The title of this column might be sung to the tune of a Peter, Paul, and Mary hit from the days of peace and love. But the real question could—and should—be, "Where are all the leaders coming from?" Not that we are awash in leaders.
The supply chain management space has produced, or attracted, pioneering icons since the early 1960s. Some were, and are, leaders. Most were, and are, managers, practitioners, mavens, gurus, and factotums. And the trailblazers are dying off, surely and steadily.
So, what are we, as an industry, doing to create successors who can do more than drive the bus we are already riding in? The casual observer would conclude, "Not much."WHERE DO LEADERS COME FROM?
Before we understood that leaders could be "made"—developed with tutelage and practice—they were "born." We believed that some among us were just hard-wired at birth to create, visualize, persuade, motivate, charm, empathize, and communicate—to lead by example, to embody core values, to walk the talk, and to attract followers. It took us a long time to probe what made leaders different and what made them tick. It took us a while to suspect, to research, to learn, and to codify the attributes that made them leaders.
We now know that leadership can be developed and honed, that no one has to be locked out of a leadership role by accident of birth. But that raises the question of who will nurture a next generation of both do-ers and leaders, as well as managers and administrators.
By and large, organizations do not provide specific career development designed to create leaders; they might not know why they should, and they most probably don't know how. Universities are absolutely wizard at teaching functionality, at execution levels and in integrated concepts contexts when it comes to supply chain management (and many other disciplines). They may teach management skills and administrative techniques.
Don't get me wrong; these are important. Someone has to manage inventories; someone has to ride herd on sales and operations planning (S&OP) processes; someone has to design distribution networks, or source materials, or rationalize the carrier portfolio. But to what end? To what vision and strategy that a leader has positioned as a unified objective toward which to align resources and effort? And who, where, is creating leaders, nurturing those who can conceive visions and solutions—and develop followers?WHAT IS A LEADER?
Definitions and descriptors abound, depending on whose book you have just read. Pick an exemplar, any exemplar. Jack Welch, Rudy Giuliani, Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, whatever and whomever turns you on. Absorb the wisdom of business writers: Tom Peters, Michael Porter, Guy Kawasaki, Daniel Goleman, Daniel Pink, Simon Sinek, Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard—the list is endless, a Mobius strip of both acclaimed and self-appointed experts.
Here's what leadership comes down to, though, and it is not a slogan or a simple set of attribute labels. In essence, leaders:
Is there more? Of course. There always is. But the behaviors that constitute leadership turn out to be far more complex, subtle, and interwoven than simply being the boss, or the chief task assignment shuffler, or the first mate who can order those chained below decks to row faster.
The good news? All the listed leadership attributes are teachable and learnable.
It's not enough to be born to lead; the chosen ones must still learn what leading means. It's not enough to be appointed to a position of power; power without purpose, or power without lessons in its limitations, is not sustainable power. Being surrounded by an aura of charisma is not enough; the most beautiful must still learn how to be the brightest, how to push the buttons that make the machinery work.
The bad news? It's where we began this discussion. What entity is teaching those with potential to be leaders? Where does a talented person of promise and capability go to learn what leadership is and how to exercise it? Who is Luke or Lucy Skywalker's Yoda?
While we fight other battles in the trenches of the profession—a general talent shortage, a catastrophic shortage of truck drivers, the mere trickle of analytic capability entering the field, vicious competition, and disruptive innovations—we must also find ways to create leaders who are whole and genuine. Without them, the other challenges are likely to not get solved, or might limp along, held more or less together with the intellectual equivalent of spit and baling wire, and liberal applications of duct tape.
This is one song we must learn to sing, and soon.
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