Perhaps no other industry is more dependent on dedicated employees, capital investment and tangible teamwork than the transportation sector. As a result, the logistics industry is blessed with a fleet of people-savvy leaders. And the best fleet leaders know how to navigate sharp turns and accelerate results.
Leadership in a just-in-time (JIT) supply chain often requires discretionary effort. The demands of orchestrating on-time global delivery can tax the imagination. Rapid change and complexity arrive daily with little or no advance notice.
Despite the elements, there are at least three reasons why these outstanding leaders emerge:
- Leaders in logistics understand the critical nature of a motivated workforce.
- Sharp leaders pro-actively re-engineer each mission-critical process.
- Logistics leaders think and act holistically.
Here at KeithMartino.com, we recently interviewed a dozen of the smartest and most agile leaders in logistics. Their comments provide clear visibility into their spirit and technique. For instance, leaders in logistics understand the critical nature of a motivated workforce.
Ray Ramu, chief customer officer at Saia LTL Freight said, “The mark of a leader is somebody who is in the thick of it, leading by example — they’re not just dictating. They demonstrate a vested interest in their employees’ well-being, both personally and professionally.”
He said inspirational communication is a two-way street. “Leaders inspire creativity. There are no bad ideas. Everything should be put on the table. If you feel like you can’t bring things to the table because you’re going to get shut down, we’re probably not communicating the way that we should be.”
Ramu’s forward-thinking approach shapes the way Saia builds its bench strength for the future and motivates its people. “If you have millennials reporting to you, you have to manage them as individuals and identify their motivations,” he said.
“Most young men and women coming up in business today are very intelligent with very good business degrees. Many of them have analytical attributes that are a necessity in today’s business environment. Good leaders learn to manage the individual, and great leaders recognize individuals for their talents. The industry is much different today compared to when I first got into the business. I know that I better learn to embrace the change or it might leave me behind.”
Yes, logistics is changing. Those leaders that value teamwork and continuously re-engineer mission critical processes ultimately drive meaningful change.
Eric Fuller, chief operating officer for U.S. Xpress, ensures his company is throttling full-speed ahead. To optimize performance, he inspects each sparkplug in the corporate engine.
“Many people coming into the industry may not realize the complexities that go into logistics. For instance, there are a hundred different touchpoints that determine whether a driver will stay or leave. Simultaneously, we also have to know how to manage and maintain our equipment. These factors determine our cost structure and impact whether we’re able to generate revenue and profitability.”
As a result, Fuller and his crew are constantly taking a fresh look at any chokepoints to ensure optimum velocity. “At times, we may even change our strategy based on the team we’re leading.” This, he said, is especially true when they re-evaluate new options to recruit from the diminishing supply of workers in low-profile, high-impact positions.
And the best leaders have an eye for hazards and removing roadblocks.
Hans Latta, general counsel at A. Duie Pyle, knows that the success of any process redesign is a direct result of the commitment of his people. Latta’s hands-on leadership style is shifting gears as A. Duie Pyle incorporates a new generation of leaders into the mix.
Re-engineering process often starts with a change in leadership expectations. Latta said, “I tend to be a problem solver. I like to dive right into any issue or problem,” Latta said.
For a long time, his default was to immediately try to ascertain the shortest distance between point A and point B. “But that’s not always the best course of action. I’d then drive along that straight line between A and B, which often doesn’t yield the best result.”
Latta continues, “I firmly believe that the best leaders are the most versatile leaders. They are individuals who can shift between being the strong, assertive leader and being a more subtle influencer.”
Re-engineering takes teamwork. Latta’s approach is a catalyst to change. “When you give someone ownership of an idea or process and hold them accountable, it can be surprisingly wonderful what they come up with.”
The best of the best think and react holistically.
Despite stock analysts’ fixation on large assets and lightning-fast technology, the folks at Estes Express get it. Logistics is still a people-intensive business. Want to see evidence of the linkage between employee attitude and corporate results?
Pat Martin, vice president of sales and strategic planning at Estes Express Lines said, “You have to be able to deal with tough situations and you have to address issues. You have to address performance.
“You have to be really careful as a leader with what you say and how you say it. Words are pretty strong. And saying the wrong few words can impact someone’s career and their life,” said Martin.
Ever wonder why the world of logistics is accelerating rapidly in the midst of economic uncertainty? It’s called leadership.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Martino is the founder of CMI, a global consultancy that customizes leadership and sales development initiatives. After more than 20 years and numerous awards at FedEx, Xerox and Baxter Healthcare, Martino’s team provides world-class counsel and proven web-based tools that produce consistent results. For more information, visit www.keithmartino.com.