Enhance your Leadership Skills with these 4 Steps

Who do you think about when you hear the word leadership? Many associate the word with political officials, CEOs, C-Suite executives, military commanders, or even athletes. While it’s true that you need good leadership skills to excel at these occupations, leadership is a valuable skill.

Everyone from any vocation or background can use for their benefit and the benefit of others. 

Effective leadership can be learned if it is something that doesn’t come naturally to you. There are several methods that you can use to acquire and refine your leadership skills. 

Discover the leader in you!

Try these four techniques to boost your leadership skills: 

  1. Make excellence your goal. Striving for excellence is part of being a successful leader.  Your ability to set the bar for others will help inspire those you lead. You can be a good role model by constantly seeking ways to improve yourself and aspire to achieve excellence.
    • A hallmark of leadership is excellence. Work on honing your existing skills and developing new ones. Working on what you are good at may seem counter intuitive but consider it your gift to the world.
  2. Focus on your vision and set measurable goals. Each area of your life impacts others. Consider what you want to accomplish in all the different areas of your life. Set goals that align with and help you move closer to your vision. 
    • Set goals and measure your progress periodically.  
    • Don’t try to move a mountain. Break up larger goals into smaller ones. Once you achieve these shorter milestones, make sure to celebrate successes.  Celebrating small wins will help maintain your motivation. 
    • Keep it real. Learn to identify and use all of your resources in the pursuit of your goals. Consider your resources when making plans to reach your goals.  Developing plans based on resources and circumstances that you wish were reality may lead to disappointment.
    • Stay committed but flexible.  Be willing to refine your plans and ultimate goals based on your progress as well as your dreams.
  3. Work on developing your people skills. Great leaders can inspire others to work towards a common goal. To influence and inspire others to buy into you, it’s important to develop your people skills and emotional intelligence.
    • Practice good listening skills. Doing so helps to establish a connection and build trust, so others are more likely to follow your lead and help you.
    • Help others improve and be their best. A good leader motivates others towards positive change.
    • Seek input from others when discussing goals and plans to reach your objectives. Give others a stake in the results by seeking their opinion. You’ll get their buy-in and help them be more motivated to help you. 
  4. Lead with passion and maintain a positive attitude. People take cues from the leader.  The leader sets the tone for the team.  Good leaders teach others to have a positive attitude and to be passionate in their efforts by modeling the behavior they want to see in their team.
    • The leader can help energize the team by maintaining an upbeat attitude. In a positive environment, an engaged team will accomplish more, regardless of the circumstances.

Taking the time to develop your leadership skills can radically increase the amount of success that you experience in all areas of your life. These tips can help you to hone your leadership skills so that you can achieve your goals and enjoy a more satisfying life.  In the words of Dr. John C. Maxwell…

“Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

by Lourdes Coss, MPA, NIGP-CPP, CPPO

Can the Leader Change the Team?

by Lourdes Coss, MPA, CPPO

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” —Lao Tzu

Seasoned leaders may have contemplated the answer to this question before.  For the new leader, it may be a puzzling one. Some assume that people will automatically follow when they have a leadership position. Most people will follow a positional leader, but will do just enough to be compliant.  If you’ve tried to change the behavior of someone, you probably experienced how difficult this could be and seldom successful.  I don’t think that one person can change another unless it is by association.  

Leadership is influence. —John C. Maxwell

When you are implementing change, the ability to lead and influence people to follow is essential.  It is vital to acknowledge that people need to buy into their leadership for the leader to be effective.  Trust and respect are at the foundation of leadership and essential transformation.  

I spent approximately two decades leading transformations.  With a few exceptions, I found that people want to improve their situation.  Many like to take advantage of the opportunities offered. Some choose to live by default.  That choice might be due to the circumstances that they face or perhaps a low level of awareness of what is possible for them.  Each person must choose to embrace their journey.  In that sense, they elect to change and are not necessarily being changed.  

They say that you become the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time. We have seen this many times and may have heard a version of this from our parents.  Thinking back, many of the destructive habits that I saw in people I knew had to do with the company they kept. In the same way, it works for positive habits.  This is true in a work environment also.

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”

—John Maxwell

The leader can set the tone for a culture of growth, development, and high performance. The leader can create opportunities, but it is still up to each person to accept or reject them.  The leader can help people see the possibilities, which may help them believe that they can achieve more. These are just a few of the things that the leader can do to move things along.

Of course, personality types play a role in the adoption of change.  People process information differently.  The people who are openly willing to adopt change will help create energy about doing things differently, especially if they see success.  A supportive leader can reinforce the choice to change.  The leader needs to design the environment.  

