How to Catch the Right Superstar to Lead Your Supply Chain Organization

Rock star candidates possess key traits making them instant high achievers, but hiring managers must understand when they are likely to be successful in wooing these superstars

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By Steven Lutzer

Senior-level executives often vigorously pursue superstar managers to join their team. Some of these highly sought after candidates have a "rock star quality." These superstars know that they are in high demand, and therefore they believe that they can afford to be a bit elusive.

There are instances when the hiring manager is wise to invest his or her time in courting these candidates. However, there are many cases in which the hiring manager is pursuing a candidate who is fundamentally unobtainable. Therefore, it is essential for the hiring manger to assess when this is a wise pursuit and when it is a dead end.

Rock star candidates are often doing the exact same job at another company. Senior executives do treasure new "turnkey" team members that require minimal training. However, there are certain traits of these rock star candidates that go way beyond simply having the content knowledge to do the job. There are 10 basic traits all these stars seem to have.

Traits of Rock Star Candidates

1. Change Agent. Super star candidates are not afraid of implementing massive change at their new company. Since they are not beholden to historical alliances within an organization, they have a strategic advantage.

Successful change agents are adept politically, and they can effectively persuade and motivate others to adopt a "revolutionary strategy." These individuals seem to thrive in conflict. The resistance within the organization doesn't daunt them. They also have the keen insight to understand that change can often only come about incrementally

2. Great Ambassador of Supply Chain. Many organizations have evolved to comprehend the importance of supply chain in the 21st century. But there can still be organizational battles between a supply chain organization and their counterparts in quality, engineering and manufacturing operations.

A great ambassador is adept at lobbying the cause of supply chain throughout an organization. He or she uses the fuel of conflict to educate peers across the organization in the paramount importance of using the tools of supply chain to increase the company's performance, quality and profitability.

3. Assertive, but Not Arrogant. Savvy managers are assertive when required, but they know when to pull back. These high achievers are skillful at soliciting ideas and involvement from team members so that organizational goals are constructed collaboratively.

Rock star candidates know that they are smart, however, they don't have a need to always prove that they are the smartest person in the room. A manager is perceived as arrogant when he or she is rigid or intractable and minimizes the ideas of others.

4. Detail Driven. The old adage "the devil is in the details" is certainly true for senior-level supply chain executives. High performance managers aren't afraid to get into the supply chain trenches and deal with the details when needed. But take note: There is a fundamental difference between micro-managing the tasks of your team and being conversant and knowledgeable about the details and metrics of their projects.

5. Terse Communicator. Great managers can communicate their ideas succinctly without losing the attention of their audience. They craft powerful arguments by conveying their ideas in conversational bullet-point format. This is a skill that is vital across all levels within the organization.

6. Skillful Diagnostician. High performers can sift through the array of an organization's problems and diagnose the source of the company's ills in the supply chain process. Great diagnosticians can pinpoint the core problem and communicate it in one sentence.

7. Adept at Creating Supply Chain Roadmap. A stellar supply chain executive can craft a roadmap for the entire organization from the starting point to the desired goal. These executives can foresee the potholes along the road and prepare the company to overcome the obstacles along the way. If all the team members know what the supply chain journey will look like, they are more likely to sign on as active participants.

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8. Great Mentors. Rock star executives understand how to successfully mentor their direct reports along the path in order to achieve a team success. In reality, direct reports are less threatened by the arrival of a rock star manager if they believe they are likely to glean some expertise.

9. Overachievers. An all-star in any arena always pushes everyone around them to go "beyond the achievable." These types of individuals are never happy with a goal within their reach. Once a goal has been reached, they move the high bar of the next managerial high jump even further up.

10. High Energy. There is almost always a high-energy and charismatic quality to these leaders. Their enthusiasm and confidence can energize the entire team.

When to Pursue the Rock Star Candidate

Of course, every executive wants these rock stars on their team. But senior executives need to apply certain litmus tests to determine when they are likely to be successful in wooing these superstars.

Hiring managers have to offer an intrinsic benefit to rock star candidates in order to get them to jump ship. If the new job is identical in nature to the existing one, these star candidates will rarely change jobs. These high achievers thrive on newness and situations that stretch their managerial capabilities.

While money is clearly an incentive to attract executives, extrinsic factors such as compensation are rarely sufficient to keep talented super stars on board in the long term. If the career move is fundamentally a lateral one, then the new opportunity has to offer other intrinsic aspects, such as a more entrepreneurial environment, a rapid growth company (with enormous upside) or a new industry.

It is vital to differentiate between the candidate who is open minded to a change versus the one who is highly ambivalent at the start. Highly ambivalent candidates who are closed-minded at the start will often jettison the interview process early on, because they do not perceive any intrinsic value to changing jobs.

The hiring manager should assess whether there is something fundamentally beneficial (other than compensation) that he or she can offer the candidate that is an unmet need at their current job. A probing line of questioning can often illuminate the areas of a candidate's current job that are unsatisfying.

Note that it is unwise to make concrete promises of possible future promotions within the new organization before the actual performance of the new employee can be assessed at the initial job. If the timeline of these promises is not fulfilled, a new employee will feel disappointed and may very well look for a greener pasture at another company.

In summary, if the hiring manager cannot offer significant intrinsic benefits to the rock star, they are likely to find the wooing of the star to be a futile pursuit.

Catching a Rising Star

That said, if a hiring manager cannot attract a rock star candidate, another strategy is to target up-and-coming rock stars that have not yet been "discovered." Undiscovered rock stars may have managed a smaller team, or they have been the most senior supply chain manager within their organization without the matching title.

These rising stars do possess all the innate intelligence and problem-solving skills of rock stars, but they may be diamonds in the rough that can achieve true rock star status through a degree of mentoring. Importantly, these undiscovered and unrecognized rising stars are often more amenable to changing jobs if they perceive the opportunity as one that gives them the risks and rewards that they crave.

Note that it is always beneficial to ask candidates to quantify their openness to job change on a scale of one to 10 (10 being the highest). Of course, this can increase or decrease during the recruiting process, but candidates with an initial openness rating of five or below rarely become viable candidates in the long run. Ultimately, this question can help quantify the candidate's true openness to the job.

Everyone wants a rock star, but rising rock stars should not be overlooked. ¦

About the Author: Steven Lutzer is the president of Lutzer Global Inc., an executive search firm that specializes in managerial talent in the field of supply chain, strategic sourcing and materials management. Lutzer had a 20-plus year career in supply chain management and global sourcing before founding Lutzer Global. More information at