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Stakeholder Leadership in Disruptive Times

Posted by Heather Sheehan on 11/23/20 10:05 AM

“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was…We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment, one that fits all of humanity and nature.”

–Sonya Renee Taylor, award-winning poet, author, activist and leader

Recently, Michelle Halkerston, CEO of Hassett Logistics, and I shared a virtual discussion on FreightWaves TV called “Leadership and Logistics in the Next Normal.” But really--for any of us that have worked in supply chain, has anything ever been normal? In my thirty years of leadership with Fortune 500 companies, every time I thought we had things under control, something changed—material shortage, volcano, supplier failure, demand spike, tsunami, new business acquisition, critical employee departure, airliner crash, new regulations, and so on. As Sonya Renee Taylor says, “Normal never was.”

Heather Sheehan

The disruption we’re facing now, nearly a year into a pandemic, is more accelerated, global and longer in duration than anything most of us have experienced. The leadership challenges are intense and require more expansive and consequential decision-making than ever before.

The common focus in our businesses and supply chains has been on bottom-line financials—earnings per share, working capital turns, asset utilization—those things that drive share prices in the stock market. Many supply chains were so driven on cost and inventory that they broke when the pandemic hit. Too much focus on just-in-time and too little focus on just-in-case. It’s easy to understand why it happened when there’s a singular focus on bottom-line quarterly financials.

Truly effective strategic leadership is about leading a company with broader purpose than profit. I call it stakeholder leadership. Many leaders already get it and do it. In August 2019, the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs of America’s largest corporations, made a dramatic shift in their statement that a corporation’s purpose is to promote an “economy that serves all Americans.” For over 40 years their purpose statement was about serving shareholders with a focus on profit and other financial measures. Now, they’ve agreed that corporate boards must take a broader view, focusing on creating long-term value for all stakeholders—customers, employees, suppliers, communities and investors. Those groups each focus on slightly different definitions and metrics, but the bottom line is that stakeholders want businesses to have profitable growth and sustainable improvement. Business leaders who make decisions by considering the impact on each of their stakeholder categories--customers, employees, suppliers, communities and investors—are more likely to have long term profitable growth and sustainable improvement because they create solutions that are win-win instead of a win-lose. Hassett Logistics figured this out long before the Business Roundtable and it’s a key reason I joined their Advisory Board. Engaging with Hassett’s outstanding leadership team is a way for me to both contribute to their further growth and success and for me to learn about their unique methods for adding value for all their stakeholders.  

In our FreightWaves TV discussion, Michelle Halkerston said, “Trust is built in the small moments,” when she talked about the importance of doing the right things to build Hassett’s airline supplier relationships, give employees confidence in their job security during tough times, serving customers with innovative solutions when capacity is tight, and volunteering in the community. It’s a great example of effective stakeholder leadership when, even in these disruptive times, Hassett is successfully creating value for all the groups that engage with them. And so, I want to add to Michelle’s quote by saying, “Trust is built in the small moments…and pays off in the big moments.” A good stakeholder leader never expects their trust-building acts to pay off but they always do sooner or later.

We invite you to watch Heather and Michelle's full discussion, Leadership and Logistics in the “Next Normal”.

Watch the Full Discussion

Topics: The Hassett Way, Leadership Series

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