Working Together in Supply Chain

University of Wisconsin Banner Ad

Women Executive Supply Management Summit (WESMS)

San Antonio, TX
February 2009


Dr. Helen Eckmann, Owner, James L. Consulting

Ken Weber, MBA, MS-SCM, C.P.M., CPIM, Director of Operations, Pivot3

"Authority is not the same as leadership."

This statement by Dr. Helen Eckmann set the stage for an informative session devoted to the differing ways men and women approach their leadership roles in supply management.

Building on that sentiment, Eckmann explained that she considers leadership a group of people working together to accomplish something worthwhile. Conventional wisdom, however, bases leadership on an individual's coercion skills — a model she finds disagreeable. "Leaders who are coersive aren't actually leaders, in my opinion," she told attendees.

Likewise, she contended that authority — by definition, having the right to hire, fire/take away, or give power — is not an indicator of leadership either. "It doesn't always work to wield your power aggressively," she explained.

So, What Is Leadership?

To paint a picture of how leadership looks in today's world, Eckmann first covered the old-school perception of the trait, or what she called the "great man" theory. "[It's like] a giant surrounded by pygmies," she began.

Her colleague and co-presenter, Ken Weber, followed up on Eckmann's statement, explaining that the outdated great man theory is more about the man than the action. Further, its cause-and-effect style means change must be initiated from the top down, which is not always possible or efficient.

"This theory has had a low success rate over time," he added, pointing out that two-thirds of the companies on the 1990 Fortune 500 list — many of whom followed this paradigm — are now out of business.

In contrast, the new school of leadership focuses on knowledge sharing, collective intelligence and conversation that leads to positive action, according to Eckmann.

"Today's most successful companies fall under this paradigm," she told attendees. "Do you know who the founder of Google or Amazon is? Probably not. That's because success in those companies is about the task, not the people who started it."

Eckmann continued by likening new-school leadership to a net versus a line of dominos. "We're all standing in a circle, gripping our individual sections of the net," she explained. "All the ways in which we're working together these days favor the net versus domino old-school theory, in terms of effectiveness."

Changes in Change Management

Next, Weber explained how traditional change management focused on determining a problem, creating a diagnosis and fixing what was wrong. "But without hope, you're just managing," he pointed out.

For example, if 90 percent of customers are satisfied with a company's products, but 10 percent are not, traditional change management dictates focusing on meeting the needs of the dissenters. "But that 10 percent might always be dissatisfied," Weber warned. "Meanwhile, you're devoting all your resources to them and essentially ignoring the other 90 percent."

A better approach, Weber said, mirrors the more modern theory of appreciative inquiry, which looks for what is working and uses a series of questions to improve upon that success.

Leadership and Negotiating Strategies

To helping attendees lead and negotiate effectively, Eckmann and Weber had a handful of suggestions, beginning with finding a balance.

"I'm not referring to a work/life balance, but a balance within the organization," Eckmann clarified. "Don't be too much of a suck-up, or too Zen." The danger of falling too squarely in either camp, as she explained, is being pigeonholed as a "yes" or "no" woman within the organization.

Further, she suggested women help other women whenever possible — "even if she embarrasses you!" she emphasized. "Men love a cat fight. Don't give it to them."

To this end, Eckmann also advised attendees against gossiping. "We do it once, and it's amplified by 10," she explained. Instead, she practices a rule of thumb: Avoid saying anything you would not say in front of that person.

Moving on, Eckmann presented a diagram of how a true leader looks. Namely, she encompasses elements of three groups of workers: authority, group and landscape. To think of them as concentric circles, the ideal leader would be found where all three circles meet.

By authority, Eckmann referred to those individuals in the organization with money, power and authority. "These are the people who say 'go' or 'no go,'" she explained. Landscape, meanwhile, represents the people in the organization who are deciding if they really want what is being sold. Finally, the group encompasses the people actually getting the job done — the doers.

Because negotiating causes many headaches for women professionals, Weber was eager to share his preferred "five stones" model. It consists of accommodation (0/100), forcing (100/0), compromise (50/50), avoid (0/0) and win/win (100/100). While most people strive for a win/win outcome, Eckmann pointed out that this is achievable just 3 percent of the time on average: "The other 97 percent of the time, we're in the other four stones."

Weber, for instance, often aims for a win/win outcome, but ends up compromising by the end of many negotiations. Nevertheless, he avoids being typecast as a compromiser and consciously switches up negotiation approaches. Why?

"We shouldn't spend too much time on any one of these stones just because we feel more comfortable with it. If we do that, we'll become predictable to suppliers," he explained. "They know that if you're a 50/50 outcome favorer, they can raise your price by $5 if their real goal is to raise the price by $2.50."

Next, Eckmann focused on the domination/subordination dynamic in leadership, likening it to the "in" (domination) and "out" (subordination) crowds in high school. Those who fall into the domination group set the standards and only see "self." Those in the subordination group follow the standard, compete with others, are hyperaware and feel that if one person in their group fails, they all suffer. Again, the ideal leader exists where both groups meet.

"We all move in and out of our domination and subordination roles — sometimes, we even do it 15 times a day!" Eckmann explained. "But we need to really craft where we want to be. Otherwise, our environments will decide for us."

Causes and Effects

Wrapping up, Eckmann shared five causes and effects for women looking to advance in the supply management profession:

  • An increase in the number of women supply management professionals will generate more opportunities for women in supply management leadership.

  • As women learn to negotiate more effectively, their pay will be commensurate with men's pay.

  • By learning how not to be stereotyped, women will be taken more seriously by their counterparts, both male and female.

  • Through helping other women in the profession, women will enjoy higher levels of success themselves.

  • By working better with each other — and with men — women's jobs will become more productive and fun.

Reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh

Back to the WESMS Conference Materials