I’ve had the great benefit of working with and around many great supply chain leaders over my nearly 40 years in the field. I’ve learned a lot over the last four decades and thought it might be informative to outline some of the best traits I’ve seen supply chain leaders possess. Below are the top five traits that I believe make a great supply chain leader:

  1. Calm. Currently one of the traits that I admire the most in a supply chain leader is a calm demeaner. There’s so much going on today with extended supply chains, complex networks and growing consumer demands that a supply chain leader must be calm, cool and collected. You’re probably thinking why that is first on my list and the answer is supply chain leaders need to be calm to make sound decisions and focus on the problems at hand. A calm leader generally asks solid questions and does not get emotional about situations and problems in their world. Staying calm is harder than many people make it look.
  2. Experienced. Another trait of a great supply chain leader is experience. Making decisions and facing realities requires experience and the ability to solve problems for your team. Experience does not mean that to be a great leader you have to be ancient or look like Yoda, it just means you have seen and done things in your career that have taught you how to view problems and draw upon your background to find solutions. So, great leaders can be of all ages and backgrounds, but they must have experience with solving the topics that are presented to them.
  3. Learner. You can’t be a great supply chain leader without spending time learning the ins and outs of your organization’s supply chain. So, you must have a good working knowledge of supply chains in general and your company specifically. Even if you’re a new leader at an organization, you need to spend time in the trenches and learn what your supply chain can and can’t do. Leaders who do not get that background will not make informed decisions and will steer the ship off course.
  4. Listener. Another trait I’ve witnessed firsthand is a willingness to listen. I’ve found leaders who talk instead of listen tend to miss out on opportunities to develop people and in general make decisions on emotion and their perspective versus relying on facts. I’m not saying that talking and teaching aren’t valuable because they are, but when confronted with a problem or issue, great supply chain leaders listen to understand the situation and identify a solution.
  5. Collaborator. Last trait, although I find there is a long list in my head, is collaboration. Great leaders don’t do things all by themselves and set the speed for the entire organization. They have learned the value of working with others, delegating and forming relationships with the right people. They know how to use the people around them to get things done as a team or group.

These leadership traits are particularly important during volatile times, as we’re now learning during the current Covid-19 pandemic. Here are just a few examples of strong leaders who have listened to industry needs and found innovative ways to help out amid the coronavirus crisis:

  • While many organizations are laying off workers or demanding longer hours or additional responsibilities, Walmart President and CEO Doug McMillon provided hourly associates—both full- and part-time—a special cash bonus as well as early payment of their quarterly bonus to assist workers during these uncertain times.
  • To help their home state of Massachusetts—as well as neighboring states Rhode Island and New York—New England Patriots Owner Robert Kraft and President Jonathan Kraft sent the NFL team’s plane to China to retrieve over 1.2 million N95 masks to share among the three states that were in desperate need of the protective equipment. In addition to transporting the masks, the Kraft family also contributed $2 million—around half the total cost—to help pay for the much-needed medical supplies.
  • After witnessing a similar effort by research platform CivicScience, Mark Cuban, serial entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is encouraging his employees to support small businesses by reimbursing them for meals they purchase from independent local establishments.
  • To help curb the spread of the coronavirus in France, LVMH Chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault converted its luxury fragrance and cosmetics production facilities to manufacture more than 26,000 pounds of hand sanitizer that it bottled and delivered to French health authorities and hospitals free of charge. Many craft distilleries and breweries have also followed suit, repurposing beer and spirits operations to produce free hand sanitizer for their local communities.
  • In addition to using its supply and logistics network to produce and distribute hand sanitizer, Anheuser-Busch US CEO Michel Doukeris announced that the brewing goliath will redirect its sports and entertainment investments to its non-profit partners, including the American Red Cross. As part of a $5 million donation, Anheuser-Busch will work with its sports partners to identify arenas and stadiums to be used as temporary blood drive centers. The company will also provide use of its tour centers in Merrimack, New Hampshire and St. Louis, Missouri as well as donate media airtime to the Red Cross to support their public service announcements.

To summarize, a great supply chain leader is not that much different in my mind from any kind of leader. They need to be calm, experienced, a learner, a listener and a collaborator in order to excel. I’m sure you can think of many more great leadership traits from your experience, so add to my list and be sure to embrace these values to become a successful supply chain leader.       

About the Author
Bruce Tompkins
Bruce Tompkins