Last week, I was asked to be a guest of the local chamber of commerce at their board of directors retreat. While there, I experienced something that reminded me of a common situation faced by procurement managers (or, really, any middle manager).

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This chamber’s board of directors has several different committees, each involving different directors. After lunch, there were to be breakout sessions for the committees to each work on their committee goals. Being a guest and not a director, I offered to sit in with the committee with the smallest number of members.

The assignment was simple. Take the four strategic goals of the chamber, develop a committee goal that would support each strategic goal, and document milestones for each committee goal for each of the four quarters of 2010.

Pretty straightforward, right?

Well, not to the “leader” of this committee. First, he talked about what the committee was currently working on. He didn’t take a breath. The first 20 minutes of the meeting were comprised of this guy doing all the talking and none of the listening. And, quite frankly, neither I nor two of the three other people on the committee who were new, had any idea what the heck he was talking about!

Then, when one of us tried to restore focus on the task at hand, all this leader did was rant and rave about the format that was imposed upon him and how it didn’t jive with the work the committee had in progress! After a while, many of the committee members saw the futility of making suggestions and just shut down.

When the facilitator came over, she asked to see what the committee had documented and was shocked to see that it was…nothing! The leader of this committee passionately complained to her that the format of this exercise was irrelevant and useless. She was unsuccessful at convincing him to get with the program before she went to check on another committee.

The rest of this breakout discussion was tense, but some of us on the committee were able to get the leader to “play the game” and document a few things. We didn’t finish, but we got a few things done before we ran out of time – two hours of time, to be exact. All of the other committees finished early enough to enjoy the fresh cookies that were being served. And they had quality results.

After the session, the facilitator and the chamber president privately sought my feedback about how the committee worked and I was brutally honest, using one of my favorite axioms: “In all of the parks and cities, there are no statues of committees.” Needless to say, I will not be volunteering for that committee!

So what does this mean from a procurement perspective?

Well, in procurement, you’re usually not aligned at the top of the organization. Usually, procurement is somewhere in the middle.

This means that you have certain objectives imposed upon you by top management. Some of them you’ll agree with, some of them you won’t.

Your job as a true leader is to motivate your team. If you:

  • Talk way more than you listen;
  • Complain about what has been imposed on you; and/or
  • Shoot down the contributions of your team members

you will not motivate your team. Your results will suffer. You may even fail to attract talent that could help you succeed. You will be a manager, not a leader.

Leaders do not complain about unchangeable circumstances. They accept, if not embrace, them. Great leaders succeed within constraints placed upon them.

I always think back to a quote that was attributed to Christopher Reeves when he first suffered his terminal injuries (and before he went on to surprisingly live several more years). This probably isn’t word-for-word – I can’t find it online – but the point is what matters:

“This appears to be very challenging, but let’s see what can be done.”

Do you think this to yourself? Or do you complain like the so-called “leader” in this story?

To Your Career,
Charles Dominick, SPSM
President & Chief Procurement Officer
Next Level Purchasing, Inc.
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Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3

Charles Dominick, SPSM, SPSM2, SPSM3 is an internationally-recognized business expert, legendary procurement thought leader, award-winning entrepreneur, and provocative blogger. Charles founded the Next Level Purchasing Association in 2000, oversaw its incredible growth, and successfully led the organization to its acquisition by the Certitrek Group in 2016. He continues to blog and provide advisory services for the NLPA on a part-time basis as he incubates his upcoming business innovations. Charles is also the co-author of the wildly popular, groundbreaking book, "The Procurement Game Plan: Winning Strategies & Techniques For Supply Management Professionals."

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