Leadership skills, traits can get you ‘there’ from ‘here’

June 21, 2018

In my previous Periscope column, I focused on leadership (January 2018). I shared the complete list of 17 skills Supply Chain leaders need to lead and be successful. I also explored several of the skills, offering some rationale and illustrations about how they could be deployed.

Note that the word “skills” is a bit over-applied as many of these are really “character traits.” The fact is that both exist, both will be used interchangeably, and the successful Supply Chain leader or protégé needs both.

This month, I’ll delve into more skills from the original list of 17, in no particular order.

Let’s begin with Integrity (more a trait, but executed with skill), which some consider to be the same thing as Ethics. Briefly, integrity means you can be trusted to always do the right thing, whether or not you are being watched. Doing the right thing means doing what is best for the organization, not to you personally. Consider that the Chief Supply Chain Officer (leader) oversees the selection and acquisition of tens to hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in consumable products, plus many millions of dollars of services and capital equipment, depending on the size of the organization and its scope of clinical services.

The opportunities to succumb to the temptations of fraud, bribes and kickbacks, which are enormous in quantity and dollar value, are there. Every year, several such incidents are reported in the media. Chances are you may know of someone involved in something like this. Many are so obviously wrong you have to ask, “What were they thinking?!” However, more do not get caught or make the nightly news. Yet, they are just as wrong. Some are rationalized by the thought, “I just do not get paid enough for all I do and all I save this organization,” or “This little bit won’t hurt anyone — ‘they’ will never miss this little amount.” Wrong again! Supply Chain leaders must be pure and always resist these opportunities while doing everything in their power to make sure others do the same.

Integrity is closely related to Reliability. It also means you will do what you say you will do — always. You can be counted on, every time. When you tell the boss or a customer (clinician), “I’ll take care of this by Monday,” they know they can count on you to do just that. Actually, they may need you to do just that. Given the number of opportunities that may come to your organization’s attention, knowing you can be counted on to get the information, ask the needed questions and interpret the answers provided, not only enhances your value to the organization, but also solidifies your relationship with those with whom you must collaborate to take advantage of future opportunities. If others cannot count on you, ‘leader’ is the last thing others will consider you to be.

Accountability is a trait or quality more than a skill, but it is equally important for the Supply Chain leader. It’s the proverbial, “the buck stops here.” If something happens that prevents you from accomplishing what you said would be done, or when it would be done, you own it. No excuses. You apologize, evaluate what went wrong, take the steps needed to make it right and make sure it is not repeated. You also make sure that those involved with the issue or problem see that you accepted accountability for it, and that they know they must also be held accountable and take corrective and preventative action when indicated.

Link Flexibility and Adaptability to another skill or trait referenced in the previous column: Maturity. This means realizing that you are and cannot always be correct or have all the best answers or ideas. It is very possible that your understanding of the issue or problem is not complete or is just wrong. Your analysis and solution may be faulty, if for no other reason than you may not have all the (current) information, or you may have misinterpreted some aspect of the scenario. You may have been forced to fill in the blanks with estimates, experience or guesses. You also may not be the smartest person looking at this issue.

Recognizing this and considering other information, facts, ideas, input, etc., can lead to a better solution or outcome. More current data or facts that may come to light, along with changes in conditions, should motivate you to reconsider and adapt to the updated scenario, seek a new answer and proceed with it. Leaders include other in the process. You will be respected more if you do, than if you continue to push for your solution.

This leads to Tenacity. Having tenacity should not be confused with being stubborn. Tenacity means not easily giving up — on an idea, a relationship with a colleague or customer — until it is clear that it is fruitless to further pursue. Then you should retreat, reconsider the idea or issue as well as the approach you were using to get others to “have it your way.” Reconsidering your approach to a committee, your boss, customer or colleague, ties in nicely with flexibility and adaptability, too.

Lastly, consider Communication. This is a skill, not just a trait. It does include a range of skills and the most important one is listening! Active listening means asking questions for clarification and to show the other party you are paying attention. Then, when the discussion is ending, recap what you think the other party said and ask them to confirm or correct. That can help avoid a misunderstanding later on.

Written communication is next. Supply Chain leaders may not be trained as professional writers, but that’s no excuse. Keep it simple and never state something in writing that you would not want to be seen in the evening newspaper or be quoted out of context. Stick with the facts, at least as you know them. Support your statements with data — but put that in a format that the reader can easily and quickly absorb and understand. That means no 30-column and 120-row spreadsheets. It also means no jargon (plenty of that in the supply chain arena).

Are you good at making presentations? Anyone can be. Supply Chain leaders must be. Presentations are made to your boss, the executive team, maybe the Board of Directors, and your peers. Hemming and hawing or stumbling won’t cut it. Use slides to help your audience understand but don’t write the encyclopedia on the slides or read them out loud word for word.

The skills and traits explored here are just a primer on what a Supply Chain leader needs to lead and succeed. Remember, a leader is someone who is followed by others — voluntarily. Demonstrate the skills and others are more likely to follow your lead.