Inside Supply Management Magazine

Transitioning from Individual Contributor to Leader

November 26, 2018

By Elizabeth Richter, MBA, CPSM, CPSP

Early in their career development, many people are competitive and have a strong personal focus. They compete for top grades, the most prestigious internships and entry into premier schools. As they enter the workforce, they find hundreds or thousands of applicants competing for the same jobs. The best competitors score the job. Once on the job, they find that a transition is necessary.

Emerging professionals find that success depends on transitioning from being a competitive “individual contributor” to a “collaborative team leader.” As stated in The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, “In a world that’s trying to do more with less, competitive strategies naturally lose to strategies that promote collaboration.”

Leading a team through collaboration is not about adhering to traditional hierarchical structure. It’s about defining purpose and meaning. It’s approaching every new assignment as challenging, and challenge is motivating. Employees desire work that has purpose — and for the long-term success of the team, there must be a common goal and purpose.

It has been shown that people who feel they are making a difference stay with a company for the long haul — and supply management is an area where collaborative leaders can develop purpose and passion for their work.

Collaborative Leadership Traits

Numerous skills are required to transition from being an individual contributor to a collaborative team leader. As emerging leaders move into the collaborative stage, they acquire an internal locus of control and embody Theory Y. These two psychological concepts, first highlighted in the 1950s, signify when humans take control of events in their lives — and hold themselves responsible — rather than attribute occurrences to external factors they have no control over.

Collaborative leaders believe that people are motivated by successfully doing their jobs, meaning there is normally no need to micromanage them. Additionally, they embody a growth mindset — developed by Stanford University researcher Carol Dweck, this concept dictates that intelligence is not finite, but rather something that people can foster and grow — and approach to work.

Other factors to consider:

Collaboration requires trust. Successful teams must develop relationships built on trust. Building relationships means embracing differences and appreciating talents.

Focus on developing others. One leader said that his goal was to make his team look good, as that would make him look good and create good internal publicity for the team. Another said that if you attend a meeting of a successful team, it will be difficult to identify the leader because everyone is contributing and listening.

Taking Time to Transition

The transition from individual contributor to collaborative team leader isn’t an effortless undertaking. Building trust and relationships takes time. The road to finding a purpose may not be on your timetable, so patience is required. Instead, a purpose may find you.

Once trust is earned, it is important for leaders to be well-versed in influence and persuasion. This informal management goes both ways — up and down the ladder within the company.

Supply management is an area in which teams can find purpose for their companies regarding cost reduction, optimal inventory and asset velocity — all of which affect cash flow. It is vital for emerging professionals to honestly assess where they stand in the transition process and recognize the next steps necessary to further develop a collaborative-leadership mentality.

Elizabeth Richter, MBA, CPSM, CPSP, is a logistics manager at Flex in San Francisco, an ISM® 30 Under 30 Supply Chain Star, and a trustee of the R. Gene and Nancy D. Richter Foundation.