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The Art of Leading Other Leaders – Supply Chain Leadership Series Ep 15

By Published On: February 7, 2024

Listen to this Episode!

Host: Chris Gaffney

Co-Hosts: Mike Ogle and Rodney Apple

In this Episode:

The 15th episode of our Supply Chain Careers Leadership Podcast!

In this engaging episode, dive into the complexities and challenges of leading other leaders within the supply chain industry. Featuring a mix of personal experiences and expert insights, the episode uncovers the nuances of multi-level leadership, effective communication, and strategic decision-making. Key topics include the transition from individual contributor to leading larger teams, the impact of leadership on organizational culture, and the necessity of adapting to constant industry changes. Whether you’re a seasoned executive or aspiring to climb the leadership ladder, this episode offers valuable lessons and actionable strategies for navigating the dynamic world of supply chain leadership. Join us for a deep dive into the art of leading leaders and shaping the future of supply chain management.

What is the Supply Chain Careers Leadership Series?

The Supply Chain Careers Leadership series expands its previous content format into a more in-depth focus on leadership development. This program is a series of 15+ episodes that are hosted by our very own supply chain executive, Chris Gaffney. These episodes explore subject matter and topics that relate to excelling as a leader in the business world, much of which Chris has gleaned as VP of Supply Chain at Coca-Cola. Familiar faces and fellow supply chain leaders, Rodney Apple and Mike Ogle chime in with their experience and knowledge, all of which can be used by supply chain leaders to develop and advance their careers.

[00:00:00] Chris Gaffney: Welcome to the Supply Chain Careers Leadership Podcast, and I’m your host, Chris Gaffney, and I’ll be joined by my co host, Mike Ogle and Rodney Appel. We’re excited in this series to talk about a number of key impact areas for leadership and development for supply chain professionals, students, and employees.

We’re going to talk about how you can work more effectively as an individual. To create your own space for development, how you can differentiate in the workforce, how you can chart your own path to grow and develop, and how you can guide your own career. So sit back and enjoy the ride.

[00:00:38] Mike Ogle: This podcast is made possible by SCM Talent Group, the industry leading supply chain executive search firm visit, SCM Talent.

At SCM talent. com.

[00:00:51] Rodney Apple: Welcome back to the supply chain careers podcast. This is our leadership series featuring Chris Gaffney. I’m your host host, Rodney Apple. We’ve got. Mike Ogle here is your other co host. This is our 15th episode of the leadership series. And if you haven’t checked out the earlier episodes, we predominantly cover how to lead oneself in the first 10 episodes, and then we progress into other leadership attributes, primarily leading people and becoming a manager of others.

And this particular topic, Chris, is leading other leaders. And we love to hear. Uh, quick perspective, uh, from you on what this episode will cover and how it fits into the overarching podcast series.

[00:01:40] Chris Gaffney: Rodney, thanks for the intro. And this is another topic actually inspired by some discussion we had, but it definitely needed to be on the list.

Uh, for our audience who have aspiration, that first level aspiration beyond being successful as an individual contributor is leading others. And then at a point in time beyond that, you aspire to lead larger teams, and that will inevitably get you in a place where your direct reports lead other teams.

And you’ve got to lead not only through others, but do that at multiple levels. And it’s, it is the largest challenge. Once you figure this out, if you’re good at this, you’re going to create a lot of opportunities. And if you struggle with this, you’re going to impact. A lot of people, not necessarily in a positive way, I definitely think this is in our overall classification.

This is a differentiator and I have worked for some truly exceptional leaders. Some of whom are now CEOs and I have worked for some other leaders. Who I did not feel led well, so there’s always something to learn from those. So I’m hoping we can talk about all of those perspectives as always want to talk about for people who aspire to this.

What are the kind of things that should be on your development plan? But then what does it look like when you’re in the seat and going through that? So I’m hopeful we’ll be able to dive into all of that, both from an experiential standpoint. And then obviously, Rodney, you have staffed many of these roles, what both in terms of what companies who are hiring these leaders look for, and then what the candidates look for.

Nobody has everything walking into the seat, but what’s critical day 1 and what has to be there to develop. And then Mike, obviously, from your perspective, from the academic side and what the research says, hopefully all 3 of us could weigh in as we wade through this. Yeah, thanks,

[00:03:37] Mike Ogle: Chris. My industry work experience actually is probably a little bit more.

Applicable to what we’re talking about here, the academic side, I think it’s a whole different animal when you look at the people leading in the way that they lead, although there’s things that are in common. It’s a little bit different journey on the academic side as you have a lot of try to herd cats that you have limited control over on the academic side on my industry work experience side of over 17 years and primarily association.

Leadership very different kind of environment where I was facilitating primarily meetings of leaders in supply chain focus companies. Those were the people that were gathered in the room. Primarily a type types of people or else they wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to come to those kinds of meetings.

I didn’t really see them in action as they led others, but we discussed their concerns about how to lead through so many different kinds of industry changes during those years. There were then, and there are now, so many different opportunities within it, within the industry, that it was difficult to find and keep people.

The two primary motivations that they saw were interesting situations that somebody wanted to pursue and to work on projects and teams of interest. The two primary motivations that I saw were interesting situations to work on projects and teams of interest, plus when they would seek out greater levels of responsibility.

I’d say third place tended to be compensation, but it sure helps, of course. One of the greatest learnings I had during that time was the networking opportunities that these kinds of association meetings provided. The exposure that they provided for these people to understand how other people thought and how they led.

So they heard from people higher up in the food chain so they could better understand what they might face as they move up to not just be a leader of leaders, but to be a higher up leader of leaders of their own position that they were currently in because the personalities get more complex and challenging.

I think as they moved up the ladder. That’s what I saw from the. Association side.

[00:05:48] Chris Gaffney: Thanks, Mike. Yeah,

[00:05:51] Rodney Apple: I can imagine that’s very different in the academia world. Like you had mentioned. And for my perspective, I think there’s 2 that I’ll offer. I’ll start with my own company. So startup, right? It’s a startup a little over a decade ago.

And so I had more of that. LLC partnership mentality and so I’m the founder. I’m the managing partner in this scenario, but I have a partner who we basically wear lots of hats when you’re in this. So there’s a bit of a difference there. And then you’re going to find in your larger companies and as we grew.

