Today there is too much focus on analytics, technology, and software as the answers to management problems. Many experts will tell you that systems dictate process rather than support process. Many experts will also focus on managing things like process, equipment, inventory, space, data, and information. But very few experts will tell you that without leadership intertwined with reality, the improvement efforts of enabling technology, information systems, process reengineering, and knowledge management are doomed from the start.

In your Transportation and Logistics operations and your workers’ eyes, your leadership is everything you do that affects operation accomplishment and his/her well-being. If you want to be a respected leader, concentrate on what you are (your beliefs and character), what you know (human nature, process application, your job), and what you do (provide direction, implement, and motivate).

The four major factors of leadership are The Follower, The Leader, Communication, and The Situation. They each have a significant impact on what actions a leader should take and when he/she should take them.

The Follower. The first major factor of leadership is the follower. Different workers require different styles of leadership. For example, a truck driver fresh from driver training requires more direct supervision than an experienced driver. An inventory analyst with a poor attitude requires a different approach than a highly motivated one. A union shop warehouse with older, long term employees requires different work incentives than a non-union, high turnover facility with a mostly under 30 or “GEN Y” workforce. A purchaser with very little industry or commodity expertise will need more coaching.

You must know your employees if you want to take the right leadership actions at the right time. The fundamental starting point for knowing your people is a clear understanding of human nature (needs, emotions, motivation). You must understand the be, know, and do attributes of each one of your people. The be is what he or she is - human nature, beliefs, values, and character. The know is his or her knowledge based on experience, training and expertise. The do is what he or she is capable of accomplishing through their skill sets.

One of the keys to good leadership is to hire the right people in the first place. How? It comes down to two factors: job competence and values fit. You must know what job performance factors are key to being successful in your environment, and hire for a values fit with the functional team you already have. If the person doesn’t have both of these elements, do not hire them under any circumstances.

Also, you need to remember that you are a follower as well as a leader. You have to find ways of meeting the goals of your boss, other key people, and yourself. To accomplish this, you must understand the different levels of people, have good communication with each, and develop relationships based on trust and respect.

The Leader. The second major factor of leadership is you - the leader. You must have an honest understanding of who you are, what you know, and what you can do. You must be able to separate perception from reality. By way of example, good leaders show clear thinking and coolness when under pressure. Do your perceptions of yourself and your employees’ perceptions of you coincide within the reality of high pressure situations? This understanding is necessary in order for you to control and discipline yourself and your employees effectively. Remember that leadership is:

- 10% technical direction
- 20% administration
- 30% employee guidance
- 40% employee motivation

Communication. The third major factor of leadership is communication. You lead successfully through effective two-way communication. Much of this is not verbal. You teach, coach, counsel, persuade, and discipline through both verbal and non-verbal communication. 

The way you communicate in different situations is important. Your choice of words, tone of voice, physical gestures, and the look in your eye affect the way a person feels about what you communicate. Leadership is more than just setting the example. The right word or the right body language spoken quietly at the right moment or an acknowledgement gesture after a difficult job is also an important part of leadership!

What and how you communicate either builds or harms the strength of your relationship between you and you employees. In a healthy relationship between people, there are bonds of mutual trust, respect, confidence, and understanding. These bonds form the basis of productivity and cohesion in any supply chain or logistics operation. They are built over time as your followers learn - from training, from experience, and from what you communicate - that you are a competent leader whom they can trust and respect.

(Next month we will examine the fourth critical aspect of effective leadership, the Situation, and take you through an exercise to determine how your own attitude is affecting your employees).

This article is part of the monthly series authored by ISM’s Logistics & Transportation Group Board Members, who are current practitioners, consultants and educators. In future columns they will continue sharing their views on a number of Supply Chain topics.

Thomas L. Tanel, CTL, C.P.M., CISCM, is the President and CEO of CATTAN Services Group, Inc., specializing in Logistics and Supply Chain issues. He is also the Chair of ISM’s Logistics & Transportation Group and can be reached at or (979) 212-8200. Membership in the Group is open to all ISM members who are responsible for or have an interest in the Logistics & Transportation fields.