It is easier to change and thrive in an environment that breathes collaboration and support.  Creating the right culture can help the leader reinforce the changes that are needed.  And while not directly changing anyone, he or she is enabling the right environment for change.  

Creating the right environment for change requires a leader that intentionally model the behavior that will ultimately impact the culture of the organization.  Indirectly, the leader can influence the team to change.  It is not manipulation when you lead by example and put the interests of the people first.  When the leader models behavior that drives each person to adjust their behavior and performance, they have gained influence and permission to lead them.

Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish. —Sam Walton

As I mentioned before, the company that we keep influences the way we act.  Developing a culture of collaboration, support, and growth, will affect those in the environment.  Leaders seeking to implement change must first work on increasing their influence with the people they lead.  They need to connect with each individual and develop a relationship of trust.  

To conclude, it is possible to influence others to change, but the decision is still with each person.  The inability to change others is one of the things that add complexity to a transformation process.  Leaders should understand that influence is a critical skill to be effective.  Influence skills make the leader “a leader”.

Think “The Lucky 7” for Your Strategic Plan

by Lourdes Coss, MPA, CPPO

Building your strategic transformation plan should not be a one-time exercise. This plan is a document that one should review often.  The strategic plan paints the picture of the future state, considering where the entity is going.  Often you hear of people that work on an elaborate strategic plan only to realize a year later that the organization is not better off than it was a year ago.

Developing a strategic plan may seem like a daunting task if this is the first time putting one together.  I broke down the strategic planning process into seven steps at a high level.

The first step is understanding the current state and how the current state developed. Spend time to learn some history so that you don’t repeat past mistakes.  Learning from others’ ineffective decisions may end up saving time.  You will not have to relive the same results you are trying to change in the first place. 

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” – Karl Marx

I have referred to my listening tour in a previous blog. This was always time well spent.  Gathering information and different perspectives is good information to have.  There is valid information in each of these perspectives. Still, it is critical to listen with objectivity as each historian in the process will tell the story slightly differently.  It is important to note that strategic plans are not just for organizations that are not operating well.  It is also for organizations that want to continue to stay relevant, considering foreseen or unforeseen changes in the environment.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” —Proverbs 29:18

The second step is to develop a vision of the ideal yet realistic state.  The next step is to develop a vision for the department considering all information gathered.  The important thing is to develop a vision that people can relate to and might be a little scary at the same time.  One should align the goals to the mission of the organization.  They should also align with the overall goals of the entity.  How will Procurement help support the entity’s goals as Procurement transitions to its future state without sacrificing the mission that it fulfills within the agency? Most of the organizations that I worked for were concerned with the speed of the procurement process, cost savings & cost avoidance, quality, and other agency-specific goals. 

“Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground.”

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

The third step is to develop a strategy.  The strategy is the plan of action necessary to help the Procurement organization move closer to the goals identified in the previous step.  From this strategy, you can develop objectives and tactics.  Breaking down the plan into smaller measurements will determine whether the actions taken are moving the organization closer to the goals and, ultimately, the vision.  The goals are the outcomes targeted with the strategic change initiative.  

“A vision without a strategy remains an illusion.” Lee Bolman

The fourth step is to establish measurable actions.    The objectives are specific, measurable actions.  Tactics are the tools used or steps to achieve the objectives, which help determine the strategy’s effectiveness.  Ultimately, these roll up to the goals and the vision. In my example above, one of the goals is cycle times. Then, the strategy, objective, and tactics would read as follows.

            Goal: Establish reasonable and predictable procurement timeframes.

            Strategy: Reduce the procurement cycle times by streamlining the process.

Objective: Alter the order or eliminate redundant steps to reduce time by 40% by a given date.

Tactic: Map the process, identify redundancy, eliminate steps, implement on a specific date. 

Creating these objectives will help measure the effectiveness of the strategy once implemented.  When implementing a strategic plan, it is critical to measure your progress towards achieving the goals. 

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without 

strategy is the noise before defeat.” Sun Tzu

The fifth step is effective communication. The strategic plan should also include a communication plan that establishes who the stakeholders are and the relevant detail and frequency.  The method used for communication plays a vital role in the success of the strategic initiative.  Communicate often with those stakeholders is imperative.  This will help all interested parties stay informed and take any necessary action. 