It became more and more challenging roles and responsibilities had to be divided. And I think that’s where we sit today as I have continued to grow the company. You start wearing, you still wear a lot of hats, but the hats over time. Become lesser and then it becomes more important to delegate and the way I look at it is okay.

Here are the buckets of responsibility that we have here and they’re going to span all the traditional functional areas, but a service provider environment. It’s heavy sales marketing commercial. And then we’ve got the execution operations. And that’s fulfilling the search engagements that we work on.

But like I said, over time, you’ve got to have people, you can’t have so many reports, right? And Chris, I know you’ve talked about this in the past where you get a certain number of reports, and then maybe it’s 10, 12, and it starts becoming where you have diminishing returns. So it’s super important to be thinking about that ahead of time.

So you’re not falling back into the weeds and you can stay out front because there’s a big difference between working in the business where your hair is on fire and you’re not really providing the maximum value that you can provide to your company versus working on the business. And you’ve got to be able to straddle those lines and then get the right.

Levels of leadership that could take on some of the most important things that are going to really move the business forward. And with our company being recruiting company that most of our staff or recruiters. And so we’ve got a person that leads that function. We’ve got marketing. We’ve got business development and then your administrative folks that support.

Things like finance, accounting and whatnot. So I’m leading that charge and that’s how we decided to divide and conquer the responsibility. So that’s a small company. And as we grow, um, it’s important for me to be thinking about the future. You know, what kind of leaders are we going to need to maintain, if not.

Increase our growth. So we’ve got, of course, we’ve got our 5 year vision. We’ve developed a future state organizational chart. We’ve developed career paths. We’ve got job descriptions for each of these roles and we’ve got individual development plans, obviously goals, objectives reporting so everybody at any given time knows where they’re at within the company.

They know how they’re going to get to the next step. And eventually we grow to 30, 40, 50 people, and we’ve got that higher level leader. That’s going to cover different and different segments of the business. And I think that’s traditional from the startup. As you grow, it’s the recap wearing lots of hats.

And then as you grow, it’s putting in those layers that are going to really get us momentum and be able to achieve the results through others. So that speaks to my own evolution, just. Typical small business, and as we work with smaller business and startups, so we, we, we see a lot of the things lean, scrappy, and eventually the business matures, the operating system matures, and you’ve got, you’ve developed leaders of others and, and then you can keep that growth going while maintaining proper work life balance, which is important and something that I’ve struggled with over the years.

Now, if you look at the other perspective that I offer from 28 years working in recruiting, and a lot of that has been in on the executive search side. So clients, of course, will come to us with leadership searches. We’re working on searches these right now from your VPs of supply chain, your, your head of sourcing procurement.

We’ve got a few general manager, president level searches as well. All of those things have the commonality. You can, you’re going to have the functional experience, right? That what does that leader need to have in terms of knowledge base and hands on experience? That’s going to differ from function to function, company to company.

But the leadership attributes are where you’re going to have the common thread. And in general, the higher you go up. Within an organization, the more important the leadership skills become and so I look at at our clients and when they come to us and they’re looking for for the leader of leaders type of positions, yes, we’re going to cover the functional any kind of technical skills, but it goes back to leadership.

So what we’re trying to strive for. And I think in supply chain, there’s very few roles that I see where it’s come in. Maintain the status quo. There’s not many jobs like that exist in supply chain. And if there are, those are some of the most challenging to fill because most people want to come in and impact change.

They’ve worked their way up typically in a progressive manner where they’re taking on more and more, not only responsibilities, but more staff and. Then it comes down to the results going after the results, having a clear road map game plan strategy, if you will. So you’ve got to be able to flex those strategic planning skills and you’ve got to be able to not develop others beneath you and you’ve got to be able to feel because I think when you get to the top of the organization, a lot of times it comes down to how great of a team can I field getting them to be thinking we have 1.

Team, we have one vision versus the silos that you hear about that it may lead to end fighting and you want that leader that can bring these teams together again. Thinking is 1 team with 1 vision, supporting those customers, making sure and supply chain, getting product all the way through the cycle. All of that becomes very important as you move up within the organization, the leading change is always important.

It’s almost. Always ask for, because if there’s anything that’s constant supply chain, it’s very much change. And then after that, I think it comes down to, and this is very important, of course, is that, you know, we use the term cultural fit, but really what that means is, what are the company’s key values that they live by, that they hire, and even fire if people don’t live those values.

And you can have the best person on paper that. That walks the talk, but if they are not a strong cultural fit, they’re not going to be someone that sticks around. So our job anytime we kick off a search, that’s a, it’s a big leadership role. We’re going to check the functional skills. We’re going to check the technical, but we’re really going to focus is finding candidates that  have the right level, and I think that’s the key word is where you’ve got to make sure they can assimilate into an environment that is comparable in time in terms of scope. And what I mean by that, it could be a large network of operations. If you’ve got a VP of distribution, you’ve got to make sure that they have.

Ideally grown up in that environment, they’re going to be able to know the ins and outs of the operation, but they’re going to be able to also connect. With those associates from the ground floor, once they get that operation, they’ve proven themself. That’s when they can move up into those higher level roles to where they’re comfortable managing a large network.

That’s been my perspective. It’s hard to put a single definition on leadership. It’s getting things done through others and then progressing and being able to repeat and rinse. Field a great team. And move on to bigger and better things, Chris,

[00:14:12] Mike Ogle: what has been your experience as you’ve risen through the ranks and with your experience in industry wise at several companies of what it takes to become a leader of leaders as you move up the chain?

[00:14:25] Chris Gaffney: I was very fortunate in college. I had leadership experiences, student government, um, fraternity, that type of thing, that was just basic muscle, and obviously it was a safe environment. I’d done some of it, at least I had some understanding of what it took to get things done through other people, as imperfect as that was, but when I went to Fredo, you were essentially in a leadership position.

Within 6 months of coming out of school, and for me, that started meeting clerks in a warehouse, helping them manage ordering inventory, the basics like that super safe. And then very quickly. Leading drivers, which was also really great from a frontline standpoint. But what I think back to that is in both cases, my boss and the level above them were very visible to us.

