

It’s easy to make mistakes during negotiations, but with relevant training and education, you can hone your skills to avoid some of the most common errors.

For example, skilled negotiators know that the process does not have winners or losers. They don’t go into a negotiation aiming to win as many concessions as possible, and they don’t feel that they have failed when they have to give ground to arrive at a settlement.

A win/lose type of attitude will lead to negotiating mistakes. Even if you come out of a negotiation feeling that you have won, you might find further down the line that your “win” has done nothing to strengthen what might be a vital partnership.

Mistakes that Skilled Negotiators Avoid

If you have developed your negotiation skills, you will always enter into discussions looking for an outcome that will satisfy both parties. You’ll also be able to avoid other common mistakes such as:

  • Failing to prepare by identifying what the deal-breakers are, which outcomes are essential, which ones are useful to achieve, and which ones don’t matter in any concrete way.
  • Asking only for as much as you expect… It is better to ask for more than you expect.
  • Modifying an offer you have made before getting a response to the original. It’s important to understand that the other party may use silence to bait you into relaxing your conditions.
  • Offering compromises before you have heard all the demands of the other party. By getting all the facts first, you can be selective in identifying where compromise may be possible.
  • Focusing too much on your party’s input and achievements. Strong negotiators pay close attention to the opposite party’s behaviours, ask plenty of questions, and take time to understand and analyse the answers.

How to Boost Your Supply Chain Leader’s Skills

Your business degree and/or hands-on experience in a supply chain role will undoubtedly help you gain and maintain a supply chain leader’s position in your current company—or in a new organisation if you should be planning a move.

However, supply chains have become so complicated that an extensive toolkit of required skills is required if you want to thrive and make a difference as a supply chain leader.

Some of the skills in that toolkit can be difficult to attain without many years of supply chain experience, simply because they are rarely taught outside of the workplace. Your best option might be a program of specialised supply chain and logistics education.

Our Supply Chain Secrets program, for example, was developed and designed by people who work in the industry. It can help you learn about each supply chain area pragmatically, using real-world problem-solving and relatable examples of commonly made mistakes—and methods to avoid them.

If you’ve read this blog post, perhaps you’ve been searching online for ways to enhance your supply chain leader’s skill set. If so, you don’t need to look much further. Join Supply Chain Secrets today, and access the skills you need to be a supply chain leader of tomorrow.

This article was originally published here and is republished here with kind permission.

Leadership’s Biggest Concern: How To Manage Their People

Many leaders had been looking forward to physically reconnecting with their teams for the first time, whom they may have only seen virtually for the last six months. However, the government’s recent announcement means this may now be delayed indefinitely.


It may have been hoped that a return to a form of ‘normality’ will signal an end of their leadership challenges, yet the recent setback means that managing their people is now the biggest concern.

Over the past two months, Tom Graham, a Consultant within Berwick Partners’ Procurement & Supply Chain practice has been speaking with Chief Procurement Officers across the globe, from a range of different sectors to discuss their leadership concerns during this next phase of the crisis. The discussions focused on the complication’s leaders may face as we enter the next stage of the crisis in addition to the part office-based, part-remote way of working at some stage in the future. Together, they discussed the concerns leaders have with re-engaging their teams, how management styles must change and the mental fall-out after a period of isolation, health and economical stress.

A remote/office combination

When I began to write this research piece, the focus had been on the partial return to the office. Yet the UK government’s recent announcement demonstrates how difficult it is for leaders to plan, manage, and motivate their teams.

Over the last six months, the word ‘unprecedented’ has often been used. From the discussions I’ve had it now looks increasingly likely that the long-term effects on leadership will also be unprecedented in scale.

THE IMPORTANCE OF LEADERSHIP

Engagement

As the crisis roles on, the potential for team disengagement intensifies. CPOs are aware of how imperative it is that they are able to quickly re-engage with their teams, recognising that a lack of engagement could have major implications on the success of their future strategies. A recent report from McKinsey, “COVID-19 and the employee experience – How leaders seize the moment”, stated;

Organizational responses are having a tangible impact on employees. Compared with respondents who are dissatisfied with their organizations’ responses, those who say their organizations have responded particularly well are four times more likely to be engaged and six times more likely to report a positive state of well-being”.  

However, many leaders will find themselves in a challenging situation, needing to set a clear path of direction whilst not having all the answers to all their team’s questions.

One CPO explained the challenges they had faced with motivating a team who had experienced mental fatigue; a peer from a national retailer corroborated that their team has also sought answers and long-term reassurances which they cannot give, leading to a negative impact on employee motivation. McKinsey’s report states: “leaders need to help rattled workforces believe in the future”. One procurement leader believes that this should be one of their biggest concerns, as they look to strike the balance between keeping good practices in place, whilst adapting their approach as we enter a period of increased outbreaks. The combination of lockdown fatigue and a physical disconnect from an office and colleagues will, or may have already, accelerated disengagement. Leaders need to act swiftly to reconnect, re-engage and motivate a team which may have lost members, enthusiasm and direction.

Culture

Rebuilding employee loyalty, whilst not physically connected is a major concern for nearly all leaders. McKinsey’s report once again raised this point, “It would be a mistake to assume that the camaraderie that has sustained many employees early in the crisis will endure long term. Leaders need to take active steps to ensure continued relationship building, particularly for remote workers.”

Across the board, there are overwhelming concerns centred around how the current or future, mixed office and remote dynamic will impact team culture and long-term engagement with the business. A CPO from a major retail bank discussed the on-going challenges they have faced in preserving team culture when working remotely, a concern which has been reiterated by senior leaders in the pharmaceutical sector (they discussed the concerns around dilution in connection points between their team members). Previously, the office environment may have facilitated this, but the sense of being together as a team, is near impossible to create in this hybrid world. One CPO explained how some staff have voiced that they have felt a loss in ‘connection tissue’ to the organisation, where as another explained their concerns around the ability of a team to challenge leaders remotely, questioning whether this new way of working may result in a lack of diversity of thought.

As we enter the next stage of the crisis, organisations must adapt to building teams and onboarding people in a way that they feel connected to the culture of a business. The concerns around erosion of social capital during onboarding processes were raised by one CPO from a global consumer goods company, with a procurement leader from a global entertainment’s organisation wanting to know when we will see an increase in employee’s mercenary mentality. It is predicted that as staff feel less connection to an organisation, we will see a spike in salaries as organisations battle to attract talent.

