Global Supply Management

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Women Executive Supply Management Summit (WESMS)

San Antonio, TX
February 2009


Leigh P. Kearney, Ph.D., President, Leadership and Team Development, BeamPines, Inc.

Strengthening your human capital was the focus of Leigh P. Kearney's WESMS session, which focused on executive leadership competencies — supply management aptitudes in particular.

"We're measured not by what we are, but by the perception of what we seem to be; not by what we say, but by how we're heard; and not by what we do, but by how we appear to do it," Kearney began.

She continued by talking about leadership in times of turbulence, citing a few examples of the factors setting the stage for the next wave of leaders. First, as Kearney pointed out, 40 percent of the existing managerial workforce is eligible to retire in the next 10 years.

Additionally, she cited increasing consolidation of major organizations, technological equivalence, global competition and a broadening scope of work as challenges facing the next generation of leaders. Further challenges include managing people through economic upheaval and dealing with change, managing an increasingly diverse workforce, familiarization with more technology and a need to practice faster decision-making.

"These are unusual times," Kearney told attendees. "However, sticking to the basics — core values and cost containment, for example — and strengthening the foundation should help us get through and be prepared for what lies ahead."

Kearney cited international data gathered by the firm of Whitehead Mann Leadership Consulting, which measured core finance, manufacturing and technology competencies in more than 60 international organizations. Researchers studied more than 3,000 employees and their accompanying performance ratings to corroborate the results. In the end, they pinpointed five major competency clusters: strategic direction and change, interpersonal skills, conceptual and critical thinking, action orientation and global interest.

To this end, Kearney's firm also conducted some research of its own, asking consultants closest to the executive boards of 10 different organizations to identify the top factors driving organizational performance. Key drivers included commercial prudence, leadership empowerment and a performance culture in the workplace.

Comparing all the various data, Kearney asserted that the only true, singular performance-driving factor is good, strong, clear leadership. Also, she added, some world-class senior executive leadership characteristics cannot be learned whereas others can.

Among the characteristics that cannot be learned: judgment, verbal and abstract reasoning, integrity, passion, and pessimism or optimism. Of the skills that can be developed, Kearney cited self-awareness, understanding the implications of behaviors (intention and impact), talent selection and development, team-leading and team-building, coaching others, functional knowledge, relationship management, dealing with stress, priority-setting and decision-making.

Other learnable skills included influencing, confidence-building, openness and willingness to learn, adaptability, the ability to foster a performance management culture, learning to understand others, global thinking, cultural sensitivity, virtual-team leadership and the ability to address derailment issues.

"There's more that can be learned than can't," Kearney emphasized. But, as she pointed out, world-class leaders must also possess a handful of personal characteristics naturally — among them the ability to self-monitor, curiosity, commitment to making a difference, flexibility, courage, risk-taking, a sense of adventure, trustworthiness, respect, ambition, persistence and perseverance. High-level leaders also demonstrate natural intellectual and analytical abilities, a drive to achieve, motivation, a sense of competitiveness and the ability to think strategically, she added.

"World-class leaders are self-aware; they can be flies on the wall and self-monitor," Kearney explained. "They're also interested — and interesting — as well as passionate."

Assuming these competencies are inherent among leadership candidates, additional training in six areas is crucial, Kearney continued. Citing the results of a two-day focus group conducted with human resources professionals in the supply management profession, six training needs emerged:

  1. Strategic — Vision of market, possible acquisitions, development of a long-range strategic plan

  2. Analytical — Take information from systems to make business, forecasting, modeling, budget planning, market share future

  3. Marketing — Marketing IQ, knowledge of the competition, anticipating customer behavior, business relationships, changing nature of the business

  4. Business management — Government relation skills, safety and security knowledge, external negotiation skills, team leader, motivation, select/build workforce, coaching and development, training

  5. Financial — Cost of doing business, financial drivers, budget, ROIs, effects of dwell time and labor costs, understanding the cost benefits of operational decisions

  6. Sensitivity — Cultural, diversity, ethical, legal and regulatory
Zeroing in on Supply Management

With regard to the supply management profession specifically, Kearney cited research identifying five key skills and personal traits: the drive and ability to deliver results, critical thinking skills, communication, collaboration and global perspective. As she pointed out, these aptitudes indicate women are well-suited to supply management leadership positions.

"The stars are aligned for women to advance in supply management leadership, even more so than in other professions," Kearney concluded. "Already, women are increasingly present in supply management leadership positions."

Reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh

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