Embracing Leadership Principles in Supply Chain

By Supply Chain Research Team | June 12, 2018 | 0 Comments

Supply ChainPower of the Profession

Is your company extraordinary? If not, you can probably point to some that are. When you think about what makes them extraordinary, leadership probably comes to mind.

In our most recent Future of Supply Chain survey, leadership took the top place for the first time, outdistancing both communication and influencing skills and core supply chain functional knowledge as the most essential skill in a successful supply chain executive’s toolkit.

Why is that?

Evolutionary psychology tells us that the need for leaders – and subsequently, of course, followers – is necessary for the survival of our species as we adapt strategies for basic social coordination. It’s no different in supply chain terms, as we seek to excel in the orchestration of complex relationships and processes across the end-to-end supply chain for the survival of our businesses, our immediate teams or even our individual roles.

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Leadership starts at the top

Today’s leadership is about more than hierarchical constructs based on command and control-style coordination. In his foreword to Sir John Whitmore’s book, Coaching for Performance, chairman of multinational investment bank and financial services company Barclays plc John McFarlane says: “Leadership within extraordinary companies is based on principles. There is a tangible difference between a system governed by principles and one controlled by rules … Embracing principles requires a strong ethical and emotional foundation and a long-term focus on the heart of what a business is trying to achieve. It creates an environment where people are inspired to learn, to succeed, to grow, and to do the right thing.”

In the last few weeks and months I’ve had several conversations with members of the community about the importance of leadership, values and principles. This has led me to look at examples of how some of the best leaders in the field lead. Here are just a few examples.

  • CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman’s leadership on issues relating to long-term sustainability extends far beyond the four walls of Unilever. On discussing his approach to leadership, he boiled it down to this: “At the end of the day people will follow you or people will be energized by you if they buy into your vision or purpose. So the most important thing is to be true to yourself. That’s why I would say to be a great leader — you, first and foremost, have to be a great human being. And sharing that purpose and sharing the values.”
  • CEO of Clorox, Benno Dorer, was named the highest-rated CEO in an anonymous survey on Glassdoor. He speaks and writes regularly on the topic of leadership and empowerment: “At Clorox, we’re all united by common values and by our strategies and goals. And I trust that people do their work in an ethical, responsible way. That frees leadership from focusing on face time or how many hours someone works or even where the work happens… Clorox people are empowered to take ownership of their work and their results, and Clorox leaders are here to create an environment that supports that.”
  • Written by CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s 14 leadership principles sit front and center of every discussion or decision. It’s also no coincidence that you’ll find them listed on their website as part of the jobs section – being clear about what their principles are is important not only as part of defining their brand as a business and as operating principles for current employees, but also when setting out their stall to attract future employees.

Putting the Power into the Profession

Until June 25, SCM World is fielding a survey of supply chain professionals and their views on the Team of Tomorrow. With nearly 400 responses to date, the preliminary data reveals that attracting and retaining top talent are two of the top three concerns facing supply chain organizations today.

Have we created this problem for ourselves? Perhaps.

A 2016 Gartner survey of investment priorities showed that talent was rated a top priority investment for only 28% of respondents, placing at the bottom of the list of 11 other competing priorities.

This cautionary comment from John McFarlane proves most apt: “What we often forget, to the detriment of high performance, is our people and how we work together to make a company great. It is our people who serve our customers, who design, build, and deliver products, and who create new ideas. It is our people who innovate and produce results, who choose to contribute their energies to a vision or cause beyond themselves.”

At SCM World we’ve always believed in the “Power of the Profession” to deliver great things in supply chain. Each year, the Talent Breakthrough of the Year category in our annual awards program reveals a slew of initiatives that stand head and shoulders above the norm. These initiatives shape the supply chain teams of the future by fostering diversity, creating value for the business and/or developing capabilities across the value chain. Without exception, they are driven by great leadership.

Lead on!


P.S. This year’s Power of the Profession awards are open for submissions until August 10, 2018. Find out more here.


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