Communication

The loss of personal connection will be exacerbated as teams find themselves out the office or in at different times and regularity. Potentially, this may create even greater division within the workforce and in some cases, presenteeism is now more of a premium than ever before, with certain team members feeling that a commitment to the office in a time of crisis, will accelerate development opportunities.

Leaders must quickly learn how to successfully (and fairly) manage a physically divided team. It is imperative that those working remotely are not put at a disadvantage compared to those in the office. Concerns from across sector were around the ‘offline’ or ‘coffee conversations’ that could be missed by those who are working remotely, with 86% of those spoken to being airing concerns. Across the board, there are concerns around ‘accidental exclusion’, with one-to-one calls leading to decisions being made that have not been co-ordinated with the team which can cause certain members of the team to be forgotten about. This was confirmed by one CPO who raised concerns around some staff feeling their views would not be heard.

Yet a formalised method of communicating does not solve all problems, particularly around individual connections to leaders and the business. Whilst virtual coffees and spontaneous conversations have reduced some challenges, they have not replaced office small talk. Leaders from both chemicals and insurance businesses stating that ‘golden rules’ need to be created, with the key point being meetings should either be virtual or physical, but never a mixture.

One CPO felt that more personal desk conversations were often a major motivator for their team. Video conferencing and virtual coffees no longer felt natural and could often feel contrived which again could negatively impact engagement and productivity.

For many, working remotely has highlighted greater inequalities in a team, with the CPO’s we spoke to explaining that younger generations will feel a greater impact on their lives than those more senior in the business. The lack of social benefits and often more challenging, remote working conditions could ultimately lead to a more divided work force.

Rebuilding spirit

Throughout the crisis, we have seen introverts and extroverts handle the crisis very differently. Leaders have needed to home in on their facilitation skills, ensuring that both parties can equally contribute to discussions.

The methods used by leaders to engage their teams are going to be tested like never before, with McKinsey stating that ‘mental and physical fatigue is now people’s default’. How leaders will overcome this will be a major hurdle.

One CPO explained his concerns around how they will overcome this, citing a historical reliance on social engagements with the ‘party pot’ being a default tool to create comradery. Yet there are concerns that this may not be possible in the short term and no longer suffice in the long-term, with leaders having to find new ways to rebuild team relationships without the adequate training or prior experience.

LEADERSHIP STYLES & BEHAVIOURS

Managing performance

Leaders must ensure that their management style is fit and ready for a hybrid way of working. Overwhelmingly it was agreed that leaders must adapt to managing through results and outputs however a CPO from a major retailer explained more focus must be placed on performance management and development, which can easily be missed when working remotely.

How leaders will objectively measure performance, with many of their team working remotely is an area of concern for some. It was commented that different team members living environments, would make it difficult to fairly measure performance in a standardised manner.

Leaders must be authentic and lead from the front. Managing through presenteeism, must be ignored. Concerns were raised from leaders of pharmaceutical and financial services business who believe mid-managers that are not experienced in managing through outputs with too many leaders being inexperienced in effectively managing remote teams.

EQ

The EQ of leaders has been tested throughout the crisis and must continue. Team members will have been impacted differently during the crisis and several CPO’s stated it is essential that their junior managers suspend judgement and develop greater observation skills of potential issues, showing greater empathy.

Managers must develop into leaders and understand how to get the best out of their teams in a period which is still not ‘normal’. A procurement executive from a global insurance organisation stated that leaders must recognise that there is nothing ‘normal’ about what we are going into and must appreciate that for many the next period is a transient phase. Managers now need to understand how to get the best out of individuals, empowering them to make independent decisions. A CPO within the chemicals sector believes that greater training must be provided around having more honest conversations, considering language and cultural nuances when communicating with multi-national teams.

THE WORKPLACE

Purpose in the workplace

Executives from across sector are now reviewing the purpose of the office. As Deloitte discuss in their paper ‘Workforce strategies for post COVID-19 recovery’;

“It is important to remember that transformative change can be difficult and unsettling for many workers. Whilst some may prefer working from home, others may be uncomfortable or unproductive outside the traditional work settings. How leaders accommodate and balance these divergent expectations will help define the future of trust in their organisation.”

There are concerns from across sector as to how being away from the office and your stakeholder community for a sustained period may impact business partnering and the involvement in decision making. Concerns exist as to how social capital can be built upstream when working remotely.

Several leaders explained that certain members of their team have struggled to virtually replace ‘informal coffees’ with their stakeholders.

There are serious concerns that working remotely may have stalled individual’s professional development and stifled creativity. Leaders from both the retail and pharmaceutical sector believe that a lack of sidebar conversations will have a negative impact on innovation.

Maintaining team cohesiveness and connectivity currently – and when 30%-60% of an office may not return – will be extremely problematic. Some believe that we are under the illusion that collaboration has been successful, when the reality is that teams have rallied together during crisis.

A sector wide response has been to look into creating more collaboration areas. Yet the practicality of this has come under question, with the CPO from a leading manufacturing organisation stating that most offices are not currently built to support this, and group size restrictions still apply. With many businesses looking to ‘survive’ during the crisis, it is therefore unlikely that fit out projects or new office space is a realistic priority.

Role requirements

Many employees are likely to seek clarity towards their job responsibilities, particularly if some of their colleagues have been made redundant. An executive from a leading food and beverage organisation stated their concerns in the blurring of roles, with individuals wanting to increase their responsibilities and value to the business.

An executive from a leading hospitality business believes that the crisis may see a broadening of roles and required skill sets longer term. This may have an impact on the external talent organisations look to recruit, or the training and development programmes put in place internally.

Mental Health

The mental health fall out as a result of the pandemic is the overwhelming concern for leaders from across sector. 96% of those spoken to raised concerns around the mental health issues forthcoming of their team members. During the early stages of the pandemic, the World Health organisation issued a statement that noted “elevated rates of stress or anxiety” caused from lockdown. Leaders unanimously felt unprepared and untrained to suitably tackle the topic as we return to the workplace.

Immediate

A CPO from a leading retail bank stated their concerns on how their teams would adapt to life when they get back in the office, raising concerns around their team’s loss of perception of self, and acknowledged that spotting signs of mental health concerns may have been challenging remotely, yet much more apparent in person.

A recent study suggested that extroverts are more likely to struggle when adapting to life back in the office. It was claimed that the common question of ‘what have you been up to?’ could prompt anxiety, with extroverted team members feeling that they have failed to adequately answer the question with ‘nothing’. An executive from a chemicals business agreed that this is a major concern.

