Challenges of Leadership in Procurement
Leadership is the process of influencing others to successfully achieve vision and goals. There are three broad types of leadership; Autocratic, Democratic and Laissez-faire as per Lewin, Lippett & White (1939), however, Laissez-faire has been argued to be a leaderless approach. There are many writers who discuss other types of leadership approaches including Situational Leadership whereby leaders adapt their approach according to the situation. Others talk about transactional leaders that use carrot and stick, and transformational leaders who seek to inspire, challenge, and create an environment of trust.
Leadership is very different to management; Managers achieve results through the efficient and effective utilisation of resources, their functions include planning, directing, monitoring, organising, controlling, commanding, and coordinating (Kotter). Leaders tell us where we are going, and managers tell us how we are going to get there. Leaders focus on the vision. Managers make it happen. When I think about my organisation, I see this distinction clearly.
Don’t agree? Confused? I don’t blame you. Today, managers and leaders are two sides of the same coin – they come hand in hand. One cannot exist without the other. Quite often a leader is also expected to be a manager. I could write several books about managers, leaders, types of organisations, cultures, structure, organisation history that influence what we see in organisations today. There is no one right way so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Having said this Procurement leaders need to be aware of the leadership challenges we face today and in the future. Whether you believe leaders are born with a key set of competencies and traits (Stodgill) or are made through training and experience, they are all leaders none the less. During the challenging environment we currently find ourselves in leaders are having to adapt fast or risk losing sight of their vision. This means changing their approach to leadership, employing new technology, and reviewing methods of communication. Leaders are finding themselves in a constant cycle of change, having to cope with the changing demands and challenges of employees, suppliers, and customers.
Tannenbaum and Schmidt (1973) suggested a continuum of management/leadership styles from Task Centred through to Relationship Orientated which are adopted to avoid choosing between the two broad extremes. See diagram below:
Hersey and Blanchard presents an influential Situational Leadership theory whereby leaders adopt the style of leadership approach depending on the situation allowing increased flexibility, ultimately increasing efficiency by adapting the appropriate style. If you think about it, you would spend a lot of time telling or micro managing someone who is new or training such as a junior member of staff or perhaps employing a more delegating approach in a situation where the individual or team are confident and have plenty of experience; thus getting more through empowerment.
Leaders (as have all employees) have had to become technologies’ best friend – without video conferencing, internet and mobile phones things would be unbearable for many. Technology has allowed a sense of normality. However, new priorities, frequency of meetings, presentations, training and briefs may have increased somewhat. Its not the same as being present in the same room but video conferencing has significantly helped maintain control.
During Covid and numerous lockdowns leaders emphasis on objectives, relationships, employee wellbeing and teamwork has changed. To be effective, leaders must balance these carefully; too much emphasis on objectives and you may have a demotivated team with a risk of absence; too much focus on their wellbeing/relationships and achieving objectives are put at risk. Focus too much on one area and the other areas begins to decline. John Adair believed that an effective leader is one that can balance the needs of the individual, team and objectives.
During this years’ pandemic leaders have had to change, evolve, react and respond to a situation that is new and unknown. Juggling and balancing these priorities has been integral to their success. Priorities have and are changing and the focus is shifting towards staff moral and wellbeing in order to achieve results. Achieving results depends on care for the objective but also individual and team motivation, moral skills and competencies. Leaders can increase motivation and encourage teamwork by implementing regular team meetings, virtual coffee mornings, fun hours, competitions, and quizzes. Recommending cameras are switched on will keep employees engaged and communicating. Employee wellbeing and mental health is crucial to maintain teamwork; arranging regular 1-1’s and performance reviews will help identify concerns early.
Beware of suppliers taking advantage of the chaos! Become complacent and so will they. Compliance, supplier relationships and performance management should be continued but with empathy, collaboration, and consideration. Encouraging and assisting with supplier development during difficult times to cope with the change can encourage loyalty and commitment whilst ensuring supply continuity. Evaluate the impact of recent events and consider how your supply chain can reduce risk moving forward; from contractual, to supply chain resilience to supply.
Awareness of your environment and industry news, listen to your customers, employees, and suppliers as this may indicate a need for change. Ignorance can lead to strategic drift; avoid this at all cost! Align your procurement strategy with your environment before it’s too late.
Leaders today are asking themselves whether things will go back to “normal”, the questions that many procurement leaders should be asking instead is what’s working, what’s not, and what actually needs to change? Embrace the change, many leaders have realised that 2020’s challenge, Covid-19 has changed many things; some for the better.
This article was written by Susan Rashid FCIPS, MBA, CPSM, PGCE, Founder & Managing Director of SR Supply Chain Consultants and Co Founder of SR Strategic Sourcing.
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