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw

The sixth step is to measure progress.  Don’t expect a perfect plan.  Measure progress and adjust when necessary.  Staying flexible with the plan and focusing on the goals will pay dividends.  Measuring progress also helps keep accountability for the ultimate results and keeps you moving in the direction of the vision.

“There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.” 
― 
Franklin D. Roosevelt

The seventh step is to reassess and adjust.  This seventh step includes reassessing the vision and goals.  When implementing long-term plans, it is impossible to predict all the conditions and circumstances that one may encounter.  Remaining flexible to adjust to new needs and be willing to revisit the goals is an essential step in the strategic planning process.  

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

 – George Bernard Shaw

To sum up, strategic planning is a process that continues to evolve with time.  It is essential to remain flexible to accommodate future conditions that may not have been anticipated in the original planning process.  

Three Skills to Conquer The Modern Day Frontier

by Lourdes Coss, MPA, CPPO

Procurement professionals’ role continues to evolve with the increase of technology and automation.    The pandemic presented us with a wake-up call on preparedness.  Technology and automation were no longer an option to function and stay relevant in the midst of it all.  As electronic systems replace manual processes, procurement professionals will need to strengthen or acquire different skills to complement the changes. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will likely accelerate the pace of change as more innovation penetrates procurement and supply chain.

There is no denying that we need to understand the process and how everything works together in procurement.  Many procurement professionals have excelled in this area.  But teams that thrive when presented with adversity require more than process sequence.  The much talked about seat at the table has been the topic of many conversations, presentations, and even conferences.  There have been pockets of progress in this area.  But the advancement has not been sufficient to make this concept universally accepted in all organizations.  

The pandemic shone the light on the role of procurement professionals.  It was an opportunity for many to leave the anonymity of the back-office function.  Those that were ready stepped up.  Problems compounded for those unprepared to lead the organization through a crisis that called for the availability of supplies in a field of scarcity.  As we reflect, problem-solving skills, communication, and relationships were vital skills to overcome the issues organizations were facing.  

The “Modern Day Frontier” is where science and art collide in the area of AI. We have come a long way in data analytics to aid in the decision-making process.  Such advancements need the complement of the human factor to prioritize and determine the value of the information.  It is an opportunity to enhance the skills where no machine has yet made a debut.  The human brain is the most sophisticated organ capable of imagination, human care, and emotion. No machine has yet replicated these qualities.  The human factor will always be a required element to any successful organization.

Soft skills has not been the top priority in most fields.   Such skills like leadership, connecting, and learning to establish good relationships are imperative for the procurement professional today and tomorrow. Teams that are in the continued pursuit of growth, innovation, and relationship building generally have a strong leader.  Making small shifts today to acquire the skills necessary to thrive in the future will pay vast dividends.  

“Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily; even if you had no title or position.” —Brian Tracy

Leadership – Leadership was is and remains a valuable skill, especially in the heat of the pandemic.  Staying calm and bringing clarity to the next steps was an asset during the crisis. Driving and maintaining the engagement of employees required the emotional maturity of a good leader.  Division, doubt, and fear were prevalent in most environments. Strong leaders were able to leverage diverse teams’ talents and not give in to the negativity and division highlighted that plagued many communities around the country.  And while achieving the highest performance of a work-from-home team, they were still able to influence the organization to not stray from the procurement mission.  As innovation continues to impact the world of procurement, leadership will become even more relevant at all levels in the organization by guiding it through the shifts and pivots.  

The Most Important Thing In Communication Is Hearing What Isn’t Said.”

Peter  Drucker

Communication – Communication is a skill necessary for all. Good communication skills include the ability to connect with others by listening attentively to understand rather than focus on your message.  Problem-solving requires the use of good communication skills.  It is crucial to consider the art of a good question because the quality of the information obtained depends significantly on the quality of the question.   When you communicate to understand and ask the right questions, you will also enhance your negotiation skills.  Understanding what others are seeking can help you develop options for more successful negotiations.  

“Even the Lone Ranger didn’t do it alone.”—Harvey MacKay

Relationship building – Building relationships with internal and external stakeholders, is not something that I see relegated to AI in the foreseeable future.  Supplier relationships, end-user relationships, and the professional network had a massive impact on the entities’ solutions during the beginning of the pandemic.  The extent to which procurement professionals develop their professional relationships can influence and increase their options available to solve problems.  Relationship building is a core function of the procurement professional and one of the skills required to access innovative ideas and solutions on behalf of their organization.

To summarize, as we look to the procurement profession’s future, these are three skills that the procurement professional will need to be successful in the job.  Leadership, communication, and relationship building are not skills that will be automated or absorbed by AI, at least in the foreseeable future.  It is the time to start preparing for the future of procurement and be ready to conquer the modern-day frontier.

