Leading During Difficult Times in the Supply Chain

supply chain leadership

When it comes to leading during difficult times in the supply chain, planning is critical.  So is flexibility.

Winter storm Jonas is estimated to have cost $1 billion USD, although some believe the cost could go as high as $3 billion USD, as it paralyzed a large swath of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Some 30 inches of snow touched down on several East Coast cities, which cancelled over 12,000 flights and kept people out of work for days.

When difficult times strike, having a plan is critical. For example, with electricity still working, business doesn’t need to come to a close for days on end. Researchers who did a study at Chinese company C-trip encourage people to work from home during storms: “We encourage companies to do a trial the next time an opportunity presents itself — like bad weather, traffic congestion from major construction, or a disruptive event (such as a city hosting the Olympics or the World Cup) — to experiment for a week or two. We think working from home can be a positive experience, both for the company and its employees, as our research with C-trip showed. More firms ought to try it.”

The supply chain can be disrupted in many ways: natural disaster, terrorism, fluctuation in materials. When the problem hits, it’s good to have a plan, but one can’t always be prepared for every scenario. According to the president of global public affairs for UPS, Laura Lane, who had her share of difficult times when she was a young foreign officer in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994, “You have to make decisions that will result in the greatest good — and from that perspective, every decision becomes crystal clear.”

Lane shared her thoughts about how to handle difficult situations in the supply chain with The Wall Street Journal recently.

Look for leaders everywhere

Lane believes that it’s not only C-suite managers who can handle disaster. Being open to ideas and letting specialists rise from the ranks could be a game-changer in critical situations. “Don’t judge people based on their years of experience. Greatness can emerge from anyone on your team — people with decades of experience, or those just starting out.”

Don’t let fear stop you

When you are ultimately responsible for a huge decision involving lots of people and money, fear can infiltrate the mind and body quickly. Remember that you’re in the position you hold for a reason. Don’t let self-doubt or uncertainty about how things will play out delay your decision making. See boundaries and obstacles are new opportunities to find alternatives. Lane says, “Challenge how things are done, and rewrite the rules, if needed,” she says.

Think of the larger vision

Remember what the goals of the company are, and that people have been put in specific roles for reasons. Remember that your situation most likely involves teamwork, and that you can rely on the support, ideas, and voices of others, especially when the vision of the company becomes foggy in the stress of the moment. “Delivering on your promises and grounding your actions in your values is what is needed to be a great leader. You have to believe in the greater good of what you’re doing and then bring others along with you in realizing the bigger vision.”

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