Procurement perspectives: leadership in procurement is vital to organisations

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StephenBauld_100.jpgBy Stephen Bauld

The COVID-19 pandemic looks like it is entering the next phase. We could be looking at a long time before we get back to the new normal and leadership in procurement will help to shape the wellbeing of organisations moving forward.

The argument that organisations need to begin now to train their next generation of leaders is not intended to suggest that a programme of study will produce leaders that are great. Although it can be stated with some confidence that the systematic study of leadership will produce leaders who are better than they would be without it, great leadership is a very difficult thing.

I have always said that great leaders are few and far between. In my opinion, for a leader to achieve greatness, he or she must not only possess strong leadership qualities, but those qualities must be ideally suited to the time, place and other circumstances in which one assumes leadership.

For example, during a pandemic, leadership skills could be considerably different from previous years when our lives were relatively normal.

I would also say that individuals must enjoy more than one's fair share of luck: for, as a general rule, leaders have the opportunity for greatness only during moments of great opportunity or necessity, like now for instance.

There is good reason why most of the great leaders in history believed in their own destiny. The occurrence of a calamity often opens the door to radical change. Such an opportunity allows the leader at the time to exert influence on an organisation, and frequently its environment as well, that would not be possible during times of stability.

Procurement, as an example, can play a crucial role during these unique and bizarre times that we currently live in. It may well be that, in such circumstances, only a person of exceptional ability could turn the situation around to the advantage of the organisation. However, it is equally true that only in such circumstances would any individual have the opportunity to exert the degree of influence necessary to stand out as great.

When it comes to purchasing, and many other core competencies that would be required to run a business, my feeling is that COVID-19 will interrupt the status quo and could cause irreparable damage to future career paths. The looming problem of a leadership gap threatens to degrade the corporate landscape over a sustained period.

In most western nations, the number of people aged between 25 and 44, the age during which leaders typically begin to mature and emerge, is falling and will continue to fall for at least a decade-and-a-half. As this pool of workers continues to shrink, technological development and increased specialisation are making it more difficult to nurture potential leaders who can be identified.

Like all aspects of human behaviour, leadership skills vary significantly from one individual to the next. Examples of leadership are abound. Since sport invariably involves competitive contests carried out in accordance with defined rules over periods of time, the sports world provides us with some of the clearest examples of effective, and ineffective, leadership.

The question of whether there are natural-born leaders is fundamentally the same as the question of whether there are natural-born athletes. There is no doubt that a handful of athletes in each sport seem to excel far beyond the level of attainment that can be achieved by most athletes in a given sport, no matter how much they train or practise.

Essentially, the study of leadership is the skills that will make anyone better at their job. The skills required by a leader will vary depending on the type of organisation of which he or she is in command, its circumstances and the objectives that have been set for it.

Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at swbauld@purchasingci.com. Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.

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