A recent study conducted by the University of Manchester and University of London, called ‘Lancet Psychiatry’, described the mental health inequalities caused by lockdown, “with people living with young children showing greater increases in mental distress than people from child-free homes”. It continues:

The greatest increase in mental distress was seen in young people aged 18 to 24 and those aged 25 to 34”. It goes on to find, “new inequalities in mental distress have emerged, with those living with young children and those in employment at the start of the pandemic being at risk of larger increases in mental distress”. It concludes, “Our findings suggest that being young, a woman, and living with children, especially preschool age children, have had a particularly strong influence on the extent to which mental distress increased under the conditions of the pandemic.” 

Ongoing

The mental health fall-out will be an ongoing issue. A CPO we spoke to explained, “‘humans like a beginning, middle and end and we are in the middle with no end in sight”. This is something leaders must monitor closely with time. The Lancet Psychiatry states;

“As the economic fallout from the pandemic progresses, when furloughs turn into redundancies and mortgage holidays time out, the researchers say mental health inequalities will likely widen and deepen and must be monitored closely so that steps can be taken to mitigate against a rise in mental illness”.

This is a concern for many leaders who recognise that further job cuts and a recession, will have a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of their teams.

A CPO from a leading insurer, stated that it is imperative that team members feel that they have more to offer than just ‘the day job’. Leaders must have the confidence to ask difficult questions, showing authenticity and concern. McKinsey’s recent report, titled ‘Communications get personal: How leaders can engage employees during a return to work’ they state;

“It provides a historic opportunity to overcome the stigma of mental and emotional health as taboo topics for workplace discussion, especially the feelings of isolation and shame that are attached to job losses and other employment casualties.”

Leaders must learn how to manage their own mental health and wellbeing. Nearly all spoken to agreed that measures needed to be put in place to mentally support the leaders too.

Conclusion

As we enter the next phase of the crisis, leaders are going to be tested in ways they have never been tested before. For organisations and functions to emerge from the crisis strongly, it is imperative that leaders find solutions to the multiple problems they may face. Engagement, management styles and mental health are all going to be on-going issues. Organisations must build new strategies, whilst rebuilding team culture and togetherness. Whilst we may be coming towards the end of one crisis, without the right stewardship, businesses may be hurtling into another.

Tom Graham specialises in recruiting senior Procurement and Supply Chain leadership roles across all sectors. This article was originally published on LinkedIn an has been republished here with kind permission.

How To Be A Supernormal Leader

Collaboration is imperative for your organisation to progress! And it can be achieved through “silo busting” (encouraging inter-departmental sharing of knowledge), building and valuing trust, attenuating body language to communicate openness, promoting diversity, cultivating self-awareness and fostering empathy, and creating a safe environment for sharing ideas and practices.


Collaboration is more important than ever before. In fact, an organisation’s survival may depend on how well it can combine the potential of its people as well as its suppliers. By connecting the external market with their own organisation and its customers, Procurement has the opportunity to facilitate and deliver significant shared value. Collaboration matters like never before.

I’ve read many surveys on leadership and collaboration, particularly of recency. Deloitte’s Future of Work research found that 65% of the C-Level executives surveyed have a strategic objective to transform their organisation’s culture, with a focus on connectivity, communication and collaboration.

When one gets underneath the surface of these surveys, six crucial leadership behavioural themes leap out. I’m referring to leadership at all levels, call it strategic leadership if you so choose. Whether you’re the Chief Procurement Officer, the Head of Category Management or the Buyer, when you think about building and embracing a collaborative culture, you already realise that your job has changed. I really don’t think and hope you’ll ever look back. So, this is absolutely not about old-school leadership and hierarchical thinking. This is also not a new leadership philosophy. This is about embracing the fact that we are better together. A single, collaborative eco-system. To make the impact required and to inspire others, requires collaborative leadership. It’s about self-awareness and its about emotional intelligence too.

Here are the six leadership behaviours:

1. Silo ‘busting’

I really struggle with the word ‘silo’. It is why wastebaskets were created. Silo’s are sizeable organisational blockers, built to last by those whom create them. The collaborative environment we seek is kept from forming. The creativity, innovation and growth potential is essentially being silo distanced. ‘Silo’ is a term that has been passed around and discussed in boardrooms for at least 30 years. They remain a growing pain in the organisational backside.

Silo mentality describes the mindset present when departments don’t share information. Wherever it’s spotted, silo mentality becomes synonymous with power struggles and fear of exposure or failure. Silo mentality cause organisations to waste time, resources and money. They wreck collaboration.

Silos get busted by leaders, not by technology or processes. Procurement has privileged access to typically all parts of an organisation and its supplier base too. Get on the front foot and create unifying goals and objectives. Build ‘silo-busting’ into your balance scorecard and set the pace for collaboration, both internally and externally.

2. Trust matters

A collaborative team isn’t a group of people working together. It’s a group of people working together who trust each other. They also understand their own and each others’ strengths and weaknesses. Trust is the key binding agent for collaboration. It is where procurement and the supplier base can also unite, like never before.

As a leader, you need people to trust you. But how do you show that you trust them? The way sharing of information is communicated determines whether it becomes an obstacle to or an enabler of collaboration. Perhaps a cynical view, though some leaders I have observed who profess to value collaboration, undermine their effectiveness by withholding information or sharing it on a ‘needs to know’ basis. This makes them feel important.

Leaders build trust through honest, consistent and transparent communication – easy to say, often trickier in reality than it sounds. Procurement leaders take note. Put the ego to one side and build trust with your colleagues, customers and suppliers. It’s hard work and unanswerably essential to achieve true collaboration leadership. What one finds is that when you take the time to get to know your colleagues and suppliers, trust builds faster. Embrace all feedback, not just positive, and always have your learning and listening chips switched on. Build joint goals. Create the time to celebrate successes. Adapt, learn and grow, together.

3. Body language tells its own story

Negotiators are taught how to assess body language. Not just negotiators I hasten to add. In its most simplistic form, there are two sets of body language. One set that projects sincerity, authenticity and warmth. The other send signals of status and influence. For collaboration to flourish, focus your energy on the former. Authenticity is key. Be yourself.

4. Promoting diversity

Diverse thinking is an essential ingredient for collaborative leadership. It reinforces my point about leadership at al levels. Team members at the same level, and with a similar background, are found to perform worse than those with varying skills and knowledge. There’s a tendency for similarly minded individuals at the same level in an organisation to seek affirmation from one another i.e. they tend to reinforce each others predisposition. Innovation is triggered by cross-functional working. Creative breakthroughs occur most often when ideas collide and then combine. Collaboration enables innovation.

