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Discovering Tomorrow's Supply-Chain Leaders

Rob Dugas, vice president of supply chain at Chick-fil-A, outlines the challenges around identifying and developing tomorrow's supply chain leaders and discusses the chain's strategic approach to this issue.

One of the challenges of leadership is to look far enough ahead and to think, not just about today, but about where the business is going, says Dugas. “Today’s business environment is very dynamic and if you are still acting as if it is static you already are way behind,” he says. “It’s a little like skating where the puck is headed. Leadership needs to be relevant to where the business is going as well as where it is today.”

One strategy that Chick-fil-A uses is to make sure that corporate leadership is diverse and represents many different perspectives, he says. “Leveraging all those different perspectives helps us have better understanding of what is going on cross-functionally in the business as well as what is going on in the world and in the economy,” he says. “That, in turn, helps us fast forward to where we think things are headed.”

Perhaps the biggest career challenge for leaders is when they move up from middle management, says Dugas. “They are moving from a world that is black and white to a world that is gray. True leadership resides in a gray environment because a lot of decisions require choosing between three right things or three wrong things, and you won’t know which is the best decision until after it has been made. Middle managers typically deal with 'if this, then that' situations, where the outcome is pretty clear and you are supervising to make sure that happens,” he says. “Working in gray areas requires more intuition and more decisiveness at the same time that you have less certainty. So when promoting people up from middle management, you need to look for people who can learn from decisions that, in retrospect, weren’t the best and apply that knowledge going forward. Leadership is not for everyone, particularly people who are more comfortable in a black and white environment.”

Too often companies make the mistake of promoting people before they are ready, he says, which essentially sets them up for failure. Additionally, employers sometimes assume that subject matter experts, who are very good at their jobs, are good candidates for leadership. “Think about a hospital where you have a chief surgeon and a chief of staff, both of whom are doctors. Both are very qualified in what they do, but you don’t want the chief of staff performing triple bypass heart surgery and you don’t want a surgeon hiring staff. So don’t make the mistake of putting a talented person in a leadership role when that person is better suited to honing his skills in a specific area of expertise.”

The most common mistake made by employees hoping to move up is to focus on opportunity instead of readiness, he says. “Most folks do not have much control over opportunity, but they do have control over how ready they are when opportunity comes. In most organizations, you don’t see the opportunity coming, so readiness for those unexpected opportunities is the thing that I encourage people to focus on. When it comes, you’re either ready or you’re not.”

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