From practically the time their kids can walk, some parents sign their children up for the sports the parents played in their youth.  And those kids play those same sports season after season, year after year.

Sure, some of those kids go on to become professional players of those sports.  But the vast majority go on to have “normal” jobs, like doctors, lawyers, buyers, etc.

I’ve never been a parent to try to live vicariously through my kids.  My goal has been to let my kids try whatever they want until they find their own passions and strengths.

My daughter played soccer for five years until she found her true passion, music.  My son has taste-tested a wide variety of youth league sports.  He played baseball at the t-ball, coach pitch, and kid pitch levels.  Participated in a summer dek hockey camp.  Played a season of flag football.  Did a golf camp.  Even joined a guitar-building club one year at school.

He liked each, but when he was done, he was ready to move on to something else.  This summer, he decided he wanted to play in a dek hockey league.

Now, at 14 years old, he’d be a newcomer in a league of kids who had been playing half of their lives.  It kind of worried me that he’d be behind.  But, he got off to a great start, even scoring a goal in his very first game for a team that had a really wonderful coach who assigned him to a forward position!

Unfortunately, the requisite vacations in the summer months made for a thinner crop of available players and some last minute withdrawals, so the league had to re-do the teams so that all teams had enough players.  My son got moved to another team.  The new team’s coach was out of town for the first game my son played for that team.  But the game went well.  The fill-in coach also played my son at forward and, although he didn’t score, he played well and got some great opportunities.

The third week, the new team’s regular coach was back.  He knew my son was a “new” player.  So, he assigned him to play defense.

Now, playing defense in hockey is not something one can do intuitively.  You need to know proper positioning.  You need to know when to battle for the ball and when to cut off passes and block shots.  You need to know which opponent is yours to cover.  You need to know the circumstances that dictate when to pass, shoot, dump, or tie up the ball.

My son didn’t.  And the first game didn’t go well.

A few goals were scored when my son was on the dek.  Yet, the coach kept putting him out there on defense.  The coach’s criticism of my son’s defense was, let’s just say, a little less than constructive.

My son’s team gave up seven goals in a 7-4 loss.  After two games that had my son’s spirits flying high, he was ready to quit dek hockey after this third game.

If you read my roller coaster experience that I blogged about last week, you know that I can’t get through a life event without seeing parallels to procurement leadership.  Such is the case with this dek hockey leadership disaster.

Here are some procurement leadership lessons inspired by some bad decisions by “Coach Dave”:

  • Know your people’s strengths and weaknesses and put them in a position to succeed.  Everyone has a different strength.  My son was naturally good at offense but inexperienced at  defense.  His coach failed to recognize his strengths and weaknesses and put him in a position to fail.  If a player fails, the team fails.  A procurement organization needs many strengths:  negotiation, contract writing, data analysis, project management, etc.  One buyer may be good at negotiation but bad at data analysis.  The last place you want to put that buyer is a position where all she does is data analysis, right?
  • Every leader is a coach, and “coach” is a verb as well as a noun.  If a player isn’t playing well, it is the coach’s job to teach him how to play better.  Leaders are coaches and coaching means teaching.  If an employee is underperforming, it is the leader’s job to get that employee the knowledge he needs to perform at and above standard.  In some cases, that is direct mentoring.  In others, it is enrolling the employee in training provided by experts.  Yelling doesn’t transfer knowledge.  Teaching does.  So, ensure that teaching happens.
  • If someone isn’t doing a good job, make adjustments.  Sometimes, it seems like leaders let employees continue to perform badly so that they can justify firing them and hiring someone they like better.  That’s not true leadership.  A true leader can get virtually anyone to improve their performance.  Seeing my son’s inexperience on defense, the coach should have made adjustments.  He should have put a more experienced defensive player on defense.  Failing to do so was a disservice to the entire team.  If a subordinate is not performing and you don’t make adjustments, you are the one who is not doing a good job!
  • Demoralized employees reveal more about their leaders than themselves.  As I mentioned, my son went from enthusiastically wanting to contribute to his team’s success to wanting to quit.  All because of how his coach utilized and treated him.  A coach should want enthusiasm among his players.  A coach should consciously cultivate enthusiasm among his players.  Similarly, a procurement leader should consciously cultivate enthusiasm among her buyers.  My son looked forward all week to Saturday’s games.  Couldn’t wait to get to the dek.  Then, after the third game, stressed about getting to the dek.  Was nervous that it was going to be a bad experience.  How do your employees feel over the weekend, knowing that they’ll be back in the office on Monday?  Are they champing at the bit?  Or dreading the alarm ringing in a new work week?  Leaders should care about how employees feel about work.  Leaders should want them to care.  Caring employees will go the extra mile to contribute to the success of the organization.  Don’t behave in a way that demoralizes your employees – it won’t help you in the end.

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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