5. Self-awareness

Development Dimensions International (DDI) has studied leadership for almost fifty years. In their latest research, with over 15,000 leaders from more than 300 organisations, DDI looked at leaders’ conversational skills that had the highest impact on overall performance. At the very top of the list was empathy – specifically, the ability to listen and respond empathetically. Learn to understand before be understood. So, for great collaborative leadership, if you recognise this as a development need, then work hard on developing it.

6. Primal instincts

Human beings have two primitive instincts that guide a willingness to collaborate — or not — and they are triggered under very different circumstance. The first instinct is to hoard and has been traced back to early humans hoarding vital supplies, like food, out of fear of not having enough. The more they put away, the safer they felt. We’ve all observed this instinct and many experienced it of recency. In the workplace, when people feel ignored or threatened, they retreat and hold on to knowledge. The second instinct, on the other hand, is that humans are also a learning, teaching, knowledge-sharing species. According to evolutional psychologists, this trait is also hard-wired, linking back to when humans first started gathering in clans. Leaders trigger the ‘sharing instinct’ when they create psychologically safe workplace environments in which people feel secure, valued and trusted.

In a world of arguably unprecedented uncertainty and disruption, collaborative leadership behaviours are so important to organisation survival, recovery and growth. Collaboration as a skill set is no longer a ‘nice to have’. There are tools and techniques to help develop your collaborative skill set further, whether you are a buyer or seller. Successful supplier and procurement collaboration will make a transformational difference.

This article was originally published by Procurement Potential on July 12 2020 and is republished here with permission.

Leading Under Fire Is Leading With Heart

Leading with empathy in the face of adversity


When the Prime Minister of New Zealand declares the tooth fairy and Easter bunny as an essential service, it brings warmth to the otherwise repeated drudgery of Government press conferences. It brings a smile to those facing the grind of lockdown and isolation – even if only for a moment.

“You’ll be pleased to know that we do consider both the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny to be essential workers, but as you can imagine at this time, of course, they are going to be potentially quite busy at home with their family as well with their own bunnies.” Jacinda Ardern 6.04.2020

You can watch a short clip from the press conference here

Credit: Radio New Zealand

The way was paved long ago

Leading with warmth and heart is not a style of leadership that is learned and it does not appear overnight, you cannot pretend or try to switch it on. What was called an “Ardern effect” during her election campaign is now proven to be a signature style.  

What she was once criticised for now defines her. Ardern has an undeniable charismatic ability to relate to people. This is what cements her as a leader, when things get tough and when really crappy things happen to us, she is there to be our strength when we can’t hold ourselves.

Her response to the mosque attacks showed the world who New Zealand is. I was at a mosque in Wellington when she arrived unannounced to express her condolences. While the spontaneous songs that erupted through the crowd were captured by the media, what was not captured is what I saw. I saw her slowly approach the building taking time to look at all of the chalk drawings on the footpath that local children had made. She then took the time to embrace a Muslim woman who audibly gasped in shock that she was there right in front of her and so close – this is the same woman who stood at the gate handing out tissues to us well-wishers and providing us support while we tried to process the incomprehensible act.

While the Imans’ and Muslim leaders were being strong for us, Ardern became their strength. The strength she provided was through human connection and a hug. Warmth and heart. The cameras weren’t there and that’s what really counts. Her values are inherent to her as a person, she does not switch them on and off.

COVID-19 Ardern style

When the COVID-19 viral filled cloud looked to be approaching our shores and spreading, Arden was met with a barrage of criticism from the opposing side. Their volleys were able to land while she held off pushing us further up the alert levels, knowing that level 3 and 4 would begin to impact the economy.

As soon as NZ showed a potential case of community transmission she acted. “Go hard and go early” was her slogan and it seemed to work. We closed the border and went into lockdown.

Next, the nay-sayers said we didn’t have enough test kits and that we weren’t doing enough testing. This was only a lag due to supply issues. As of yesterday, NZ has the highest testing rates per capita in the world.

Leading with empathy in the face of adversity is perhaps the toughest gig of all. But it didn’t take long for the measures to start to make an impact and NZ was soon revered worldwide as a leader in this situation.

We aren’t just flattening the curve, we’re smashing it.

How does she do it?

She stays cool, calm and collected but she never switches off her heart. She acts when required but won’t be bullied or pressured into pulling the trigger too soon. She has a few trusted advisers and what must be an epic home base to support her.

We can all take lessons from her style and not step into a persona at work. Be yourself 100% of the time and lead with compassion. Ardern provides the perfect template of an authentic leader in action.

This article is solely the work of the author. Any views expressed in it are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the official policy of the New Zealand government or of any government agency.

Want to keep up with the latest coronavirus and supply chain news? Join our exclusive Supply Chain Crisis: Covid-19 group. We’ve gathered together the world’s foremost experts on all things supply chain, risk, business and people, and we’ll be presenting their insights and daily industry-relevant news in a content series via the group. You’ll also have the support of thousands of your procurement peers, world-wide. We’re stronger together. Join us now.

How To Lead Differently This Year

What can we learn about leadership from the rugby field? A lot, it seems…


Have you ever headed into a supplier negotiation and joked you’re ‘going out into battle’? Ever finished a successful project, and said ‘you’re kicking goals’?

There are few physical similarities between our procurement desk jobs and the rugby field. But the way we lead our teams should be exactly the same, says Sir Clive Woodward, former coach of the England rugby team and keynote speaker at Procurious’s Big Ideas Summit.

Woodward, who coached the England side to its historic 2003 World Cup victory, believes that sport and business has more in common than we think.

‘There’s no difference between sport and business,’ he asserts. ‘In both, you need to create champion individuals and a successful culture.’  

And if anyone would know, it would be Sir Clive. 

Not only is he one of the world’s most revered rugby coaches, he’s also had a successful career in business. 

Prior to coaching, he worked for nearly two decades at Xerox in various leadership positions, as well as managing his own leasing company. Now, one of the things that he does is run a software company that helps leaders – in business and in sport – build culture-critical skills at scale.

For Sir Clive, creating a winning culture might come easily. But, as anyone who’s recently led a team will know, achieving ‘success’ in this age of mass transformations, technological change and unstable environments can be quite a challenge. 

To help, Clive has 5 ‘big ideas’ he uses to help leaders and teams achieve big things. 

