Leadership Lessons: Learning From Experiences – Part 1

In supply chain analytics and in life, we learn best through experiences, both positive and negative.  The hardest lessons to learn are not the quantitative ones, but rather those lessons that are qualitative or behavioral – how we interact with others.

Take the real, but anonymous, case of an analyst working on process improvement for a company that sold jewelry through direct marketing.  The challenge the company faced was predicting demand across a size curve.  After the rings were promoted, the company was left with too many rings that did not sell.  These remaining rings disproportionately consisted of the less frequently ordered sizes.

The analyst proposed a solution:

Purchase assembled rings for 90% of the most frequently ordered sizes and purchase settings and stones to cover the forecast for the remaining 10% of those sizes and for the less frequently ordered sizes.  If demand exceeded 90% of the forecast for the more common sizes or if sizes were ordered from either tail of the size distribution, they would be assembled to order. 

Of course, this approach had the advantage of eliminating left over rings without materially impacting customer service.  Furthermore, the stones and settings could be salvaged for a significant portion of the procurement cost.

She thought it sounded like a slam-dunk!

However, her proposal was quickly rejected after minimal consideration – dismissed with a few objections that more or less amounted to “we haven’t ever done that and (therefore) it won’t work.”  However, after some time, when she was no longer working on that project, that very solution was eventually implemented, resulting in improved fill rates and reduced obsolescence! 

So what can she (and we) learn from her experience?  It might be convenient for her to chalk the failure of her proposal to the failings of her colleagues.  Were they threatened?  Were they in imaginative?  Were they just plain stubborn?  Are they unintelligent?

It is unlikely that any of these are the case.  Instead of blaming others, she could challenge at her own approach.  For example, she may have failed to comprehend the perspective of her audience, both as individuals and as a group.  She could have tried to understand what kind of message they were capable of receiving in terms of the following (as examples):

  • Extent of change that the rest of the team could accept
  • Her colleagues point of view (e.g. Are there real or perceived reasons why this won’t work?  Has it been tried before?)
  • What did each member of the team need to get out of this interaction

If she can forget about getting appropriate credit for the idea and deliver her message with these things in mind such that it can be received and appreciated by her teammates, then I suspect that she very well may have been successful.

Effectively interacting with others requires this kind of 360 degree thinking that you see visually on Google Earth or in the special effects replays in NFL broadcasts.

It is also critical to remember that while you may have a great idea, someone else may have a better idea, so listening must be both a skill and a habit that you continually hone.

Bear in mind that common sense is often the best sense:

  • Keep an open mind (yes, we all have blind spots)
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes (we are all too self-centered)
  • Love your neighbor as yourself (remembering from the parable of the Good Samaritan that everyone is our neighbor)

For more thoughts on effectively interacting with teams, please take a look at these posts on Supply Chain Action:

Leadership Is Not Just Telling Other People What to Do

Leadership:  Motivation or Manipulation

Or my article in Analytics magazine:  Why the soft side of analytics is so hard to manage

I also highly recommend Dr. Jeannie Kahwajy.  Find her at her website, Effective Interactions.

Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful weekend!


Leadership: Motivation or Manipulation?

Motivation is the inspiration to do the right thing.  A leader imparts it.  The best colleagues, clients, and partners embrace it.

Do you know when you are being motivated and when you are being manipulated?  Do you motivate people or manipulate them?  Is there a distinction and if so, what is the difference?  Is there an appropriate time for each?

Tricking someone to do what you want them to do is manipulation.  Those who respond to it are either taken in by the superficial validation of own importance that is implied by the manipulator or driven by a fear of the consequences of questioning the manipulator.

OK.  So what?

Most of us are called upon to be both leaders and followers.  Part of wisdom is knowing when to do which and how.  As a leader, there will be situations when time does not permit a comprehensive explanation and as followers, there are times when we need to accept the decision and execute without an argument.

But, leaders owe it to their stakeholders to do the following:

  1. Live their values – The more you do this, the less time you will need to spend on points 2 and 3.
  2. Communicate them clearly – Keep them few and short.  They can be phrased as expectations.
  3. Give direction and expect initiative that is consistent with those values.

And when following, you owe it to your leader and organization to question when the direction you are given appears to seriously diverge from either the leader’s stated expectations or your own core values.  You need to be able to orbit your leader’s values and expectations and the direction that you are given while maintaining your own values.

So . . . Resolve to do the following:

Decide on your own core values and live them as consistently and transparently as you can.

As a follower, there will be times when you disagree with the leader and must dutifully carry out your responsibility (within obvious moral limits) as a member of the team, but you can do it with comprehension and not out of either fear or a need for validating your worth.

No leader or follower is ever perfectly consistent and always acts out of motivation or is never manipulated, but isn’t it a goal worthy of continuous pursuit?

Finally, I leave you with this thought for the weekend:  “You can’t lead others until you serve something greater than your own ambition.”

I would be delighted to know your thoughts on this subject.  Have a wonderful weekend!


Footnote and Question:  There will be those, both leaders and followers, who serve nothing more than their own immediate self-gratification.  These folks may not embrace leadership from either position.  Do we need to resort to manipulation in order to move some of these people the the right direction for the organization?

Why the Soft Side of Analytics Is So Hard to Manage

No real post this week, but I’ll point you to an article of mine that was published this month in Analytics.  You may recognize it as a combination and enhancement of two of my previous blog posts.

Leadership Is Not Just Telling Other People What to Do

When I was a young Marine lieutenant, I was taught that if it happened on your watch, it was your responsibility.  The fact that you didn’t know, or someone didn’t carry out your orders, was irrelevant.  Accepting that responsibility with integrity was a critical element of leadership.