The Three Things Leaders Should Do To Help their Teams Readjust Post-COVID-19

by Lourdes Coss, MPA, CPPO

Some organizations are gradually welcoming back employees to begin the process of “today’s normal.” Leaders should recognize that it’s been a year since the world shut down for business.  A year is enough time to anchor new habits.  There is hope in the air and eagerness to see the pandemic as a thing of the past.  Many people had a year to find new ways of performing the work without stepping foot in the office.  For this reason, people may need some time to recover and readjust.

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” –Socrates

Except for frontline personnel and essential services, we were all sheltered in place.  To shelter in place meant total isolation for some people.  For others, it meant designing ad-hoc workspaces, distractions,  and sharing technology.  Regardless of the situation, these shifts presented challenges that may have lasting consequences.

Change in an instant.  After the immediate shock of the unthinkable, many found ways to stay connected while others’ felt their walls close in on them.  Parents became teachers until schools ramped up to virtual learning. Working from home blurred the line between family and work environments.  In some cases, technology and internet bandwidth challenged the family members’ effectiveness in fulfilling their role as employees or students.  

We postponed or cancelled celebrations like graduations, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, childbirth, engagements, baptisms, and others.  Participation or not in less happy events also impacted people emotionally.   It is possible that the inability to participate fully in these types of events and make lasting memories further contributed to the increased stress. 

Changed workforce. Some organizations are starting to require employees’ physical presence at the office and leaders should keep in mind that employees may bring new worries and issues to the workplace.  The “go back to the office” is not a general mandate.  Given that organizations decide what’s best for them, their decisions impact employees’ lives, particularly if those decisions do not align.  If schools and childcare centers are closed,  the employee required to report back to work has to look at their options.  There is a solution to every problem, but solutions become more accessible when we have the calmness and clarity of mind to look for them. Stress diminishes our ability to be creative.

If the leader stayed in touch with team members, the leader would now be in a position to understand everyone’s ability to reintegrate into work culture, both physically and emotionally. Without such insight, it will be challenging to successfully manage the transition back to the office or have unrealistic expectations. 

Zoom fatigue. Many employees may have reached the point of Zoom overload. People’s personalities are a factor. Introverts and extroverts handled probably handled the virtual interaction year differently.  Introverts might be overwhelmed when extroverts crave a higher frequency of those connections. It is essential to understand that people may be in different areas emotionally when going back to the office.  So, as organizations start requiring the physical presence at the office, the leader should consider doing the following:  

  1. Listen to Understand.  Open the line of communication with the intent to listen.  Now more than ever, is communication a critical skill of the leader, particularly listening skills. It’s not about solving the problems for each individual, but about understanding their perspective.  After all, they have had a year to form new habits.  People have to unlearn and relearn their jobs to an extent.  It is hard to move forward when you don’t feel heard.  It would be advantageous to provide the forum to talk about the past year to understand what additional challenges, if any, employees are bringing to the workplace.
  2. Promote Calmness.  The leader should not contribute to the high stress already generated during the pandemic.  Mental health professionals are saying that depression and suicide have skyrocketed during the past year.  Stress shuts down parts of the brain necessary for creative problem-solving.  I am not advocating to start a day with a yoga session at the office, but some simple breathing exercises might do the trick.  Breathing sends signals to the amygdala and the emotional centers that it is safe and calm, helping activate the brain’s creative center.
  3. Define Change as Part of Reality. The probability that things will change is high.  The leader should plan for the discomfort of change by providing clarity as organizations move forward to establish the new normal.  Constantly readjusting is not easy. But a realistic approach to change will help the team to expect and deal with the changes as necessary.

The three strategies mentioned above are by no means a comprehensive list of things that leaders should do.  The pandemic has and continues to affect people personally, professionally, and emotionally and it may take a while until many can bring stability to their daily routine.  Organizations will need to deal with the human factor, to help recover from a year of constant change and uncertainty.  If your organization had a culture of collaboration where people performed at their highest level, it might take some time to bring it back to what it was.  But it may have a higher chance of bouncing back than those organizations that were already struggling with the lack of engagement.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” –Theodore Roosevelt

Leaders have a significant role in restoring the organization’s culture and helping people readjust to the “future normal.” It is essential to recognize that in this process, people have to build their infrastructure of support to that which enables them to send their kids to school, childcare confidently, and focus on giving their best to the organization.