So I had good early role models on what it meant to lead through a multi level organization. When I went to AJC, it was the first time I had a bigger leadership role. In a different type of organization that was a family business, a smaller business, less than 200 people. And I had a mentor sitting there, but along the way, again, my mentor who had run the business and we’re getting ready to retire, he was a good role model to me.

And then when I joined coke within 3 years, I led a multi level team and I had the opportunity to start building to that. And I did suffer, I would say, in some respects. In a couple of those settings from that, Hey, somebody who was competent as a frontline person got to lead and then somebody who was competent as a leader of individuals, got the shot at leading others.

And that I think that’s where a bit of the school of hard knocks kind of comes to the table. And then ultimately it coke i had the opportunity to read lead large organizations let the logistics organization and then lead to internal businesses one that had you know four five hundred people in it and another one that was also in the hundreds so those were the ones where i really got to try to.

Test what the science and the research says about how do you effectively do that. And again, learn some hard knocks and learn some tried and true lessons, both in my own experience, as well as the people around me who were also leader of leaders. Again, I think there’s a lot in there that hopefully we can unpack with these questions.

It’s tough.

[00:17:05] Rodney Apple: Yeah, I think Chris, maybe we could segue into that. We’ve given some of our own personal experiences. What are those hallmark traits or foundations of leaderships and attributes? Those that seek to move into these higher level leadership roles should strive for in terms of development along with experiences.

[00:17:25] Chris Gaffney: Yeah, I think the first thing that I always. Reflect on and I still work with a lot of leaders today is that when you’re a multi level multifunction, larger team leader in my mind, the 1st thing I’ll say is don’t ever forget the front line. You can get to a distance from where the rubber meets the road where you’re at the front line in a warehouse or a manufacturing setting, or you’re at the front line interacting with 3rd parties or customers or suppliers.

You can never. Forget that because that’s where the action happens, right? And that’s if you’re a general in the army, you can’t forget the folks who are on the battlefront. So I think that may be not rocket science, but I do think it’s important when I look at the people I’ve seen who were really successful in leading large teams.

There are a couple of things that are important and are important for our audiences. I do think having A diverse set of experiences actually across functions, different types of roles or industry. So somebody who’s done some of that lateral work. I think the people that I’ve seen who are the most successful, they took that choice earlier in their career where they went.

Lateral instead of up and they had that broad foundation. So I think having that broad foundation, at least in my experience has set people up to be much better position to guide leaders on their teams who are facing challenges. So I think that’s number 1. I think number 2 is when you get to where you’re leading a larger organization, there’s a bigger.

Accountability there, either a greater budget, more exposure to customers, more access or more accountability for higher profile pieces within an organization. So, I think having handled or been involved in very high profile projects earlier in their. Career, whether that be big infrastructure projects, big change or transformation initiatives, that is a skill set that you will use all the time as a leader of leaders.

So that helps you think about how you how you navigate really complex scenarios. And more importantly, how you navigate different types of stakeholders because stakeholder management becomes super important. I think the last thing that I think is a really. Important kind of skill set or experience for somebody in this case is that you failed, right?

You haven’t just had a path, a garden path of everything’s gone your way. And it’s important to understand what success looks like. You learn a lot from failure. And I think I do think it’s important to be confident, but humble as a leader. And after those setbacks, you get a bit of that humility, you get resilience.

I think you also understand how you’re going to evaluate. Future complex scenarios, complex situations with a bit of a proactive risk assessment, having stumbled. I think to me, those are things that are really keys for me. When you think about being a successful leader of leader.

[00:20:41] Mike Ogle: Chris, as you go from the point where somebody ends up being an individual contributor to the point where they’ve led individual team members, how do the challenges of leading those individual team members compared to the challenges of moving up and leading leaders? Do you have some

[00:20:58] Chris Gaffney: examples? I a couple of general thoughts and then maybe some specific examples.

I think the 1st time that I led a large team was leading the national distribution team at coke. We had accountability for our food service distributors. The 1st thing is leading that larger organization. You had to do more. Of the work of setting strategy and thinking beyond the near term in the single year, in most cases, if you are a team leader, you’re getting direction on larger organizational goals from somebody else.

And all you’ve got to do is put the plans in place to be able to execute that with your direct reports. So you’ve got a much narrower focus in time and scope and you are still. You’re doing some planning, but you’re doing a lot more execution at that point, when you get into that large team leader role, you’re the one who has to be comfortable in setting the objectives for that larger organization, usually in the context of of a larger set of organizational accountability.

So I think that that’s a huge difference. In and of itself, I said it before from a stakeholder management when you’re leading a larger team, you are, in fact, sitting on somebody’s. Leadership team, then a level up. So you’re playing at a higher level amongst your peers and you are typically leading a larger team, more than likely going to have greater cross functional accountability upstream with an internal or external customer or downstream with suppliers.

And in that situation, when I led the national distribution team, we had to do the account management with the distributors who served or our product flowed through them. And we were out there dealing. With C level people, so you’re already dealing with much higher level stakeholders in our case on behalf of our company, but then the flip side is we were serving our large customers.

In that case, it was the McDonald’s and the Burger Kings and the Wendy’s of the world. In some respects, we also had to be accountable to either to our account teams, but it sometimes go along with them to see customers. So the exposure. Externally and cross functionally with a large team leader is fundamentally different in most cases than when you’re leading an individual team.

I think those are a couple big differences. Your time scale is different because you’ve got to think longer term, you’ve got to set goals, and then you’ve got a different role upstream and downstream dealing with internal and external stakeholders.

[00:23:42] Rodney Apple: So we’ve talked about scaling the leadership ranks and moving up higher levels, responsibilities, stakeholder engagement, setting strategy, and having the right team to execute.

And then, obviously, if you have an interface, and typically you do in supply chain on the external side, you’ve got to work in that capacity as well, getting a lot of things done through others. What are some things, Chris, as folks are looking to develop themselves, are there any? Mindset shifts, rituals, training.

What are the things that you find that are going to be essential, um, to make this leap to where you’re leading

[00:24:24] Chris Gaffney: other leaders of people? Yep, I think there are a couple things that I would highlight here. The whole people side of it becomes fundamentally important, right? You’re dealing with multiple levels.