In the world of corporation and bureaucracy, and even in the higher levels of the military, this notion seems all but forgotten. 

I recently talked with Dr. Jeannie Kahwajy, founder and CEO of Effective Interactions.  She reminded me that it simply is not good enough to develop the right analytical decision, to give clear direction, have a noble mission, or even to “get” people to do what you want them to do.

You must take responsibility for the end result.  To paraphrase Dr. Kahwajy, we need to take responsibility not only for what we say, but also for how others hear us.  Sound like “a bridge too far”?  According to Dr. Kahwajy, it is not too much to expect of ourselves.  Rather, it is absolutely mandatory and explicitly doable.

To take that kind of responsibility requires a level of humility that allows me to be open to the fact that I may not have 20/20, 360 degree vision at all times.

I might be missing something.  I have to be open to receive insight from others – not going through the motions open –  really open.  And that takes an understanding of my own vulnerabilities, unavoidable myopia, and limitations, together with an understanding of the truth that others can contribute to me as I can contribute to them.

Not too long ago, I wrote an article for the Journal of Enterprise Resource Management, entitled, “Don’t Manage a Supply Chain, Lead a Value Network”.  I was mostly trying to emphasize the fact that supply chains are dynamic and interconnected, and that as such, they require more insightful leadership than the more simplistic concept of a supply chain.  However, the contrast between management and leadership remains even more dramatic.

Leadership is not telling other people what to do. 

Leadership is not telling other people what to do.

(No, that’s not a typo.  It just seems like a hard concept for us to grasp.)

Leadership is humble, responsible and demonstrated through service.  An organization can cultivate leadership throughout its ranks, but it takes real leadership at the top.  I think that the fun and effectiveness quotients of that kind of an organization will blow away those without a culture (I know – way overused term) of leadership.

We can all be leaders.  More than that, we have an obligation to be leaders.

Dr. Kahwajy tells us that leadership and effective interaction are a science and you can be taught how to do it every time.  Her work and services are worth a look.

Let me apologize on the record for failing to properly articulate her ideas and their value.

Leadership is essential to integrated decision-making (think S&OP).  Integrated decision-making is about considering all the relevant tradeoffs and eliminating blind spots to any tradeoffs or risks.  Integrated decision-making requires integrated decision thinking and quality analytics.  Effective analytics, require the analyst to be a leader as well.  See related thoughts here and here.

For this weekend, I leave you with these words from Peter Drucker, “No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it.  It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.” (http://www.leadershipnow.com)

Have a wonderful weekend!

Three Thoughts for The Weekend

For today’s Supply Chain Action, I want to leave you with three unrelated entries:

1. Thoughts on People at Work.  Most of the challenges we face anywhere in our lives, including work, have to do with human nature and the interaction of people.  Academics and consultants call this organizational behavior.  I define this as people acting in an organizational context.  One of the chief goals of management remains to create a context in which the positive potential for human behavior and interaction dominates the baser impulses in ever-increasing proportion, particularly as it relates to executing the business.  So, think back on your own organizational experience.  How are we doing?  I was recently talking with a former colleague and CEO.  A dominant workplace emotion surfaced quickly in the conversation.  I suspect that you know this emotion well–fear.  Managers fear.  Subordinates fear. They fear their peers and they fear each other.  Fear begets procedures which, in turn, give birth to additional fears.  People, and therefore, the organizations they make up, spend much time and energy trying desperately to alleviate these fears.  Does this serve the customers?  Does it serve shareholders?

Some fear is reasonable and right.  We all need to fear consequences of truly counterproductive acts such as arriving at the office under the influence of alcohol or other mind-altering substances, embezzling company funds, sexually harassing colleagues, or ignoring the work requirements and deadlines.  But, I suspect that most of us are not preoccupied with these fears.  It is the more subtle fears of whether our groups or our work will be perceived as valuable.  Will I be credited properly for the work of my subordinates?  Will the subordinate steal the limelight?  Is my job really necessary?  Will a peer or peer group steal the credit for a project?  If I team with others, will I appear weak?  Will my manager give preferential treatment to a peer?  Will I be able to manipulate the statistics so that my measurements are positive, even if my work is not effective or the metrics are not the right ones?  Will I be viewed as disruptive if I challenge the status quo?  How can I gain status by showing support for ideas I don’t even agree with.  I’m sure we could create a much longer list.  Many years ago, W. Edwards Deming wrote on organizational behavior.  In his 1982 book, Out of the Crisis, he laid down 14 points.  Point 8 is “Drive Out Fear”.  It should be taken in context but it is food for thought.  Are we really earning our pay if we are motivated by fear?  Are shareholders being served?  Of course, shareholders pay a pyramid of managers to determine what work should be done and to decompose the work as it descends the organizational hierarchy.  But, whether you are a manager or an individual contributor, you are responsible for your own actions, not the behavior of those you cannot control.  

Find the confidence to work and act responsibly and respectfully, but not out of fear.  Or . . . was Deming wrong? Am I wrong? Is fear really the grease that gets things done?

2. In case you missed it, the first part of my article, “Finding Value in Your Value Network,” was just published this week in the “Supply Chain Comment” column of Supply Chain Digest.  If you are a subscriber to Supply Chain Digest (something I recommend), you will find a link to the article  under “This week in Supply Chain Digest”.  Or, you can find it here:  http://www.scdigest.com/experts/guest_11-09-13-1_Finding_Value_In_Value_Chain.php?cid=4949

I hope and believe that you will find some helpful new insights and some reminders of things you may already know, all of which you can start to use right away.  The rest of the article is due out next week.

3. Finally, I’ll leave you with these words from Mother Theresa:  “We can do no great things – only small things with great love.” 

Have a wonderful weekend and thanks for checking out this blog.  I hope you will be back each week.

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