MDM Podcast: Cracking the Leadership Code - Modern Distribution Management

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MDM Podcast: Cracking the Leadership Code

Leadership has been a critical differentiator for how well a distribution firm has performed over the past three years of disruption. Leadership consultant, coach and author Alain Hunkins discusses the transition from old- to new-school leadership, employee-customer experience, and how to build an energized work culture.
MDM Podcast Cracking the Leadership Code (wutzkoh via Canva)

Many high performers are promoted into leadership roles because they are “excellent doers,” explains leadership consultant, coach and author Alain Hunkins in our latest MDM Podcast episode. But most of the time, the mindset and the skills that make someone a good salesperson or a good project manager have little to do with what makes the same people good leaders. 

Alain Hunkins

The leadership models the wholesale distribution industry often clings to are models from the 1970s-1990s, Hunkins said. But the “followers” of today are all in a very different position than they were 10 to 15 years ago, and so they need a very different kind of leadership. 

While some people and businesses are intuitively making the necessary shifts to lead effectively in 2024, some still struggle to let go of an inherited leadership legacy. 

These days, the old-school way of command-and-control leadership take took hold in the industrial age won’t get you anywhere beyond bare minimum compliance, Hunkins told MDM CEO Tom Gale in the podcast conversation. 

The new-school way of leadership requires innovation, and the ability to be flexible and nimble, he added. More than ever before, employees want autonomy and control over their experiences, so leadership models need to adapt and shift. 

Three Dimensions of a Great Distribution Leader

Hunkins, who has worked with over 4,000 groups in 28 countries, breaks down effective leadership into three dimensions: connection, communication and collaboration. 

All these dimensions built an environment and culture with increased productivity and buy-in from employees. And, he said, it’s all intentional. 

“Great leaders create culture intentionally and by design, poor leaders are creating cultures accidentally, by default,” Hunkins said. 

1. Connection

Distribution (and any other industry) is a human business at its core, explained Hunkins. 

“It’s very easy for us in the business world to get romantically involved with our numbers, right?” he said. “We love our metrics, we love our projections and our forecast, and hitting those numbers and our targets. But let’s recognize and call it what it is. The fact is all the things that you measure at work, all those metrics, are only lagging indicators of the behaviors of a person. Some person has done something somewhere to create that metric.”

Rather than focus on the numbers, prioritize the people who deliver those numbers, Hunkins added: “We want to create environments where people can do their best work, and that only comes if they feel that there’s a sense of connection.”

2. Communication

Hunkins often tells leaders that the default setting for human communication is misunderstanding. The goal of communication should be to create accurate understanding. 

“The reason that’s so important is because understanding for better or worse is the platform on which we make all decisions,” he said. “If we have a solid, strong foundation of understanding, we’re going to make good decisions. If it’s wobbly, we’re not going to make as good decisions,  and you’ll yield the fruit accordingly.” 

3. Collaboration

Leaders have the responsibility to a collaborative environment where people can show up and be their best selves. Hunkins believes there are four pivotal needs of employees that leaders should help meet to get the best results. They are: 

  1. Safety: “People have to feel physically safe, as well as psychologically safe.”
  2. Energy: Certain work environments energize people, while other work environments drain people’s energy. Which work environment do you have? 
  3. Ownership: Create autonomy and the space for people to bring their creative selves to work.
  4. Purpose: People need to feel that what they do makes a difference and matters. “When you have a sense of purpose to anything you do, you bring more of yourself, and you’re more effective at it.” 

Listen to the full conversation via the audio player above to dive into:

  • the expectations employees have of their leaders, 
  • the essential dimension of leadership that businesses struggle to adopt, 
  • why empathy is the key to effective leadership, and;
  • the three check-in questions every leader should ask their employees. 

Find this episode and a full library of our other episodes on MDM’s podcast webpage.

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