You have to trust that there are people who work for you, who are equipped To provide direction to, to a level below them for me, getting good at evaluating people, either current enroll to understand where they are in their own development. And in that case, not just their functional technical skills, but their own ability to guide others, I think is huge.

What goes with that is, is in people’s selection. I think 1 of the 1st things that I kind of thought about having been on some exceptional teams was the premise of really hiring. And I recall again in that those 1st 2 large team leadership settings I had when we had openings. There’s always a tendency to say, we’ve got a lot going on when you lose a team leader, let’s just fill it fast because we’re super busy.

And I, from a prior boss had seen short term, long term mindset around that. It says, if you go quickly and you don’t go out and get the best person, you solve the short term problem, but you might have created a long term problem. And I think that’s where I saw for me, a mindset shift that said absolutely positively hire the best.

And accept that you might suffer in the short term and in that team, I hired some true rock stars who went on to do some really good things, but we waited in some cases, 3, 4 months to find the right person. Um, and and had to really suck it up in the short term, but long term that paid off and I think that that just led me and every large team.

That I led after that, I said, let’s make sure we hire people who are better than us. And that’s very, that’s said a lot, but it really proves out in practice. I think that’s the number one thing. I think a couple of other, a ritual thing for me, I have been a Covey fan and a lot of our first 10 implicitly, there’s a lot of seven habits in there.

But I really got focused on transitioning my own personal execution and operating model into these large teams. We used Covey’s four disciplines of execution that focuses on wildly important goals that you set over a longer period of time, but you ultimately break those down to an individual week in any team.

Large team that I was a part of cascaded a Monday morning. What’s the key for the week? What are your three biggest swings of the bat this week? Did you get your three done from last week? And let’s check our scoreboard. Are we winning? So people can understand how to win the week and how to break the week up and win the day.

I think that’s super important for me as a ritual to lead a large team. And I think the last thing that I would say is getting really good at. Managing time, which was also a four disciplines kind of thing. The company says the whirlwind will take over 90 percent of your time. And I just wanted to make sure that we started scheduling our month where we balanced time to run the business, time to develop people.

And time to think for the future and it wasn’t crazy amounts of time in those last 2 or 3, but you reserve that time in a structured way. Otherwise, you’ll always convince yourself that there never is enough time. And so those are things that I started practicing. As a, an individual and then an individual team later that I felt prepared me really well when I had the opportunity to lead larger teams and I’ve used them in three or four settings and they proved to be successful.


[00:28:34] Mike Ogle: a follow up on that mindset change. Have you run into situations where you’ve seen people that have been moved up the ladder, but it’s almost like they’re still at the level below and might turn into more of a micromanaging those that they were supposed to be leading.

[00:28:48] Chris Gaffney: Yeah it’s frustrating like i’ve been in industry almost forty years and all these things are known but there’s still an unbelievable number of examples and almost everybody who will listen this podcast will have one or more where you like how on earth did that person get into this position and.

There are many of many things we talked about and we’ll talk a few more that you require to be successful, but if you do the opposite of those things, you could just do so much damage. I talked to a mentee not long ago, and they were like, I’m super experienced, but I’ve got a new manager and they know me.

They know I’ve been at this for a long time, but they’re so nervous about being successful in their new role that micromanagement track. And or people don’t spend any time on long term. And so we’re always stuck in the weeds or never thinking of thinking about the future. So I think it’s, it’s why I think it’s so important to be really disciplined about how you fill these roles.

We’ve got our HR series have a good HR business partner with you so that they provide a good counterbalance to your thought process on filling. Because one of the things that I think is important is if you’re an individual and you have some of these challenges, you impact yourself and those around you.

If you’re an individual team leader, and you have some of these limitations, you impact yourself and the folks you lead, and then a narrow circle of folks. But when you get into a leader of leaders role and you’re limited. You can impact a lot of people in a negative way. And I think that’s where the bar needs to raise.

And I think it just, it becomes a challenge for everybody involved in selection of these roles.

[00:30:36] Mike Ogle:  Duringthis short break, we recognize that this podcast is made possible by SCM talent group, the industry leading supply chain executive search firm, visit SCM talent group. talent. com.

And as part of raising that bar as in a role as a leader of leaders, what are some of your go to strategies or practices that you use to direct, to engage people and to drive performance?

[00:31:05] Chris Gaffney:Yep. I think I’ve mentioned a couple of them. I think you’ve got to be able to translate. The role of your organization into what is required of that part of the organization to deliver the larger organization success.

If we were leading logistics and Coca Cola, we had a role both in terms of service and cost to be able to help us win with customers both today and tomorrow. You’ve got to be able to translate that into. What does it mean for your team in terms of your performance accountabilities for a given year?

We’ve got to deliver on these costs and service metrics, safety, et cetera. How do you cascade that? And then at the same time, knowing. You know, where the organization is headed over multiple year times, you’ve got to have some view of how are we sharpening the saw and building muscles so that we can play a higher level game in the future.

So you’ve got to be also building that capability as you go forth thinking about that in a multi year. Teaching your teams about that and then translating that into how you build annual objectives. I think is that’s a first of a go to strategy for me, because it does give people direction. It does give people a way to feel engaged and be part of something bigger and it drives a performance management routine.

I think that’s number one. In my book, number two, and I’ll do two and three out of order, I think you’ve got to have super strong communication vehicles, both in down the organization. You’ve got to be talking this so people see it and hear it, but you’ve got to have the listening mechanisms out and multiple ways of getting that you can understand is this getting two or three levels down in the organization to people understand it.

Do they understand what it means for their work? Does it get them fired up? And if not, you could feel bad about it for two seconds, but then you’ve got to get to work on it. So that whole idea of continuous feedback is important. And then I think you’ve got to have the right set of structured and informal routines, check ins, touch points, um, to make sure that your team is.

Adjusting right. We always talk about the plan works to get on the field that people are using the plan, but adjusting based on what they’re seeing on the field, what’s successful and what’s not and continue to use those routines to make sure that your team leaders understand where they’re empowered to go make things happen because these larger organizations can really slow down unless you’re clear on where people can take action on the field based on that strategy.

[00:33:58] Rodney Apple: Chris, we, we talked a lot about in general with our podcast, uh, how we should aspire to learn from others and whether that’s through coaches, having a formal mentorship. What are, what’s some advice that you could share from your timeframe in business, leading other leaders? Who’s someone that you admire that brought you along the way that really shaped your approach to leadership?