1. It starts with respect

Winning and maintaining respect, according to Sir Clive, is one of business’s greatest challenges. Yet at the same time it’s a great opportunity. 

Sir Clive says that contrary to popular opinion, respect isn’t won simply by attaining a certain job title: ‘You don’t get respect simply because you’re the leader. Just because I’m the head coach or the chief executive doesn’t mean people are going to respect me.’ 

Instead, Sir Clive says that we all need to focus on the quality of our actions. 

This is particularly important for high performers, who are always striving for better: ‘You get respect because of what you do and by the quality of your actions over a sustained period of time.’

2. Talent and egos 

On talent in general, Sir Clive thinks that it’s definitely a leader’s job to try and hire the most talented people.

But what managers need to realise, he says, is that sometimes the most talented people aren’t the easiest people to work with: 

‘Everyone’s different, you can have mavericks, egos. There’s no simple way of doing it – if you employ the most talented people, sometimes they’re not the easiest people.’

But, he reminds leaders, this is part of the job that while not easy can still be managed:

‘As a manager, it’s my job to work with them [talented people, even if they aren’t easy]. The best way to manage them is on a one-on-one basis, explaining to them the philosophy and that we need them to be totally part of that process and that we’re trying to make them better at what they do.

‘I’ve not met anyone talented who doesn’t want to get better.’ 

3. Teachability

While talented people may (or may not) be easy to work with, they do need to be teachable, says Woodward. 

He says that an individual’s willingness to learn is critical when it comes to building winning teams: ‘The ability to accumulate knowledge around their role gives people an awareness of what they need to do to continually improve on what they already have.’

Knowledge, though, is not simply academic learning, Woodward asserts. It’s much more than that: ‘Knowledge is a passion for seeking any kind of self-development. It’s not simply collecting diplomas.’ 

4. 100 things, 1% better

To create a winning procurement team, you need talented, teachable people. But their talent is only a baseline – says Sir Clive.

And you need to be constantly improving them to improve performance. Contrary to popular belief, this ‘improvement’ need not involve seismic shifts in any particular area. 

Woodward says that you’re better off focusing on micro-improvements in a number of different areas: ‘Building on several areas in a small way frequently yields dramatically better outcomes. If you go into every aspect of what you do and break it down and improve those things by 1%, it all adds up.’ 

This philosophy has worked particularly well for Sir Clive in rugby: ‘In rugby, we understand all the parameters – we break it down into as much detail as possible and try and do every bit of it slightly better than anyone else.’ 

And, as in rugby, in business you can’t simply improve and then stop.

Constant performance improvement needs to become part of your culture: ‘You have to always be [improving] and just because you’ve improved something one day doesn’t mean you can’t improve it the next. It has to be the ethos of everybody.

‘Everybody in that team has the obligation, if they think we can do something better, they need to hold their hand up and say it.’ 

5. Innovation can come from anywhere 

Procurement teams are increasingly expected to be innovative. But who is responsible for that innovation? 

Everyone, according to Sir Clive, even people outside procurement, as they may bring different perspectives: ‘[When you’re looking for new ideas], it’s important to canvas the input of independent third parties in order to pool as much knowledge and ideas as possible.

‘These ideas can come from anywhere, not just leaders. Using other people you like and respect and [who] are bright enough to look in can give you amazing new thoughts and ideas.’ 

As appealing as this sounds, Woodward does concede that it can be challenging within organisations, although ultimately necessary: 

‘[Introducing new ideas] can be potentially troublesome, particularly when there is an already entrenched way of doing things. 

‘There’s no easy answer to that, there’s no magic fix. The only easy answer is to sit down, explain to your team, even in one-on-ones and then empower them to get involved.’

Sir Clive Woodward is the keynote speaker at the Procurious Big Ideas Summit in London, due to be held on 11 March 2020. Tickets are sold out, but you can secure a digital delegate ticket here (free for a limited time).

How To Figure Out Your Next Leader Before Accepting A New Role

How do you really know what your manager might be like, beyond the surface-level impressions you get at an interview? 


Few of us think that when we change jobs, a new job is all we’re getting. With any move, we’re replacing everything.

Suddenly, we’ve got new colleagues to befriend. New rules and processes to adapt to. And, most importantly, a new manager.

This can be a blessing, or, as I’ve argued before, a curse – in more ways than one

After all, 75% of all people resigning are leaving their bosses, not their jobs.

But how do you know, from the outset, what you’re getting yourself into? How do you really know what your manager might be like, beyond the surface-level impressions you get at an interview? 

You ask!

One of most common mistakes I see candidates making is treating a job interview as a one-way street, thinking it’s simply an opportunity for the organisation to get to know them. 

But that’s only half of it – and not even the most important part. A job interview is your chance to see whether the job and business you might enter align with your values. And whether your manager will help or hinder you in your career aspirations. 

Clearly, though, ascertaining this when you’re the one being interviewed can feel uncomfortable. 

So if you want to do so in the most discreet yet professional manner, here are my top tips for figuring out your manager during the interview process.

1. Ask about work style

When it comes to work, people’s preferences can vary greatly. Some of us feel comforted when our manager sticks close by us, reviewing all of our work and helping to guide our decisions. 

Others want the exact opposite – we’re completely autonomous and we only want to contact our manager when there’s an issue we legitimately can’t solve. 

Whatever your preference, it’s critical you know what your manager wants, so you can discuss it. So in your job interview, ask your potential manager about their working style. Ask questions such as: 

  • How much input would you like into my work? 
  • What’s the approval process for decisions?
  • Or simply – What’s your working style? How can we best work together? 

Doing this will help you understand their style and whether you can compromise. Or whether things simply won’t work. 

2. Discreetly ascertain expectations 

Many candidates stumble when it comes to asking about expectations in an interview, especially if they want to ask about flexibility or work-life balance.

How do you do so and still ensure you look committed to the role? 

The answer is complex, and there sometimes isn’t one correct way to approach it. However, when broaching this subject, I’ve often found it helps to do so indirectly. Here a few things you can try: 

  • Discuss the benefits of work-life balance in your old role: Even if this balance was non-existent, try saying something like: ‘In my current (or previous) role, the business advocated for work-life balance and that helped my team perform better. What’s your approach with this?’ 
  • Enquire about the working arrangements of the team: Asking about the working arrangement of the team you’re entering can be a great way to figure out if flexible work arrangements are common are not. Consider asking something along the lines of: ‘What is the team’s schedule? Is everyone in the office on certain days or for certain hours?’ The answer should give you a clue as to whether everyone works full-time, in-office – or whether flexible work is more common. 

