Insights into Successful Supply Chain Leadership

There is no magic formula or prescriptive guide to becoming a successful supply chain leader. However, there are some characteristics common to all successful supply chain leaders.

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Leadership is not a theory or passive undertaking; it is heavily influenced by the actions taken and behaviors exhibited by the leader. In the modern world, authentic leaders will display a level of integrity and values that will inspire those around them to achieve great results. There is no magic formula or prescriptive guide to becoming a successful supply chain leader. What is unique in the supply chain area is that you lead individuals and teams from within and on the outside of the organization.

However, there are some characteristics common to all successful supply chain leaders. Everyone can be a leader if they put their mind to it, regardless of specific leadership style. Indeed, a successful leader will need to be able to demonstrate a number of styles as they encounter different scenarios.

The primary characteristics and behaviors of a strong supply chain leader are:

• Vision and sense of purpose for the long-term supply chain.

• Integrity in supplier and ecosystem management.

• Clarity of purpose and strategy and clarity in communicating the strategy with the supply base and other stakeholders.

• Recognizing others – the ability to motivate and inspire a team to implement the strategy.

• Develop and promote leadership in others – the ability to have robust processes in place to attract and retain talent culminating in a strong succession plan for supply chain leaders.

• Build community – the building of the supply chain, procurement and strategic sourcing team or your network if you are in a small company.

• Confidence to pursue the strategy and make the tough decisions that will be inherent in the implementation of the strategy

Vision and sense of purpose

Key attributes include future-oriented, knowing what it is they stand for and/or want to achieve and having the focused drive, energy, passion and courage to pursue their goals.

People will follow individuals with great, well formulated ideas, especially if those ideas are based upon a realistic prospect of success and are aligned to the followers’ core values. A leader who has taken the time out to discover their true purpose will probably end up being more inspiring than an individual who has simply had a title bestowed upon them. The supply chain leader is the person responsible for ensuring that the vision for the supply chain strategy is aligned with the company’s overall vision and capable of enabling the company meets its strategic objectives. The supply chain leader will have to be adept at communicating that vision to a diverse set of stakeholders from within and external to the organization.


Key attributes entail self-aware, learner, open minded, empathy, integrity and ethics.

Strong leaders will be very self-aware, have the emotional intelligence and integrity to approach situations in a balanced manner. Nobody is perfect and good leaders prudently solicit help from those who have the skills or competencies that they do not have. More and more high caliber people are looking to work with leaders who demonstrate they have high ethical standards. Integrity and ethics are not passive or covert traits; they must be publicly demonstrated, especially when times are tough or when the team faces a difficult decision. Those in strategic sourcing, for instance, are frequently presented with challenges that will test their integrity. For example, it is not unusual in some parts of the world for children and immigrants to be exploited by nefarious suppliers in the supply ecosystem.


Key attributes include clear on vision, goals and expectations.

It is important as a leader to demonstrate a focused drive, energy and passion for the organization’s supply chain vision. Ensure that your supply chain goals are clear and prioritized; successful leaders always retain their focus on the primary goal and don’t let themselves get distracted by secondary or “nice to have” goals. The value of the secondary goals is diminished if the key priorities are not achieved, so focus is important. Ambiguity can derail a team very quickly or be the source of discontent within the team. The leader must be very precise and clear when it comes to outlining the supply chain success factors for the team, and it is essential that these expectations are established early and clearly.

Recognizing others

Key attributes consist of demonstrating valuing others and listening.

Strong leaders will be vigilant in looking for opportunities to recognize the contributions of others on the team. In this regard, the leader will listen intently to what people are saying, all the time looking for opportunities to build on or incorporate a team member’s ideas into the supply chain strategy. Additionally, they are also listening for signs of underlying concerns that may be hindering a team member. Prime motivators for people tend to revolve around doing meaningful work, making an impact and being recognized for their impact or contribution to the team. A good leader will construct their teams so that the individuals have the opportunity to perform to the best of their ability and deliver more than the sum of the parts.

Develop and promote leadership in others

Key attributes entail identifying and developing talent within the team, supporting others with their personal goals and delegating certain aspects of leading to others.

Good leaders create other good leaders, not followers. A strong supply chain leader will recruit high caliber individuals onto the team. In fact, it could be argued that the leader’s most significant contribution to the team is the selection and retention of the talent on the team. The challenge is that high caliber individuals will always want to develop and invariably have other personal goals they are trying to achieve. Remember, high performers will always be in demand; therefore, it is important as the leader to make your team an attractive place to work. Giving team members the appropriate experience and exposure will be important in the quest to retain talent on the team.

Build community

Key attributes are about promoting a sense of belonging to the team or a cause, enabling the team to be successful and doing their best work.

A person’s sense of self-worth or even identity can be very strongly influenced by the experiences they have within the team. People have a natural instinct or desire to belong to a community of like-minded individuals who share similar values, hopes and fears for the future. A good supply chain leader will foster a sense of attachment and belonging to the team. Even if some individuals on the team work remotely or on very unique aspects of the initiative, it is important to make them feel they belong to a bigger collective and ensure that they do not feel isolated. A key part of making people feel included is to solicit and incorporate their opinions and ideas into the supply chain strategy or protocols. The leader must not only be open to taking on new ideas but also be curious to invite diverse perspectives.


Key attributes entail not being afraid to take risks and make tough decisions.

Successful supply chain leaders tend to know what they want, why they want it and have a rough plan of how they are going to achieve their goals. They need to have the confidence to share their vision and plans and take feedback where appropriate. While it is good to have a rough plan, it is important not to be too prescriptive as a leader. Strong leaders always listen and take action. This energy and passion can be infectious within the team; in fact, if you fail to be public in expressing your unwavering commitment to the cause, those around you may lose confidence in you. A leader will be a change agent – they will not simply react to the environment; they will actively look to control their own and their group’s destiny.