Dr Ian George on Procurement Transformation – Competent Leadership

(We’re delighted to feature another post in the series on Procurement Transformation from Dr Ian George. Ian is a senior partner and practicing consultant at Agile Partners, has an engineering background, and has worked in procurement for the last 20 years. His doctorate looked in detail at procurement transformation programmes).

It may go without saying, but to be an effective leader you really need to understand the organisation and its surrounding environment. This doesn’t just mean the mechanics of how the work is performed, it also means the nuances of how to actually get things done; who to influence, what resonates with the organisation, how to overcome roadblocks without burning bridges.

The challenge is always one of how to balance the hard-nosed realities of getting things done, with the softer and more subtle challenge of ensuring you take the majority of individuals along with you as you do it. Notice I don’t suggest taking everyone along with you – that simply gives the negative few a license for being even more belligerent.

Good leaders have a clear picture of what the future they want looks like, they can articulate it well in terms that others can engage with and they can describe the benefits that others will experience as a result of its achievement. When these are described from the perspective of others, they become the compelling catalysts that help visualise how you are going to make them successful.

Leadership hangs on the ability to draw on a broad range of expertise that carries the agenda forward. Being a procurement expert is only part of what is needed. Leaders need to know both how the job is done and how to improve the way the job is done. These are two very different but complimentary skill sets. This gives the ability to define the future and deal with all of the mess that stops the majority of organisations getting there.

Articulating a compelling future is one thing, but the organisation also has to deal with the here and now. This means diagnosing the current situation, stating the critical few priorities (and by default what won’t be done) and then building a strategy that will deliver tangible benefits over the short, medium and long-term.

New leaders today get 6 months to prove themselves, 12 if they’re lucky. Rarely do they get more. The major impediment they all experience is the constantly moving targets as priorities shift and less capable individuals in senior positions push knee-jerk reactions upon them, without truly understanding the nature of the problem or the consequences of their proposed solution. At this point, being rock solid on ‘what’ and ‘how’ become significant.

Why competent leadership? Competence is a mix of skill, knowledge and experience. We can learn skills, we can be given knowledge, but experience comes from having been right in the middle if what is going on and having reflected upon it afterwards in order to improve next time. If you can’t lead yourself, then how can you expect to lead others? Leadership can be defined through a small number of exceptionally good models that are easy to learn and profound in the insight they provide. If all young leaders were given this start and all the other ones the breathing space to revisit them from time to time, then history shows that the results are often spectacular even if the solutions don’t need to be.

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