3. Understand whether they’ll drive your career and development

In an ideal world, your manager should be your biggest champion and your biggest confidant. They should sing your praises, develop you and help you solve problems. 

But understanding whether they’ll do this for you can be a challenge. It takes more than them just being a ‘nice person’ to help you get ahead.

To see how invested they are in your career and development, try asking the following questions: 

  • Tell me about the careers of those in my team: Asking about the careers of those at your level (and a few levels above) can give you a clue as to how your manager may have helped them get there. Ask questions such as: ‘How did they get to where they are now? What opportunities were they given? What was your role in helping them get there?’
  • Feedback and feedforward: Asking about professional development opportunities in an interview should be a given. But beyond that, you’ll need to understand how your manager will develop you. To understand this, ask them about feedback. How often will they be giving it? Will it just be at a performance review, or more regularly? 

4. Learn about your boss’s boss 

In and of itself, learning about your manager’s manager is a good idea. It’s likely they’ll drive strategy and culture for the broader team, so it’s critical you understand them. But beyond this, they can also give you insight into your own manager. 

When enquiring about this, ask broad questions so it doesn’t look like you’re trying to get too personal. You can ask questions such as: ‘What do you like about this business?’ And then get more specific, such as: ‘What do you like or admire about management in our team?’

Hopefully, you’ll start to understand the management style of your manager’s manager and, by association, what your own boss likes or expects. 

5. Get insight into challenges, opportunities and plans 

No business is ever perfect – and neither is any manager. Even the best managers can struggle in stressful situations, and it’s almost inevitable their staff may feel the heat as a result. 

To see what you might be up against in this respect, try asking the following questions: 

  • What’s been most challenging in this role?’ Understanding this can give you an insight into how often your manager feels under strain in the role, and as a result, how often you might expect to be stressed as a result. 
  • What challenges lie ahead in this role?’ Not understanding the ‘roadmap’ for your role, team and manager when you’re interviewing is a fatal mistake. If you’re entering a bumpy or uncertain road, you need to be prepared. 
  • What opportunities do you foresee?’ Opportunities are just as important as challenges, so make sure you ask about these. If your manager can see and describe plentiful opportunities ahead, you’ll know that they’re the type of manager who is often on the lookout, which is a great thing. 

Are there any other discreet or not-so-discreet questions you ask to understand a manager before you take a role? Have the answers you’ve received given you insight, or have things changed when you’ve settled into the business? Share your experiences below! 

Tony Megally is the General Manager of The Source, Australia’s leading procurement recruitment and executive search firm. If you’re looking to hire in the procurement space, or alternatively, you’d like to have a confidential chat about your next role, please contact Tony on 03 9650 6665 or via email on [email protected]

Could Group Purchasing Organisations be Procurement’s Endgame?

Procurement’s fight for strategic recognition could be seen as a fight for its very survival. Could it be time to assemble around a collective idea before the endgame starts?

Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels

Have you heard the one about procurement being outsourced as a function? Where organisations finally tired of not getting the value they need and hand over the reins to an external third-party to run the show? If that sounded like the lead in to a joke, it wasn’t intended as one.

Procurement needs to face up to the reality that if it can’t add value as it promises, then organisations may choose another route for the function. But where there is adversity, there are heroes to stand up. And with Group Purchasing Organisations (GPOs), these heroes are closer than you think!

Outsourcing Procurement

At the turn of the decade there was an increasing number of organisations picking this as their procurement strategy. More recently, and famously, in 2015, PepsiCo took the decision to outsource its marketing procurement function to much fanfare and no small amount of worry for the global profession.

It’s hard to argue against the benefits of this approach too, with cost reduction, increased leverage for discounts and economies of scale just 3 from a wide list. But don’t polish your CVs to find new career just yet. What if there was a way to get the benefits above, but retain control on your procurement and even free up time to allow for more strategic input.

The Avengers and Procurement?

Let’s look at this through a lens the majority of people will be familiar with. The meteoric success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is based around the ability to tell a variety of different, diverse stories, but then tie up all of these strands into one, larger story.

The collective vision is why the first film in the series, Iron Man (2008) took $585 million at the box office, while the latest, Avengers: Endgame (2019) has taken in $2.796 billion. And counting.

From a procurement point of view, this collective vision comes in the form of Group Purchasing Organisations (GPO). There are numerous similarities between the Avengers and GPOs (bear with me!), but here are the top 3:

1. Leadership

The Avengers is a collection of larger-than-life superheroes, all with their own agendas, quirks and egos. What allows them to be an effective force in the fight against evil is that they have great leadership. Step forward Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America.

What makes “Cap” a born leader is that he sets aside his own feelings and agenda for the greater good. He makes sure that every member of the team has a voice, even down to the smallest or newest ones.

And that is one of the key aspects of a GPO. It enables every procurement organisation to have access to the network, facilitating benefits that wouldn’t have been possible on their own.  These benefits, such as cost optimisation and savings via economies of scale go on to a different sort of leadership – cost leadership.

2. The Power of the Collective

Individually the Avengers were all quite stellar.  As Tony Stark himself puts it in The Avengers (2012), “a demi-god; a super-soldier, a living legend who actually lives up to the legend, a man with breathtaking anger-management issues, a couple of master assassins”, not forgetting Iron Man himself.

Individually, they were heroes, but none of them strong enough to defeat a larger enemy. Only by working together, and in Endgame having a second shot at it, did they possess sufficient power to be victorious.

A GPO ties together the varied procurement strategies of its member organisations, increasing the buying power of the collective.  The centralised procurement would provide great benefits without giving up any of the control.

3. Data & Analysis

Where would the Avengers be without the technology of Stark Industries, the nation of Wakanda or the power of Hulk? Just as important is the data provided by SHIELD and analysis that they rely on for running missions, frequently broken down for them by Vision.

A GPO has access to all the data that a procurement organisation would require for strategic buying, in the form of procurement solutions. Analytics organisations, like Sourcing Insights, provide all the back up required for successful sourcing, while ensuring that everything is managed against real-time, accurate data.

Procurement – Assemble!

It might not be the most obvious of matches, but there’s no doubt that for many organisations this could be a huge win. Far from ceding control of their procurement, they can pass over the transactional and highly resource-intensive aspects to someone else, meaning their procurement team can be strategic, like SHIELD.

So maybe it’s time for us all to embrace our inner superhero and take a step towards a collective vision of the future. Who knows, we might all together be able to save our great profession before the Endgame arrives!

