Ambitious practitioners in procurement and supply chain jobs who aim to be successful leaders will need to augment the everyday skills of operational leadership with the arts of managing major change, an expert has argued.

Writing in Supply Chain Management Review, Dr William Seidman, a specialist in the neuroscience of leadership, emphasises that supply chain and procurement jobs are undergoing phenomenal change driven by digital technology and the unprecedented complexity of contemporary global supply networks and modern trading conditions, including tariffs, cyber threats and unexpected geopolitical disruptions.

Digital transformation is now a necessity – and yet, as Dr Seidman notes, 70% of such efforts fail. 

The problem, he suggests, is that conventional operational leadership, which relies on creating predictability and efficiency through continually reducing variance and increasing consistency, is ill-suited to the kind of new-paradigm ‘transformational leadership’ that digitally revolutionising procurement requires.

Operational leadership works best with known technologies and in contexts where there are low levels of conflict for resources – transformational leadership must, by contrast, deal with the fact that new technology will not solve all issues and that the world has morphed into one characterised by high levels of conflict over resources.

The two leadership paradigms aren’t alternatives to one another – both are necessary – but those in junior and mid-level procurement jobs today need to be encouraged to augment their operational aptitudes with the most successful qualities of the effective transformational leader on what Seidman calls a “path to mastery”.

The top performers can be helped by tapping into the latest neuroscience research: when they recognise that they are contributing to the greater good, their brains release dopamine and endorphins that augment a sense of confidence and willingness to absorb new thinking.

By writing out their purpose, fear regions in the brain are soothed and the intellect is stimulated, fostering a sense of stronger control.

Finally, discussing this purpose with peers helps release serotonin and oxytocin, both of which foster a strong commitment to group success.

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