[00:34:21] Chris Gaffney: Yep, and I think I might have mentioned a couple of these folks in prior podcasts, but I work for Ron Lewis, who is now in a very senior role at Ball Corporation when we were at Coca Cola Enterprises. And Ron was somebody who classically very capable person had been very successful, but I was part of a team that he brought together an integrated supply chain team and watching how he.

Led was very formative for me and lots of people on that team would say the same thing. I think the number 1 thing that he brought that stuck with me is a term that we’ve used and I’ll use it again. It’s called tough minded people leadership. And that had a lot of manifestations for it because he wasn’t a fire and brimstone guy.

Most of the conversations with him would always be very low decibel, but you very clearly understood what you were accountable for. And how you were performing, and you always knew where you were in good shape and where you weren’t. And so I think that drove a big sense of loyalty. This is a guy who’s trying to lead in the right way.

But it’s crystal clear that I’ve got to deliver for him, right? Both in my what the financial delivery service delivery and how doing it the right way, developing people. I think that was hugely impactful. To me, but the second half of that tough minded people leadership was. If we had someone who was off track, be it me or someone who worked for me or somewhere two levels down, it was countered to some historical things where you were like, let’s avoid it.

Let’s wait. This person’s a good person. Let’s let’s give it time. And he was the person who really taught me that if that person is struggling and impacting where we need to go as an organization, we owe it to them to make it crystal clear as soon as possible that they’re not in the right place with their performance.

Give them the time and the opportunity in the coaching to course correct both their perspective and validated guide validated actions with their manager but a very short period of time to correct that course and get back on track and if they got back on track that was great and if they did not then it escalated in a very methodical way.

And people got managed out of those organizations if they were unable to move on that. And I think for me, that’s more memorable because it gets back to somebody who is struggling as an impact in the organization beyond themselves. People see other people struggling either as individuals or team leaders, and they watch to say, are these people a supported to try to course correct given a fair shake.

But if they have had that support and they still struggle or are not willing to take it that they’re addressed and that people view that as the organization cares about us all being well led and cares about people being accountable for performance. So, I, I think that 1 is huge. I think the other thing was, I’ve worked for a few people.

In a lot of large organizations, it’s easy to get consumed by what’s going on internal to the company and the team, and you can lose perspective. And I’ve had a couple of bosses who role modeled really well that networking, both within and outside of the industry. And I worked for Tom Blackstock when I was in Coke Fountain, and Tom brought us to make some larger connections with universities.

We worked with the Ohio State University for a number of years. And I worked for Bill Bruner at Koch and he was someone who had global experience. And that was when we started talking to other global bottlers and that type of thing. And it just said, there’s a bigger world. You can win in your local league until you do that external networking.

You don’t get a sense of how would I compete in a bigger league and in a bigger division? And it may help you. And it always helped me reset my expectations. Of what was possible,

[00:38:33] Mike Ogle: Chris, you mentioned the challenges that some others end up facing and need to be able to, to course correct. Have you had a situation for yourself, for instance, where you had a leadership conflict?

What did you do about it? Had to navigate through that. And especially when you dealt with other leaders.

[00:38:49] Chris Gaffney: I think, Mike, the whole idea of conflict is just a greater reality when you’re in one of these, Yeah. Larger roles, and I think it’s a good example of a place that I was probably not as prepared for as some of the others.

And so I think it’s a good example where I would tell you. I struggled in some of those early examples, so people who know me know I’m a middle child. I don’t really love conflict and I do. And did and try to do a better job now of get into that fight or flight mindset pretty quickly. I think I’ve learned through the school of hard knocks in terms of having some examples where I didn’t handle it.

I think some of the training that I’ve received over time helped me with that. I’ve taken a lot of classes on managing conflict in a constructive way. And I think I’ve also taken classes on understanding a lot of these leadership style assessments to understand that when you’re dealing with different perspectives, you have to approach things in a different way.

So I think for me now, it goes to the people piece I just said. You can’t let it fester. I think that’s the first thing. I think you’ve got to keep emotion out of it. It can clearly get personal. In many cases, there are people who have a different agenda who are trying to use that conflict and, and I will say it even bullying to get their way or that’s their style.

And I think you’ve got to find a way to not allow that to rule the day. So I think very open communication. Making sure if it’s a peer, I would typically get pre coaching from my boss and say, I’m going to go in and deal with this. Are you cool with me approaching it this way? Get that. Get that. Go ahead to say, push this hard and pull these levers and you’ll have your back kind of thing.

I think that’s important that. That coaching before you go in and deal with it and if it doesn’t work, then occasionally you bring the bosses in and I know I’ve worked for very senior people and they say, if I have to get involved in something, it must be really important because you guys didn’t succeed in doing that.

And I think using that with folks and say, it’s our accountability to try to get this resolved and only bring it to somebody if it really merits it. I think, I think that’s what I would say. I would still say I’m not fantastic at conflict, but I think those are the things I try to keep in mind as I wade into those situations now, based on some of the things I’ve dealt with over time.

[00:41:24] Rodney Apple: Chris, what about we talk about in these roles, right? You leader of leaders, you’re given direction. You’re given feedback. People make mistakes. We’re trying to course correct and ultimately ensure they learn from the mistake. Don’t make it. Happen again, right? But what about the other direction? And I think this is important for the leaders of leaders soliciting that feedback.

Obviously, the folks that are under you, I think it’s important to have that. But then the stakeholders, right? So those that you’re supporting throughout the organization, how do you bake that into your regimen? So you’re proactively thinking about it to make you a better leader.

[00:42:04] Chris Gaffney: Yep, I have seen way too many examples of someone that I thought, I thought they were a good leader.

And I came to find out over time that they led up in a really effective way. So they were like, everything’s fine. But you came to find that their team led Had lots of issues and lots of legitimate concerns that were bottled up. I think that was very telling for me in a number of situations over time.

In many cases, people I trusted. So there was a lot of kind of soul searching in that. What I would say now is if you have a large team, you have to have independent mechanisms to get feedback from the bottom. And you almost have to have more feedback. Coming from the front lines up, then you’re sending information down.