If you would like to learn more about the super benefits of Group Purchasing Organisations and how they could assist with your savings agenda, please visit UNA.com today!

Are Women Better Managers Than Men?

Latest research tells us that not only are women as good as men, most of the time they are better. So what’s holding companies back?

women
By Monkey Business Images/ Shutterstock

There are a lot fewer female managers than male managers. But you’d be wrong to assume that’s because women are not as good at leadership.  The latest research tells us that not only are woman as good as men, most of the time they are better.

According to the latest results from an annual survey conducted by international business advisory firm Grant Thornton, three quarters of businesses worldwide have at least one woman in senior management. 

Notwithstanding that, less than a quarter of senior roles in those businesses are held by women and most of those are at the lowest seniority level.  The glass ceiling for female managers still very much exists. 

While 2 in 5 low level managers are female, just 1 in 20 of S&P 500 CEOs are women.  One in five board members are women and just one in ten are among the top earners in the company.  This is despite women representing 45 per cent of all employees in those companies. 

Men vs. Women – Stereotypical Traits

A recent study in Spanish companies tried to get to the bottom of why by asking workers to evaluate the extent to which gender-stereotypical traits are important to become a successful manager.   Overall the study found what we might expect. 

The workers felt traits normally associated with males (using a standardised questionnaire) such as aggressiveness, superiority and calmness in the face of crisis were important in order to successfully manage.  The respondents also consistently rated males as being stronger in these areas. Unexpectedly, this association was stronger among female employees than males.

But when the Harvard Business Review recently analysed their comprehensive database of almost 9,000 annual management reviews they found that real-life female managers excelled on almost every trait associated with excellent corporate leadership.  

The data comes from 360 evaluations where participants peers, bosses and direct reports are asked to rate each leader’s overall effectiveness and how strong they are on 19 competencies that Harvard’s 40 years of research has shown are most important to leadership effectiveness. 

It showed that women outperformed men on 17 of the 19 traits.  These included traditionally female characteristics like building relationships, teamwork and motivating others but also those normally associated with male leaders, such as driving for results, speed, bold leadership and innovation. 

Females were particularly strong on Taking the Initiative, Practising Self-Development, Honesty and Resilience. Male leaders did better in only two categories, ‘Develops Strategic Perspective’ and ‘Technical or professional expertise’.

A Matter of Confidence?

Interestingly despite being more competent in almost every management facet than their male counterparts the women under 25 were significantly less confident about their abilities than the men.  And their confidence levels didn’t catch up to those of their male colleagues until they reached their 40s.

Other research has shown that women are less likely to apply for a job if they are no confident that they are qualified.  Men and women with the same qualifications may not come to the same conclusion about whether are qualified for a promotion simply due to differing self-assessments as to their abilities.

Added to that, women were much more likely to follow the written rules about necessary qualifications.  Men were likely to apply even though on paper they weren’t qualified. A woman would wait until she was.  The result was that men were frequently promoted more quickly than women even when had equivalent abilities.

The Best Women for the Job

The data tells us that on just about every meaningful criteria, women are likely to be better managers than men, so why are so few of them holding management positions? The Harvard team speculate that besides the tendency to underestimate their capabilities and cultural norms against female leaders -almost all human societies are patriarchal, meaning that men run the show – there’s likely to be a strong helping of conformity to the norm in hiring decisions. 

If 90 out of a hundred managers are male then promoting a women to their ranks is a risk for a hiring manager.   As they say in the computer industry, no-one ever got fired for buying IBM. Perhaps in this case it’s more like, nobody ever got fired for promoting a man.

Hiring decisions like that, could be costing your company money.  According to a large international survey which correlated the percentage female managers with profitability, those that had 30 per cent or more women in the C-suite were on average 15 per cent more profitable.

Hiring more female managers isn’t about being polite. The evidence is in. It’s about better profits and getting the best person for the job – even if she doesn’t think she is.

Are You Working for a Narcissist?

Leadership styles are under the microscope – with Trump and Boris being analysed endlessly. However, the so-called “great man” style of leadership is not always an easy one to live (or work) with.

narcissist
Photo by Fares Hamouche on Unsplash

Humans instinctively respond to confidence in a positive way. Experts who sound the most authoritative are generally listened to more and believed wholeheartedly.

As a result, it is the most self-assured in their pronouncements who tend to be held in the highest esteem – regardless of whether they are telling the truth or are being accurate or not.

The problem is that while this may help these individuals rise to the top, they might not be great for your organisation…or your career.

Narcissists are Highly Believable – So Try to Keep an Open Mind

So how do you spot a narcissist? Well, it is important to analyse what your existing/future boss is saying rather than being fooled by how they are saying it.

According to The Myers-Briggs Company (one of the world’s largest business psychology providers) experts who “sound” the most confident are also more likely to get things wrong. “Therefore, overzealous and over-confident leaders can mean potential dangers for both the political scene and the workplace,” it warns.

So if you are in a toxic workplace – or are thinking of moving jobs – avoid the over-confident leader particularly if they do not like being challenged (which they will see as a threat). They could be running the organisation into the ground.

Other tell-tale signs are a “lack of warmth” (although they might be charismatic, they may have followers rather than friends).

If you are Forced to Agree with Everything they Say, Walk Away

Narcissists have positive and inflated views of themselves and this can become a problem when they “maintain these views despite contrary evidence, and often at the expense of others”.

While you may be tempted to argue your points, present all the facts and enlist the support of others to make your case, this is not going to work with a narcissist, because they are always right.

If you are in an interview and feel your thoughts are dismissed, perhaps this is not a good boss to work for.

They will Blame You (Not Themselves) – So Avoid Them

“Leaders sometimes think there’s a problem with their team, when in fact it is the leader who is the real issue”, warns Myers-Briggs. There is evidence that individuals who are more narcissistic are not only more likely to become leaders, but they are also more likely to perform less effectively in this role than others.

So, while it might be frustrating to work for someone who always knows better, the narcissistic trait that can be most damaging is that you will find that everyone else – including you – is to blame when things go wrong. You could miss out on a promotion or worse, get fired, or be forced to leave with a bad reference, because the person you work for cannot admit to making any mistakes.

Lack of Diversity is a Red Flag – So Look Around

Additional research from The Myers-Briggs Company on narcissism and leadership has demonstrated that this kind of behaviour can lead to women being less likely to seek out leadership roles, even when they are as well or better qualified than men.

So, if the you are looking for a new job avoid the organisations that look stale/male/pale.

