By Dr. Tom DePaoli
Running a purchasing or supply chain organization poses unique challenges to a leader. Purchasing organizations are constantly “fighting fires”, handling unique crises and influencing a broad network of people internally and externally. The range of personal contacts, cultural differences, emotions and challenges is global. In two of my books I have used poetic license and characterized the so called normal purchasing day as “zoo-ee”. Although many of the skills that I discuss are also required by other leaders, the sheer nature of the purchasing beast demands a special combination of these skills.
One of the most valued characteristics of a leader is integrity. A purchasing leader needs to never waiver in being honest to everyone in all their relationships. The quickest way to demoralize your team is to not keep your word. There can be no compromise on this trait.
One of the first things a purchasing leader must make clear is what is acceptable ethical behavior. Publish and conduct classes on purchasing ethical standards. I have been fortunate to work for companies that have clear standards and strong ethics. I personally condone a zero tolerance of any gifts or gratuities including lunches or dinners from a supplier or anyone. I recommend purchasing actually budget dollars for these events and strive to not even give a semblance of any favoritism.
Because of the frenetic atmosphere, a purchasing leader must be a working leader or “hands on” resource especially when a crisis develops. Leading from the front is a requirement.
Clear goal setting and the flexibility to constantly adjust goals is a skill that must be repeatedly practiced and communicated. This goes hand in hand with the ability to provide discipline and structure to the team in light of all the pressures and deadlines. Along with this, the talent to delegate and not to micromanage is essential. This encourages team members to take risks and grow. Purchasing leaders need to show that they truly care for their team by personally conducting training in many areas.
Curiosity and the drive to wander around and find out what is really happening, especially in other departments and with suppliers, often yields useful knowledge and actionable projects. Being visible and approachable cements relationship building which is the linchpin of the art of purchasing.
Sheer drive and the perseverance to not quit seizes the imagination of team members and other employees as well. I call this “indomitable spirit” and it is contagious. Below is my list of one-off purchasing leadership traits along with additional complimentary traits that develop from them. Finally never lose sight of the fact that leading by example is not working unless your team is following and exceeding your example.