If you’re in a large organization, some structured 360 degree feedback process, a survey, uh, in all honesty, you can use survey monkey and stuff right now. So it’s not, it’s really not a barrier if you don’t have. A big infrastructure to do it, but in a place where you’re getting quarterly anonymous feedback, if needed to get a gauge of where an organization is usually a simple scale.

Something people can fill out quickly. People hate filling out surveys, but if it’s 10 minutes, maybe max with some quick ranking scales and a request for even a couple sentences of verbatim. So you can get a sense of if there’s something going on out there that we’re not hearing that you can then go act on.

I would also, as a leader, try to do what I call a skip level, usually with groups of employees without managers in the room, you can do mix and match or go see a team without the manager in there and just create that as a practice and say, we’re trying to create an additional feedback mechanism, in all honesty, to hold leaders accountable to leading well, and that’s something that takes a while for employees to get comfortable with.

And I think the last thing is go to the front line. And if you’ve got a large, diverse organization geographically, you’ve got to make sure you’re spending enough time with those front line folks to get a sense of is there something else going on than what you’re hearing from your leader. So I think those three things are important to me.

[00:44:23] Mike Ogle: Chris, a little bit of a follow up, if you do the skip over, skip levels, yep, then in that kind of situation, what kind of information do you end up providing to that leader that you had done that or that you’re about to?

[00:44:34] Chris Gaffney: They’re always aware of it. It’s to me, it’s a practice. We just say, this is what we do.

It’s quality control. It’s good hygiene. It’s good role modeling for those folks for the future. So it’s intended to drive accountability with them. So over time, if somebody in that leadership role is not getting it right, they should understand this will get seen. And then I will have to explain why I’m not role modeling as a leader what we’re looking for.

The, I usually always do that in concert with my HR business partner. Another reason why I love our series, they’re key in these. We bring broad themes back to the team to say this has come up and consistent skip levels is something we as a leadership team need to work on. If there’s something individual, if it’s minor, it comes back as coaching for that leader.

Um, if it’s more than that, then I’ve got the HR business partner with me to say, we’ve got something bigger than we expected here. It’s more than coaching and feedback. Let’s talk about how we’re going to bring that to somebody. So that’s how I would approach it. Mike.

[00:45:38] Mike Ogle: Yes, I think that segues a little bit into how we’re trying to develop potential leaders to keep moving up.

And I want to ask this. I was originally intending this to be just within your own teams, but I also want to do to share along with that your thoughts about how deep you might reach down to develop others or even in some

[00:45:59] Chris Gaffney: cases across. Yep, I think one of the things you have to do as a large team leader is get much better at managing the farm team, if you will, managing the pipeline, you’ve got to, you have to have structured talent pipelines.

And succession planning, because these larger organizations have roles that are important for continuity of the business. So in ideal state, you already have a sense of people who are potentials for that. The flip side of that is you’ve modeled in your organization that you support development. It’s a huge way to keep people engaged.

If they know you are thinking about them, they are getting feedback, not just for their performance, but their development. And they have awareness that we think they have a future in a certain area. Or if they don’t, we’re telling them what they need to correct in order to be able to get on that succession plan.

So there’s a structure and a routine to managing talent, both into the team and up through the team that becomes important. So I think that succession planning process feedback from individual development discussions is a fundamental way we identify potential leaders in the team. If you’re really good, You’re also looking outside your team elsewhere in your organization and potentially external to the organization.

And as we start to see people who have greater potential and have demonstrated consistent performance, we make sure that they’re getting some discretion. In their development plan activities, whether we get them stretch assignments involvement in cross functional projects that will will give them the opportunity to continue to grow and develop, but we just make sure everybody’s getting that coaching and feedback.

And we’re also encouraging people at this point also to have some type of mentoring. In their feedback because in many cases, an individual struggle to hear feedback from a manager, but if they start to hear validation of that for a mentor, then they will own difficult feedback. So I think that’s fundamental from it.

I think the other thing for me is I want my leaders. Seeing what it’s like to lead at the next level. So they’re at the table when we’re going to see a customer and they’re more of a participant watching how we interact or they step in and backfill on a leadership meeting when I was on vacation so they could say, what does it look like at that table?

They’re involved when we’re building the multi year road map. And they may have to build a functional strategy in support of our overall strategy for our organization. So they’re learning about that long term planning beyond a narrow set of things. So I think we just get them involved and get them exposed to where it’s just not a huge leap.

It’s not some dark arts for them when they, when they have to compete for a position like they’ve seen it. They can ask questions, they can struggle, they can learn, they can be part of it. And all of those things to me are classic adult learning, getting them read to, to potentially be large team leaders.

[00:49:03] Rodney Apple: Chris, uh, we touched on this earlier, but supply chain is a different animal and it’s global in nature and there is nothing but constant change. And if anything, we’ve seen in the last 3 years, it’s disruptions are becoming a constant change as a leader, especially of others. What are some things you need to do to.

You know, you’re staying in tune with what’s going on in the global marketplace with supply chains, you’re adapting to the change and remaining agile and resilient so we can stay on top of our, our mission and our objectives.

[00:49:40] Chris Gaffney: Yeah, I think it’s a couple of things is number 1 is. Always use that adult learning mindset, right?

The adult learning mindset gets us to 70 percent of that is in support of current job objectives. So everyone should be learning while they’re delivering today’s results. Um, it’s a proven path. You should have mentoring. So you’re always getting feedback as you go. And then there’s always a little bit of structured training that’s involved in that that mindset of adult learning applies to adapting to change.

You should be externally focused and aware what’s going on in the economy, what’s going on in your industry just to understand and absorb the fact that if we don’t continue to evolve. Almost everybody will be obsolete pretty quickly and what they do product service wise. So I think, I think that’s important.

I do like it in particular for supply chain leaders that they adopt the growth mindset. Start thinking more about how is the business need to evolve in order to continue to be able to grow both volumetrically and profitably. And what does supply chains have to do in order to be able to Support that so I think that’s important.

We all know for our supply chain leaders that analytics and and digital embodiment of all the analog things we struggle with in years is an important area. So once people see that. That external world, and to know that there’s always an industry that’s ahead of us, there’s always new things to keep an eye on.

