Are you a leader, or just simply 'professional'?

28 July 2011
Having worked with MBA students over the past couple of years, I’m beginning to wonder whether procurement’s young professionals see themselves as just that - ‘professionals’ - or whether they truly believe they are ‘leaders’. The recurring theme of purchasing staff being thwarted in their ambition to be board-level operators is in play here. Over the years, I’ve seen many a procurement manager claiming success for delivering year-on-year cost savings, often supplemented by securing improved performance in quality, delivery and service. But these same managers later bleat about their efforts going unrewarded in terms of status within the hierarchy. I often wonder whether they reflect on whether it’s their ‘professionalism’ and their very success in hitting the numbers that has boxed them in at middle-manager level. I recently challenged my students by asking them how many see themselves as leaders whose top priority is to transform the place in which they work.  Not to just hit those numbers, manage the workflow, or fix problems – or be the person issues are escalated to. How many actually see their role as leading transformation? The response was easily less than 25 per cent. Where do you draw the line between being a professional and being a leader?  What is more important: learning to use every four-box matrix in the procurement toolkit, or developing your leadership capability by constantly stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone? It’s almost a question of how committed you are to life-long learning. A bit of advice I received a long time ago was that I should keep “one eye on the job and the other on my CV”. Not to job-hop, but rather to learn. To ensure that I was conscious of both the contribution I’m making, and the long-term value of the experiences I was having. How many young procurement professionals will chase the right experiences – those that help will help them grow into transformational leaders? And how many will be content to focus on deploying their procurement skills? What’s more, if you’re a leader already, do you recruit professionals into your team with this in mind?
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