If you’ve ever received any practical leadership training, you’ll doubtless be aware of the key differences between management and leadership, so this post is not going to talk about that.
You’ve probably also learned about the difference between hard (technical) and soft skills, so we’re not going to talk about that either.
What we ARE going to discuss is something that’s not talked about in leadership training, because leadership training is pretty generic, or in most supply chain management education modules, because they typically focus on the many technical disciplines necessary for today’s supply chain pros.
We’re going to talk about why you, as a supply chain professional, are a leader—even if that term does not appear in your job title—and why therefore, leadership skills are vital to get ahead in your career.
People Are the Supply Chain
Today’s supply chains are actually networks through which products, information, services and finance flow. As complex as they are though, they still cannot exist without people to make everything happen.
Of course technology helps a lot, but increasing degrees of automation only serve to propagate further complexity in supply chain networks, meaning there’s always a need for people to innovate and harness technology in new ways.
While technology needs no leadership, people do—especially if your company is to build and manage a supply chain that will be successful in the long term.
Therefore, if you have any responsibility at all for getting desirable business results from other people, your success depends as much upon your leadership abilities as your management skills or technical proficiency.
Yes, You Really Are a Leader!
Are you in charge of a small team, perhaps in a warehouse or office? If so, the people in your team will perform much better under your leadership than in response to your process knowledge.
Are you a buyer in your company’s purchasing department? Your leadership skills will influence results when dealing with suppliers.
Are you a business process manager in logistics and warehousing? Your process improvement projects will be more successful if you are as good at leading as you are at troubleshooting.
Are you a regional logistics manager in charge of assets and operations? Your distribution centre and fleet managers look to you for vision and inspiration.
The above are just four examples of supply chain jobs with no mention of leadership in their titles, but which can all be carried out much more effectively through the application of strong leadership.
Of course, as you progress into more senior roles, especially roles with “chief” in the title, leadership capabilities become even more of an imperative. These roles can also fall within your reach much more quickly if you develop leadership skills during your tenure in entry-level and intermediate supply chain management positions.
What Leadership Does for the Supply Chain
Whether you’re a leader in name or not, leadership skills will help you get the best from people in the supply chain. These people might be employees of the company you work for, colleagues you work with on projects, or people in other organisations within the extended supply chain.
You see, leadership skills don’t just help you if you have a team of people who report to you. They are transferable into any situation where people collaborate to attain common goals.
Leadership: An Enabler for Collaboration
While on the subject of collaboration, it would seem to be a good starting point for discussing how good leadership can directly and positively affect supply chain management.
If you’re a skilled leader, you’ll be able to inspire and motivate any team of people to believe in your vision, align on collaborative efforts, and help you to realise the improvement goals you seek in your company’s supply chain.
Today’s supply chains simply can’t be successful without collaboration, so even if there were no other reasons to work on your leadership, the ability to drive collaborative efforts should be enough in itself.
Leadership drives innovation
As former United States President Ronald Reagan once said, “A leader isn’t necessarily the one who does great things. He is the one who gets people to do great things.”
If you can motivate and encourage people to collaborate with one another, you can also encourage them to engage individually in your company’s mission and contribute actively to creating a more effective supply chain.
Innovation, like collaboration, is an essential ingredient in today’s supply chain. Leaders are adept at giving people a sense of empowerment, which combined with engagement, creates a culture in which innovation can flourish. As a leader, you don’t have to be the one to come up with great ideas, because you’ll be able to draw out the creativity and original thinking which is latent in just about every professional population.
By getting people to realise that their feelings, ideas, and talents really matter to your business, you’ll never run short of new things to try, some of which will lead to small but valuable supply chain improvements—while one or two might prove to be hugely important competitive breakthroughs.
As a manager of people you’re unlikely to enable this kind of creative productivity, but as a leader with the right skills, there’s no reason why you can’t do it all day long.
What Leadership Can Do for You?
To conclude this brief look at leadership in the supply chain theatre, let’s shift away from the organisational necessities and spend a moment on the personal importance of being a supply chain or logistics leader.
The top performers among today’s supply chain organisations are those that recognized early just how much value supply chain management could add to a company’s business.
These organisations moved quickly to transform supply chain into a competitive differentiator, creating executive supply chain offices and appointing suitably skilled and senior practitioners to fill them. This is a trend which will soon become the norm, as more and more companies integrate supply chain operations as a strategic business component.
The possession of strong leadership skills will hence unlock more opportunities if you are ambitious and wish to move into the senior ranks of a supply chain organisation.
Furthermore, the same leading companies have discovered that strong supply chain leaders make eminently suitable candidates for other C-suite positions, including the seat at the top of the boardroom table. Apple, Target, and Lego are just three such companies that recently appointed CEOs who previously held supply chain accountability.
Don’t Lose Out for Want of Leadership Skills
The need for supply chain managers to possess a range of technical proficiencies is as critical as ever, but leadership skills are every bit as important in today’s supply chains. If you are responsible for recruiting and developing talent in your company, or are yourself hoping to carve out a stellar career path, leadership skills should be at the top of your list of training and education needs.
It can be tricky though, to find the right combination of technical and leadership education for supply chain careers. That’s where our range of pragmatic educational services and products can help.
If you’d like to develop technical and leadership skills for your employees or yourself, be sure to investigate the benefits of joining our Supply Chain Leaders Academy, Supply Chain Leaders Boardroom, or our online program, Our Supply Chain Secrets.