Editor’s Note: This is the Fourth in a six part series on how to succeed in the purchasing profession. Part One explores the overall view. Part Two explains the legal requirements. Part Three focuses on negotiation, communication, and interpersonal skills. Part Four plumbs the general business knowledge needed to excel, lead, manage and advance into executive management. Part Five (link) and Part Six (link)
To advance throughout your purchasing profession, we must constantly develop, grow, learn, experiment, invest, and constantly learn. In many ways, this is the as axiomatic as the old chestnut, “Everything I need for life I learned in kindergarten.” To rise to the top, we need ample portions of leadership and management.Leadership is to the “What” as management is to the “How”. Successful purchasing pros have stocked tool chests in both disciplines. Leaders “see”; managers “do” and both excel. It is rare that good leaders are good managers so here are a few tips on combining and nurturing our potential.
Leadership skills are mandatory for a buyer or a Chief Purchasing Officer. These skills include the ability to”
- Identify an implement a purchasing strategies
- Challenge the assumptions of main stakeholders – Rumsfeld’s Rules is an excellent read on this
- Define priorities in order of rank within the business plan
Management is almost by definition, an operational function as compared to leadership but just as essential. Without expert management, leadership will always fail. Managers must have:
- Business acumen this is accumulated through experience, education and training with emphasis on economics, law, global affairs, foreign trade, etc. Additionally, mastery of principles like lean, Six sigma, P-Cards, and other initiatives must constantly be developed and new ones learned.
- People Attitude This is a tricky skill for procurement pros because we are left brained creatures by nature. We favor processes over people as opposed to sales pros who are generally right brained. Get training in communication and interpersonal skills.
- Focus on the problem not the people. This is always good advice but more essential for left brained process types.
- Critical thinking skills Perhaps the best guide here is an essay by Francis Bacon called “Of Studies”.
Motivation is an elusive quality but it within all of us. We might be tempted to think of some shiftless kid as unmotivated but put a baseball in his hand and he inspires the entire team. We must find our own sources of motivation and that of our subordinates. Purchasing is not a clerical function. Demonstrate your value to end-users and they see you as that kid with the baseball.
Mistakes are essential to success. Sam Walton, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs and others all tasted the bitterness of mistakes and failures. We learn from them. Encourage boldness in others and the spirit of taking calculated risks. Counsel yourself and others when mistakes are made. Not only will the mistakes become fewer, but the learned wisdom spawns more good decisions.
Commitment to lifelong learning is where some pros fall short. I constantly find myself in new endeavors; study is required. If you are not in the learning mode, opportunities may pass you by without you ever noticing.
Entrepreneurial spirit will always serve you well. You are a leader, not a mere bureaucrat. Critical thinking skills will complement an entrepreneurial attitude.
Creative solutions is a skill that should be second nature to you. Lifelong learners tend to be creative as part of their psyche. Over used terms for creative solutions are “thinking outside the box” or “paradigm shifts”.
Consider your career to be parallel to that of a military officer. You will always be in the position of being a superior and subordinate, the classic “servant/leader” role. You need heaping helpings of leadership and management skills to succeed.