10 Habits of Highly Effective Supply Chain Leaders

10 Habits of Highly Effective Supply Chain Leaders

In today’s flatter and more empowered organizational structures we are all leaders, whether you are just starting your career or heading up the entire supply chain. The requirements to orchestrate present-day global supply chain demand every supply chain professional to lead strategic initiatives, to negotiate complex buys, and to navigate complex physical and information flows more efficiently and effectively than ever.

We recently sat down with Ryan Toon, Purchasing Program Manager at Ford Motor Company, to aid our efforts in assembling a list of the top habits every supply chain leader should aspire to exude. In assembling our list, we concentrated on the habits outside of the standard work results metrics, such as delivering results or reducing costs, which have been well covered by thought leaders in the space. We instead focused on the daily, often qualitative, small habits that over time have enabled supply chain professionals to generate more “flow” at work, to accelerate their careers, and drive supply performance.

1. Continuously Learn & Teach

The accelerating pace of technology and global integration requires that we all continuously learn. Teaching others will allow you to understand material better, refine your craft, and promote others to share knowledge.

Action: Utilize free information resources daily; blogs, podcasts, webinars, and newsletters are wonderful learning tools you can subscribe to today.

2. Practice Direct & Action-Oriented Communication

Directly request, attain, and confirm specific detailed information (dates, times, specifications, and next steps) when corresponding with colleagues and supply partners. Reciprocating this by providing information in an organized and clear fashion will increase the quality of your interactions and results.

Action: Include the words “next steps” in bold with specific sub-bullets and date requirements in future email correspondence to clearly outline requests.

3. Cultivate Deeper Relationships with People

Get to know the people at the supply partners whom supply your parts and services to your colleagues and that you interact with, from time to time, people in accounting and manufacturing too. Following the “giving-first” mindset to deliver value to the people in your supply base (both external and internal to your organization) will strengthen your ability to generate results and improve your overall job satisfaction.

Action: Proactively seek out and share information that will help your suppliers drive lean principles through their supply base and, additionally, help your colleagues stay informed via industry insights.

4. Align Customer Requirements to Supply Chain KPIs

Challenge potential internal “cost reduction only” team goals that focus on cost first and customer requirements second. Move beyond accepting and executing on department KPIs to mentally tie customer value drivers to help shape your priorities.

Action: Drive dialogs that focus on what customers want and position your KPIs to deliver on customer requirements.

5. Develop Broader Understanding of Your Supply

Know your supply, develop deep knowledge of supply origins to detect disruptions before they occur. Tier I, II, and III disruptions caused by sociopolitical, environmental, and/or financial challenges can disrupt production and cause significant financial impact on your firm.

Action: Work with your Tier Is on their supplier development strategies and tactics to reduce your supply risk.

6. Embody an Entrepreneurial Mindset

One of the core skills of a talented entrepreneur is quickly prototyping ideas by developing, testing, and incorporating feedback from potential customers. Following a similar approach to prototype larger new supply chain processes, policies, and technologies can lead to faster adoption within your organization.

Action: Adopt new software earlier by developing small,l lower risk trial groups for implementation to tap into innovative technologies sooner.

7. Know How Supply Chain KPIs Interconnect

Always know how your individual goals are developed and how your results contribute to your team, as well as company goals. Understanding how the company supply chain KPIs are developed and their associated statues at the team and the company level will allow you to make more informed decisions.

Action: Meet with fellow team members to drive awareness on individual goals, challenges, and tactics to generate potential collaboration synergies to drive results.

8. Foster Peer & Higher Relationships with Leaders Outside Your Company

Every company is guilty of “group thinking” so it is important to push yourself to get out of your office to share strategies, challenges, and ideas with supply chain professionals outside your organization. One cannot be best in class by being an insular.

Action: Grab a coffee or lunch weekly with local professionals outside your company: suppliers, customers, connections, to advance your knowledge.

9. Follow Broader Global Markets & Relate Them to Your Supply Chain

Staying informed of broader global markets allows you to consider the impact and timing of your decisions, and more importantly, to take advantage of market opportunities. Decisions to spot buy steel at the right time or lower your logistics costs due to dips in oil prices can all be made with greater confidence by staying up on market trends.

Action: Outline consistent go-to sources to acquire market information; i.e. ISM index, commodities prices, jobs reports, industry news, and geopolitical news.

10. Plan for the Unexpected

The interconnectedness of global markets and the speed of information flows are causing greater market volatility, which can impact your supply chain at any time. Leading supply professionals think deeply about what could go wrong within their supply chain and proactively develop “just in case” action plans even if there is not a pressing need.

Action: Spend time advancing relationships and developing backup supply partner’s capabilities to afford your company options when supply disruption events inevitably occur.


Research suggests it takes at least two weeks of repetition to form a new habit that sticks. We hope the above 10 Habits of Highly Effective Supply Chain Leaders and their supporting quick actions aid you and your teams’ day-to-day efforts and develop into highly effective habits over time.