I think that’s important, and I think the last piece for me is just overall capability building that you have to understand that it’s always part of your job, just like personal development to grow capabilities that you’ve got to grow organizational capabilities and be able to think about what does that look like?

Because once you can role model that and deliver. That along with core core this year performance, then you’ve, you’ve built the recipe where you could demonstrate that you can adapt and build in whatever comes for the future. And Chris, a

[00:51:50] Mike Ogle: little bit of a shift, taking a look at culture. So how do you maintain a consistent kind of organizational culture and ethos when you’re primarily now leading through other leaders, whether it’s a first time leader of leaders, or whether you’re at the top of the ladder.

[00:52:09] Chris Gaffney: Yep. So after 40 years at this, my simple translation of what culture means is acceptable actions and behaviors. On a day to day basis, what do your frontline people see as acceptable and not acceptable in how people act and behave? You can say whatever you want on your slogans and everything else is what do people see around them?

Do they see safety? As sacrosanct and anytime an unsafe activity hurt happens, people call it out. Stop. Safety is more important than business. Or do they see people goofing around with equipment that can hurt people and avoiding really basic things like lockout tag out. So I think 1st things 1st is getting clear that we want to establish.

What are acceptable actions and behaviors? What are those? A lot of times that is part of the communication. In many cases, there’s also then a very clear either in a macro organization or for this organization setting clear values that people know. Okay, that are communicated that are part of our communication, what we do to deliver business results is equally important as how we deliver them.

And I’ve been through those debates, but I do believe 50 percent how 50 percent what you can debate a lot around that. But I feel pretty strongly that people understand how you want to do business. You will get the desired business results over time. So, I think being super clear around that is really important.

I think what goes with it is leveraging. Those feedback mechanisms to say. Is our culture coming to life at the front line or not? And if it’s not, either people don’t understand it and it’s not translated into how they work or they do, but they don’t see people living those values or behaving in the way that we want.

Then you have to take that feedback and act on it so that people see. You know that you’re serious about it. Otherwise they’ll move on. So I think those things are important. And it’s very clear when you do that, how quickly the leaders are accountable. The reality is, if it comes back on a specific sub team that people don’t get it, that leader’s got a lot of work to do, particularly if it’s different than the feedback coming from the peer organization.

So I think you’re very quickly going to get into that accountability for those leaders on a team that I would lead as an example.

[00:54:38] Rodney Apple: Chris, this has been a great advice. You’re well read and studied and trained from the companies that you’ve worked for. What advice do you have for those that are seeking out?

Maybe they’re managing a handful of associates or individual contributors that want to make this jump. Are there any books, podcasts, resources that you would recommend

[00:54:58] Chris Gaffney:? I guess I would say this. I am probably less on go read the book. I’ve read them all. There’s nothing wrong with almost any of them, but I am a believer in kind of the adult leadership mindset.

In today’s world, you should be listening to our podcast for sure. But I think from advice for those folks is find those experiences that’ll set you up. And for me, if I look back on it, in most cases, it was complex Multifunctional projects where somebody had to deliver beyond their core role. And that had a couple of different things for me.

You couldn’t do that if you weren’t personally productive already. And if your team wasn’t perfectly productive, you couldn’t create the space to take on a cross functional project like that. I felt like getting on some of those projects and I would say, yes, my team will deliver its results while we’re doing that because we have management systems in place.

I know how to delegate my other people will step up and they’ll learn. You get a 2 sided benefit of being on 1 of those larger projects and that set of project exposure will. Get you visible will demonstrate that you’re capable of doing more it will give you those cross functional experiences that may help you be prepared for a larger leadership role so i think that’s number one and i watched as i went through my work life.

What did really good large team leadership look like? And what did bad look like? And it was like, do more of that and do less of that. And so keeping your eyes up and eyes open, what does it mean to be well led? You know what it looks like and what it feels like and make sure you’re capturing enough of that so that when you’re close to the seat, you’ll have a bit of a playbook that you can use when you get that opportunity.

I think the only other thing that I would say I’m fanatical about mentorship. That’s one of the reasons we do a lot of the things we do is to try to scale that. But having real good voices who are advocating for you, giving you honest feedback of where you need to grow. I think being in that relentless load of growth, I think is huge if you really aspire to multi level leadership.

So different

[00:57:29] Mike Ogle: generations often require different kinds of leadership. Things change. We learn as the years go by. So how do you see the role of leadership evolving and what some of the changes are currently and where we’re headed?

[00:57:45] Chris Gaffney: As I look at the leaders that I work with today. They are ever more hectic, both in terms of the demands on them.

I don’t think anybody’s really recovered from the last three years that, and they may not. So I think how leaders manage their own time, how they protect their own team’s time, I think it’s just a level up because if you can figure it out, you’re in a fundamentally different place. But if you can’t, it’s just not sustainable for anybody, you or anybody on your team.

And I worry that there are some people in these larger roles who are like, I can’t figure this out. I’m just going to run it for as long as I can, and then I’ll tap out. And I think I’ve seen some of that. So I think I do say you got to go back to your basics around being ultimately disciplined around how you manage time, not only for you, but how you protect.

The time of the leaders on your team and role model to them that they’ve got to compartmentalize. They’ve got to pull away from the whirlwind and prepare for the future. Because if you’re not sharpening that saw, I don’t think you’ll get there. So I think that’s a fundamental thing. Time is just is such a precious commodity.

We’ve got so much information coming at us. I think you have to have a mindset on how you and your team are digesting information. And for me, you’ve got to have some formal approach around analytics if you’re in supply chain, because data in analytics help us make decisions. But you’ve got to have a way to be able to absorb it without getting overrun by it.

And then I think We talk about constant change, pace of change, new technology. I think you have to figure out where you sit in that. Are you an early adopter? Are you late adopter? Are you in the middle? And if you’re early, you got to have the time and money to do those experiments that many will fail.

Accepting that if you’re late, just be really good at late adoption that once something is clearly showing consistent promise that your implementation cycle is much quicker because you like everyone else has already learned how to do this. We need to go fast once we are a late adopter. But you have to think about how you’re going to bring new thinking and new practices into your organization.

I like that spectrum of somewhere between late and early in that. So I think those are Those are the things that I think about when you ask that question.

