Leadership and Sourcing

When it comes to the business world, one of the topics which seems to get chewed over far too much is leadership. I swear, if you turn to a random page in HBR on any given month, there's better than a 50/50 chance of landing on a story that brings up the topic of leadership. Personally, I'm fed up with all the theory and space devoted to something as ethereal and soft as "leadership". Humor me this ... is there any other business topic which is as hard to measure and difficult to correlate returns on as leadership (BTW, Self Promoting Blogger, who is sure to respond to this, I don't believe that you can distill the concept of leadership into a comic strip, either).

Fortunately, I'm not alone in my thinking. Supply Management recently featured a great story that challenges much of the orthodoxy in leadership theory as relates to organizational success – especially in procurement. Our author breaks the ice nicely "So how can you become an effective leader? It is tempting to point you in the direction of various theories to find the answer. There's a vast and bewildering selection to choose from and most are plausible and persuasive. Believe me, I've read the books, attended the training courses, and own the T-shirt ... However, the problem with developing an approach based on these theories is that many conflict with each other. They also draw on case studies of a relatively small number of high-powered leaders, such as Jack Welch, Richard Branson and Bill Gates, whose roles and experiences bear little relationship to the "real" world of work most of us inhabit."

I won't spoil the rest of this humdinger of a feature article for you -- it's far more valuable than all of the leadership crap you'll read in higher brow business journals (or Dilbert). But it goes without saying that one of the authors prescriptions for leadership success is to "treat leadership theories and "how to" books with a healthy scepticism because "there is no panacea." And "remember, the macho, directive approach works better with dogs than people." Perhaps there's also a lesson in here for how to treat suppliers as well -- especially if you want to get the most out of them over the long haul.

Jason Busch

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