Promoting Dynamic Leadership in Supply Chain

Spend Matters welcomes this guest post from APQC.

As supply chain becomes a more strategic function and senior supply chain professionals prepare to retire, the need to develop strong leadership capabilities in supply chain mounts. New research from educational non-profit APQC sheds light on which leadership skills are most important to develop and which development techniques will be most fruitful for supply chain professionals.

As part of its 2014 Leadership Deficit study, APQC surveyed 547 business professionals representing a variety of industries and organizations. Analysis of the survey responses shows that organizational leadership is evolving. Current business trends including knowledge work, innovation, globalization and the millennial generation require that organizations take a more dynamic approach to leadership.

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Organizations using the dynamic leadership style have flat, community-centered organizational structures. Authority is based on knowledge or situation. Goals are shared. Collective work processes and collaboration are the norm. APQC’s survey revealed that few organizations fully embrace the dynamic leadership style, yet most recognize its importance. The research points to 3 areas of focus that supply chain functions and professionals can use to promote dynamic leadership.

Leadership Skills for All Supply Chain Employees

Dynamic leadership involves developing all employees to lead as the situation and their expertise dictates. In an unpredictable, knowledge-intensive and data-infused business world, supply chain functions need to fully tap the intelligence and potential of all employees. Yet few of the organizations represented in APQC’s survey develop leadership capabilities in all employees. Those organizations that do teach a mix of hard and soft leadership skills. The leadership skills that APQC survey participants identified as most important for business success reflect this mix of hard and soft leadership capabilities: results focus, teamwork, collaboration, listening, strategic planning, adaptability, cost focus, analytics and knowledge sharing. Developing these skills is especially important for the supply chain profession, as previous APQC research has shown that supply chain workers face both technical and soft-skill deficiencies.

Participants Who Agree “Quite a Bit” or “Extremely” that Skill Is Needed to Succeed


Dynamic Leadership Infrastructure for Supply Chain Function

APQC conducted interviews with, and wrote case studies on, organizations that embrace the dynamic leadership style. This research shows that dynamic leadership organizations have established cultures, processes and tools that encourage employees to use hard and soft leadership skills. These organizations identify core leadership expectations for their employees. Then, they show employees how to use the core leadership behaviors through continuous storytelling, role modeling and training.

In addition, dynamic leadership organizations give all employees access to people and information that will help them lead. Using knowledge-sharing tools, such as corporate intranet sites and expertise location directories, these organizations help “all-employee leaders” tap the organization’s collective intelligence and use it to guide them in their work. Dynamic leadership organizations also offer much transparency into company information as well as into job and project opportunities. Finally, dynamic leadership organizations hire, promote, recognize and compensate employees who demonstrate the core leadership behaviors in their work. Establishing the infrastructure for dynamic leadership will be particularly beneficial for supply chain as doing so is also a cost-effective way to develop supply chain talent and ultimately close supply chain skills gaps.

Dynamic Leadership Behaviors for Supply Chain Leaders

At dynamic leadership organizations, employees working in formal leadership roles embrace a fluid, inclusive and collaborative style of leading. They set the leadership example by providing information, tools and teaching to help all employees learn to lead. In doing so, they take desired leadership behaviors from being abstract concepts to becoming actionable steps used to carry out work. Dynamic leadership behaviors used by those working in formal leadership roles include:

  • Sharing information and knowledge
  • Being accessible to all employees regardless of role
  • Coaching and mentoring employees
  • Helping employees develop relationships throughout the organization

Matching employees with leadership development opportunities

  • Recognizing employee contributions and expertise as opposed to tenure and experience
  • Encouraging employees to collaborate and make decisions

Supply chain functions will want to consider offering formal training to help current supply chain leaders adopt these dynamic leadership behaviors. Previous APQC research found that supply chain professionals need more leadership development in order to address the demands of a complex, global economy. In addition, formal leadership training for supply chain leaders will also help organizations retain strategic-level supply chain talent, something that APQC research has found to be challenging most supply chain functions.

A Call to Action

Leading supply chain today is a complex endeavor requiring a wide range of leadership skills. APQC’s research shows that organizations with a dynamic mix of leadership skills have significantly more effective leadership practices, report experiencing a smaller leadership skills gap today and show less concern about a leadership skills shortage in the future.

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