[01:00:16] Rodney Apple: Chris, I guess going back full circle, I know we touched on some of our own experiences, but when you look back over your almost four years in business and working as a leader, what are some of the ways that you have evolved as a leader?

And what do you see changing about your style as you go into the future? You know, now that you’ve exited the big, large corporate environment where you’ve had some very large teams and are working more fractional consultant. Across a number of different companies at any given time working on various projects and things like that. What’s changing.

[01:00:52] Chris Gaffney: So I will say there are definitely a few things that are changing and I think they are relevant for folks earlier in that journey. I do think when you’ve been at it a long time and I led large teams in a number of different settings over time, I would say I got to more of a thought around let’s deliver the business results here.

Let’s figure out how we leave some legacy and really underlying that was what’s the purpose of this, right? I work for large corporations for most of my time. You’re serving shareholders, but ultimately what’s the greater good that we can accomplish in the work that we do. And so that got me to a lot of leading the right way, really making sure that we bet on people.

And the belief that if we bet on people, the organization would be better off. But I wanted really those people to make sure that they understood that we really cared about them as individuals and what their, what their aspirations were, how we could bring those aspirations to life through. Work and investing in their development and again, my belief in that was fundamentally about leading the right way and that that would keep those employees engaged in our business longer and would get them to a place where they felt it makes sense for them to give her to give discretionary effort in that result.

So I think that kind of. Purpose driven leadership is something I felt passionate about and I think the other thing that I would say for me is cut to the chase a bit more on the people side. I said, being a middle child. That wasn’t my 1st thing, but recognizing that. Nothing gets better if you leave it alone is, is acting quicker to get at either a business issue, um, a personnel issue or that type of thing.

I think that’s a reflection. It said nothing good came of that. You do more harm than good when you let those things fester. So I think those are probably the two biggest changes for me. I think the only one that’s close to that is that real external awareness. In leading, I think it’s been very liberating for me.

It’s easy to do. Now, as I said, I don’t read books and stuff, but I do read a lot of listen to a lot of podcasts and I do consume a lot of short form stuff. That’s always challenging what’s possible and and raising my own expectations and leadership said Mike and and Rodney as always. I enjoy our discussions and even as I reflect a lot, I’m learning on that reflection and listening to you, but I would like.

Thank you. Each of you, you know, share one mantra or principle that you always come back to when you think about this overall topic of large leadership that kind of is relevant for you, no matter the challenge that’s in front of you.

[01:03:46] Mike Ogle: Yeah, I could start without Chris. I think 1 of the things, particularly in the last industry position that I was in was a realization that a fundamental that you really need to be able to stick to.

There’s a temptation when you become a leader of leaders, or even a leader at all to step into a situation and be the commander. And I think the one that really stuck with me is to remember that you still have a job of asking and listening carefully. Though the 1 mouth, 2 ears ratio still holds, but the questions get harder and they become far more important than they used to be.

[01:04:28] Chris Gaffney: I like that. Yeah,

[01:04:31] Rodney Apple: so for me, guys, I go back to just thinking my DNA. I’m a servant leader. I think maintaining that discipline that. It was a company that I’ve founded. And I’ve certainly had my trials, tribulations and mistakes over the years. But the 1 thing that I always go back to is that it’s not about me.

It’s about my team and I get up and I go to work and I work for my team and the success of our team, knowing that we’re going to have challenges, knowing that. This can be a grinder working in the world of recruiting and especially in supply chain, but it’s all about connecting people. And we do that externally with our clients and candidates and bringing them together.

And I think internally, it’s maintaining that same discipline of. Being selfless, being humble, the humility and just practicing that being kind. I’ve seen so many leaders take that authoritarian approach and dictator ship style and the micro managers. I’ve worked for all those people in the past. So what I have learned a lot from is those types of leaders and really, let’s not make those mistakes.

Let’s do the exact. Opposite, be kind and treat others as if you want them to treat you. It has served me well. Give the more you give, the more you receive. And that’s what I practice as a leader. And it’s hard to go wrong when you have that spirit and attitude. In

[01:05:57] Chris Gaffney: my opinion. I think those are both awesome.

I think that the one that I would add, which is, you know, daily mantra or challenge is perspective and in my worst moments in business. It’s when I fail to have that perspective, whether that would be over a business challenge or around a person and remind myself, this is just business, right? This is not, this is truly not my life.

And I know many people who’ve had very big challenges in business and they’re all still here to tell about it. So keeping that in perspective and remember that you’re dealing with people’s lives, right? And try to take great care of that. And so when I can step back and have that perspective. Yeah. I will do better work.

Okay. It still may be a challenging situation for the business. It still may be a challenging situation for the employee. But if it’s in the right setting, then we can make the best of whatever we have to do in that situation. Take the emotion out of it and be thoughtful about best thing to do.

[01:06:57] Mike Ogle: Hey, so Chris, what have you got lined up for our next episode?

[01:07:01] Chris Gaffney: Mike, we’re going to continue to try to think about this leading at a larger level in leadership. And so one thing that’s true with almost everybody that I work with this day is they don’t get everything done on their own. Their delivery of outcomes is not only their own team and assets and resources, but it’s also partners.

So it may be suppliers, may be service partners. Um, but that’s a becoming a much more important capability for an organization and for an individual’s next episode. We’re going to talk about managing orchestrated supply chains beyond. Contracts and sticks, if you will,

[01:07:42] Rodney Apple: Chris, we’re looking forward to the next episode and we appreciate you as always sharing, uh, your experiences and wisdom.

I know this is going to be, uh, hugely beneficial to our audience and for those listening. If you’d like what you’ve heard today, please give us a share on your favorite social platforms, especially of others that could benefit from this advice. Uh, which is timeless and can certainly help propel people into bigger and broader leadership roles.

We thank you for listening and we look forward to seeing you on the next podcast episode.

[01:08:21] Mike Ogle: This podcast is made possible by SCM Talent Group, the industry leading supply chain executive search firm. Visit SCM Talent Group at


Who is Chris Gaffney?

  • Co-Founder, Edge Supply Chain, providing Supply Chain Services to the CPG Industry
  • 25 Years w/ Coca-Cola holding Supply Chain leadership roles:
    • VP of Global Strategic Supply Chain
    • President of Global Supply
    • SVP of Product Supply Systems
    • VP of Logistics for North America

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