5 Critical Factors Supply Chain Leaders Employ During Black Swan Events

5 Critical Factors Supply Chain Leaders Employ During Black Swan Events

As a leader, you’re often put in difficult situations. It comes with the territory and is part of the day-to-day responsibility. There are many different forms of leaders from “bosses” who have arguably poor overall leadership qualities to “servant leaders” who lead by serving. Regardless of the type of leader you are, there’s a single item that all leaders have in common: the responsibility of others. All leaders lead others.

Leadership, by definition, is the action of leading a group of people or an organization. To get even more granular, supply chain leadership is the action of leading a group of supply chain professionals or an organization’s supply chain. Supply chain leaders are responsible for their organizations’ supply chain and the people that work on the organization’s supply chain. Every supply chain around the world is battle tested each day by things like changes in demand, innovative technology shifts, supply shortages cost increases or decreases, supplier issues, standards and regulations, and force majeure. Successful supply chain leaders are ready for these issues and their entire job is mitigating the risk surrounding them.

What happens when supply chain leaders are faced with greater challenges than the ones mentioned above, ones that are rare and offer up uncertainty no one can predict (aka black swan events)? While no leader wants to face one of these unpredictable events, they’re something you need be prepared for. Of recent memory, notable black swan events include Black Monday of 1987, Internet Bubble of 2000, 9/11 and now, the coronavirus (COVID-19). Each black swan event has its own set of challenges; however, supply chain leaders can perform specific actions to mitigate risk and lead their team through these situations more methodically.

5 Critical Factors Supply Chain Leaders Employ During Black Swan Events

1. Communication

Communicate frequently and clearly. A good supply chain leader can do this concisely during a black swan event. To effectively and efficiently handle the challenges presented, you need to be able to navigate through the rough waters with communications to team members, colleagues, stakeholders or management, suppliers, family etc. Without clear communication, your team won’t have direction, which can lead to anxiety and carelessness. As a supply chain leader, ensure the proper messages are relayed to your team, customers and supply base. It goes a long way toward making sure you have as much control as possible during times of uncertainty.

2. Awareness

Supply chain leaders must be aware and intentional. This advice should always apply, but especially so during a black swan event. You need to know what you’re going up against and the surrounding factors. For example, with the coronavirus (COVID-19), supply chain leaders must be aware of who is affected and how, and the fallout from market crashes to supply chain disruption with items like masks and toilet paper. Be aware of the health and safety of family and team members and allow for remote work or virtual meetings; the morale of your team, customers and/or suppliers, and communicate, accordingly; your supply chain ecosystem and how it’s affected, from the raw material provider in China to the manufacturer in Mexico, to the distributor in New York, to the end user in Michigan.  

3. Empathy

Supply chain leaders must be empathetic in each situation. In this scenario, a black swan event, it’s likely that some of your team members or folks in your supply chain haven’t lived through an event like this. Be empathetic to each person on a case by case basis. Ensure that your “door is always open” to answer questions or listen to someone. An empathetic supply chain leader will further build trust and confidence in their team, customers and supply base.

4. Flexibility

Flexibility is key during a black swan event. Supply chain leaders need to have the ability to adapt and pivot to focus attention where it matters the most, whether that be forecasts or financials, content or marketing, sales or business development, or procurement or supplier development, etc. Good supply chain leaders also utilize flexible tactics that allow them to strive during this type of event. For example, outsourcing certain areas under the vast supply chain umbrella, like suppler development, could offer a project-based, variable cost model that allows for better cash flows and less overhead costs during volatile times.

5. Partnerships

Supply chain leaders must utilize partnerships during black swan events. They enable and contribute to flexibility and a sharper focus. These partnerships could include stakeholders, team members (salaried or outsourced), suppliers, managed service providers, etc. During rough times, organizations and people need to rely on each other to not only get through them mentally, but also physically and financially. Partnerships are critical for supply chain success during black swan events.


Black swan events are rare and unpredictable; however, they’re real. Coronavirus (COVID-19) is currently wreaking havoc and disrupting supply chains across the world. Although rare, supply chain leaders must take steps to prepare for these kinds of events accordingly. This preparation is a mix of traits and capabilities which include communication, awareness, empathy, flexibility and partnerships. No one wants to face a black swan event, but if we as supply chain leaders employ these five critical factors, our organizations will come out the other side of it ahead the competition and more even more prepared for future supply disruptions.