Leading and Learning

March 7, 2013

Your business often hinges on the people who are not directly part of your organization. Vendors, consultants, and partners are, in many ways, as much a part of your organization as the people on your payroll. This puts you in a leadership position with them, much like your own staff team.

These secondary organizations have their own internal missions, and they see you as a customer, not necessarily as a member of your organization. No matter how helpful UPS is to your distribution, your business will always be one of many customers looking for shipping solutions. The key is to find a way to engage your partners, consultants and vendors as part of your organization.

Your success means their success

And you know better than they do how your organization will be able to succeed.


Taking charge in this context is fundamentally a matter of teaching your partners what the relationship means. Part of teaching is developing and engaging a shared language. Don’t be afraid to carefully impose your system. On the flip side, don’t be afraid to have your system challenged and refined and learn something new and better from your consultant. After all, if you knew everything, you wouldn’t need to hire them, right? In these ways, you will both influence them and be influenced by them.

The heart of an influencer is the heart of a leader

Taking the heart of an influencer—someone who wants to find the best way to make good things happen—allows you to teach them and use your system. If you can teach your vendor how your system works, you can plug them in more efficiently.

You’re a leader. You lead within your own organization; if you consider your vendors, consultants, and partners to be an extension of your organization, then you will lead them, too. Not only will you enhance the working relationship, adding value to their business, but you could develop their organizations as well. If they find themselves wiser for having collaborated with you, they’ll be likely to come back and vice versa. Not only that, but you’ll be doing yourself a favor: you’ll gain notoriety as an expert leader in your industry.

Teacher and student, leader and learner

Taking the heart of an influencer or teacher means, of course, you must be teachable first. While you may have the ability to dictate your organizational design, you usually don’t have control of the supply chain. The players in the chain have learned a thing or two about their roles, and if they’ve managed to become successful, it’s because they have evolved into efficiency. You may be able to learn from their success as it pertains to your operations.

Think critically about these relationships with external providers. Carefully navigate your way through leading and learning from these partners, influencing and being influenced by them.

You will both be better off for it.

What can you learn from your partners? How are you helping each other to grow more productive?