Time was, and not so long ago, that organizational leaders began to recognize that a significant part of their role involved coaching. The exemplars were often taken from collegiate and professional sports, and several revered practitioners from the fields of play were truly frightening: My way or the highway. There are three ways to do this: my way, my way, or my way. Winning is the only thing!
Gradually, a recognition grew that one coaching style might not be enough, that changing circumstances demanded changing—and different—leadership and coaching styles. More on this later. For the moment, those who aspire to be supply chain achievers need to face front and concentrate on the road ahead, instead of driving blind while yearning for the receding image of life in the rear-view mirror.
Over the past half century, working relationships among peers and with colleagues have transformed mightily. The old order of Jump/How High command leadership has sunk beneath the waves of change. And techniques of public discipline, criticism (even of the so-called "constructive" type), humiliation, and solitary confinement to menial tasks have disappeared, except in outposts of limited vision.
For a brief time, notably in the Great Recession but also in periods in which talent was plentiful, managers could get away with consciously not developing the talent, with avoiding the awkward, challenging, and vital task of coaching associates for elevated performance. Those days are gone, and in any event, they were only a temporary respite from the responsibilities of contemporary leadership.
Yet many supply chain organizations fell victim to such short-sighted thinking. Our world is, perhaps, over-focused on commoditized pricing whether buying or selling supply chain and logistics services. We live and metaphorically die based on the pennies differential that wins or loses a deal. Costs must be cut, prices must be slashed, staff can't be paid much, and we can't afford the time and cost to develop employees' skills and abilities.THE NEW WORK WORLD ORDER
We have resided in another universe, one built on collaboration, trust, team performance, and investment in talent and its tools and techniques, for the better part of a half century. The changes demanded by enlightened leadership and management cannot be brushed aside to permit a return to work models that prevailed in the age of sweatshops, mills, and indentured servitude.
We, irrespective of formal organizational structures, work in teams these days, an effective technique likely to last a long, long time—and get continuously better. Team dynamics through their various stages (from facing initial challenges to delivering solutions) are now well accepted.
What we may not be as comfortable and fluent in are the leadership responsibilities that go along with creating effective teams that ultimately produce the goods. And a big part of those involve unboss-like behaviors: recognizing, praising, helping, explaining, and, yes, coaching.
For those who think that all this us soft-headed nonsense, that people should show up, figure things out, do the job, keep their heads down, and silently soldier on, here's a tip. Get out of the way! Move over to the slow lane, because the new leaders, their teams, and their organizations are taking over the fast lane to supply chain success.LEADERSHIP: TOO MANY BOOKS AND NOT ENOUGH LESSONS
The never-ending stream of leadership books ghost-written for notable personages are often interesting, and sometimes touch on the coaching aspect of the role. From them, we summarize what we think to be essential characteristics of leaders that we should emulate. Cool! But those notions are dangerously fixed, like images encased in amber—not part of an adaptable toolkit of behaviors appropriate to evolving circumstances and the developmental stages of working teams.
This situational leadership thing is not the slippery slope of situational ethics; it is about being antenna-up at all times to sense when to use which leadership style to accomplish a specific goal or objective.
In summary, new-century leaders can choose and use one of four behaviors:
At the risk of repeating an annoying theme, this is not newly hatched New Age touchy-feely fad-of-the-month stuff. The U.S. military, notably the Army, is teaching and using situational leadership. Other entities are integrating it into their leadership development programs.
The absolute master of the core techniques involved was the late Herb Brooks, who coached (that word again) the U.S. Olympic hockey team to its first win over the USSR in 20 years. In case you've been napping, that was 35 years ago at Lake Placid.IT'S NOT ABOUT THE MILLENNIALS
For a testy Old Guard, who have a hard time with changes in roles, relationships, styles, and structures, it's tempting to point fingers at the latest indignity, the arrival of the now-notorious millennial generation in the workplace. A vocal contingent does not hesitate to criticize this age group with a broad brush loaded with anecdotal misperceptions. Not least is its need for, expectation of, and appreciation for developmental coaching.
Those who resent the worst of the new wave often protest that they are not there to act in loco parentis or to hold hands. But no one actually expects that. What we all, in 2015, expect is active coaching, recognition, respect, understanding and compassion, inclusion, and work that means something.
It's not a generational thing; it's a human thing—and has been for much longer than martinets, straw bosses, sadists, and bullies would like to believe.