Leadership demands empathy, agility and resilience

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Staffing, supply chain and consumer engagement are among the challenges the industry’s leaders face heading into the new year.

If 2021 has been an unprecedented year, I have to wonder what 2022 will hold. My position provides a view into the C-suites of many of the leading companies in the dietary supplement and functional food industry, and I have seen the leadership and innovation they exhibit.

Their leadership has kept production lines running while transforming these companies to excel in the new reality. The pandemic has not just accelerated change that was already in progress, but also has redirected it with new possibilities.

So what leadership traits will be necessary to confront 2022? CRN will examine this question on December 7 in a new webinar with our Informa partner, but here are a few observations.

Attracting staff

Labor and staffing shortages are likely to continue into the new year. We are witnessing a mass reevaluation of careers that is creating staffing issues from the production line to the corner offices. How can leaders attract and retain their best talent?

Empathy is a leadership quality we don’t talk enough about, but it will be critical to managing staff going forward. It’s the ability to appreciate what motivates people to want to work for your company. While salaries and benefits are important, the new workforce believes what a company stands for is just as critical. Embodying the company’s core values and mission, and being able to communicate those values to staff, will be expected at least as much as making money for your shareholders.

The new workforce will demand ingenuity and creativity from their bosses. They will expect new benefits such as tuition assistance, flexible work schedules and time off for family obligations. Today’s leaders value their employees and demonstrate with incentives that reward their loyalty and adapt to their lifestyles and expectations.

Supply chain challenges

The supply chain challenges that have stymied so many industries, including ours, are not likely to vanish right away either. Today’s leaders are finding new sourcing channels and creative transportation options while exhibiting an unwavering commitment to the quality of the finished products.

The leaders I speak with are both agile and resilient. They adapt quickly while preserving the core of their brands. The days of “just-in-time delivery” are being replaced with reliance upon multiple suppliers for the same ingredient, double ordering to prevent production interruptions, and creating new shipping alternatives to guard against “out of stocks” for their valued customers. Today’s leaders are balancing longtime supplier relationships with finding new vendors to maintain commitments to retailers. They communicate honestly and with empathy to understand both their suppliers’ ability to deliver and their customers’ expectations.

Anticipating consumer demand

Supplement industry leaders are also listening to consumers and accelerating their innovation pipelines despite production challenges. They know this industry can’t rest on the spike in supplement sales during the past two years. Continued growth will have to be created rather than assumed.

Innovative companies are always watching market trends and engaging with consumers. Their product development and marketing teams are empathically listening and responding to those desires. First, and always, consumers want assurances of quality, so today’s leaders are uncompromising on that value. Consumers, just like employees, want to know the brands they engage with stand for values beyond their profits, and it’s particularly true for products consumers depend on for their health. Does your company contribute to wellness for the planet? How are you communicating that to consumers?

Leaders also exhibit innovation and ingenuity balanced with carefully orchestrated risk. A continuous conversation with consumers generates insights and hones in on what they want, so innovation is less risky. Leaders engage with their customers to develop products that respond to those expectations with new delivery forms, well-researched ingredients that deliver on their claims, and personalized products that treat each consumer as an individual. Once again, empathic engagement is key, balanced with the agility to pivot to alternative production requirements and creative product offerings.

The answers to next year’s problems will be different than those in 2021 because the questions will change. But the leadership traits of agility, resilience and empathy won’t. Cultivating these characteristics are good places to start.

CRN’s webinar, “Leadership Challenges for 2022” takes place on Tuesday, December 7th at 2:00 p.m. EST. Visit the webinar registration page to reserve your spot to attend.

Steve Mister is president and CEO for the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN).

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