Will you be Heard? Group-Think is Another Killer

Narcissism is the rejection of others’ input. Along with overconfidence, this can lead to ‘group think’, where in the rush to make decisions, information that is inconvenient to the story constructed by the leader is ignored.

Myers-Briggs research also demonstrates that overconfident and dominant leaders can actively inhibit the exchange of information between members of a group, worsening the negative effects of this group think. 

So not only will your voice not be heard, you could be working for an organisation that is heading for failure.

Those Who Admit to Weaknesses Are the Strong

So what makes a good leader?

Well a boss who can admit to having a few weaknesses is going to be more self-aware. As a result, he or she will be better able to build teams that help address their shortcomings. What is needed in a successful organisation, is a good mix of different skills and personalities.

A good leader, will also create a culture and systems that inspire the people around them, so do not just look at the boss’s qualities, see who they surround themselves with and how varied and valued they are.

How to Deal with a Narcissist

The first thing is to not blindly follow them. Focus on facts that you can verify and not their opinions.

Work on building your network. The future is a “wirearchy” people whose power and influence is based on connectedness and the flow of information rather than a power base. This can help insulate and protect you.

John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company, says it is also important to build self-awareness. “By becoming more aware of their personality and biases, individuals can make more informed decisions, helping them to overcome the pressure to follow ‘group think’ and narcissistic leaders,” he says.

At the same time, avoid challenging a narcissist (remember they are always right) or angering them by undermining them (they rely on a power base, so avoid office gossip in case it gets back to them).

Treat them in the way they would expect: listen, agree, respect them, follow their instructions etc… and accept responsibility/blame for any failings (even if they are hers/his).

Then, try to make a quiet exit. If a narcissist gets wind that you are looking for another job, they will see this as a betrayal. So play your cards close to your chest and when you resign make sure your letter is full of flattery about how much you have learned from your boss and how inspirational he/she has been.

Why Leaders Shouldn’t Leave The Stories To Marketing

Are we all too busy getting on with the business of running the business to be telling stories? It’s an easy thing to think until we understand the value and power of stories...

By Johanna Altmann/ Shutterstock

Once Upon a Time……And so the story goes….. There wouldn’t be too many of us who cannot remember even one story from our childhood. It might be something we liked to have read to us on repeat, no doubt driving our parents crazy with our enthusiasm for the same thing over and over. And as we develop our own experiences, we create our own stories to capture the big moments.

Who hasn’t been to a milestone birthday, wedding or other celebratory event where the speeches section of the evening engender dread that they will never finish? Or laughter and delight at the humour and good nature of reflection and personal insight?

On a professional level, we develop stories also. Our resume becomes the formal story of record of our work history, references the story of our previous performance. We share stories about an interview we had, a great outcome we achieved, as well as a failure for something that has not gone as intended.

Science of Stories

The science of story telling is something well out of my area of expertise. I know enough to be able to rather simply explain that there seems to be a consensus that as humans, we had storytelling in us from the get-go. Before we wrote, we spoke, and stories were the way that individuals and tribes shared achievements and tribulations, their history and their myths. 

Studying classics, I participated in more than a few heated debates on whether Homer really did author The Odyssey in the way we understand authoring today, or whether he simply documented stories told by others and deftly added his by-line to a transcript that has become a classic for many different reasons.

Organisations tell their own stories too. It is not just Hollywood that understands the commercial value and engagement of a superhero’s origin story (As big of a Marvel Universe fan that I am, I have to give it to DC for the Wonder Woman movie). How powerful is the origin story in helping us understand the culture, intent and values of an organisations?

In my time with Hewlett Packard, the story of Bill and Dave in the garage was told over and over, and with IBM, the legacy of the organisation in its role in advancing racial and gender diversity, as well as its integral role in the Apollo space mission were part of the stories that help employees understand the scale and capacity to achieve great things that the organisation is capable of.  

Organisations Telling Stories

In today’s digital world, it’s not only the mature organisations that understand the value of the story in creating and evolving their brand. Digital natives tell stories of their inspiration, entrepreneurs tell stories of the many failed attempts to become an overnight success, and if you spend any time on social media, you will have read, followed or liked personalities, products and groups for the stories they shared that would have resonated with you.

It’s actually the stories that form part of the personal or organisational brand; the idea for Facebook originating in a dorm room, Air BnB from a trip to San Francisco with no accommodation available and Space X as a lifelong ambition of a very, very young Elon Musk.

On a more practical level, organisations tell stories about their products, or their services. It might be the juxtaposition of the before versus the after scenario capturing us with the promise that we too will be able to replicate the same level of success if we buy or consume.

Or it may be the a carefully crafted script on how a product is made, the people who made it, and how it will make our lives so great we are likely to wonder how it was possible to live without it. Other times, it is much simpler.

Product placement on the screen allows us to create our own story; that we too can be like the people in the movie and share their success, superpower or characteristic that made them so memorable (I am not sure this aspiration should extend to villains however owning a car based on a great car chase may be fair game).

What Can Leaders Learn?

Savvy marketers are well aware of the impact of stories and how they can initiate dopamine and oxytocin and translate this to brand awareness, a purchase and more importantly, brand loyalty. It’s what makes consumers stick with you, even when confronted with products or services that don’t meet market expectations, and it’s also what drives profit and growth. The challenge and cost of keeping a customer is much less then the cost of attracting new ones.

So what can leaders learn from all of this? Aren’t we all too busy getting on with the business of running the business to be telling stories? It’s an easy thing to think until we understand the value and power of stories.

Attract the best talent

If it is a great strategy to attract new customers, why would it be any different for attraction of employees? In a market where employees have choice about how they work and who they work for, organisations looking to secure a reputation for employer-of-choice would do well to have their leaders understand that stories matter in attracting those who not only perform well, but also align with the values and mission of the organisation.

And as with customers, hiring the right people is only a very small part of the talent challenge. Retaining employees in environments that are challenging, constantly changing and demand more, can be a competitive advantage.

Connect and engage

When stories are shared, they can create connection and engagement. In fact, they can also create empathy. And in today’s digital environment, the constant change, always being on, and the reactiveness of many organisations means leaders need to be vigilant to signs of change fatigue and disengagement.

Storytelling can span reasons for an initiative, shared success, and even foster a learning environment from failures. They can help leaders and organisations re-write the narrative on culture, performance and why what is being done matters, helping harness purpose through inspiration and a focus on the outcome. Hopefully with some learning and laughter along the way.