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7 MORE Questions on Leadership with Nuno Afonso

Name: Nuno Afonso

Title: Sales Manager

Organisation: Portocargo, S.A.

Hello, my name is Nuno Afonso and I'm the Sales Manager of Portocargo, S.A. I'm 44 years old and I've been with Portocargo for almost 19 years.

Portocargo is a supply chain company that is currently part of a franchise group named BBL.

I have a degree in Marketing Management and have been working in this business area since I finished university in 2003.

Since 2003 I've been working constantly and focused on the supply chain industry, an activity that is so important to our day-to-day lives. Working in this business has allowed me to get to know the world, even from Portugal, where I contact people from different parts of the globe with different needs and visions from my own, but where it is always possible to bridge the gap between different cultures and where the goal is always the same: to maximize the customer's expectations!

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

We’ve gone through the interviews and asked the best of the best to come back and answer 7 MORE Questions on Leadership.

I hope Nuno's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. As a leader, how do you build trust with employees, customers and other stakeholders?

To build trust with our coworkers, stakeholders, and customers, we have to be as transparent as possible. It's often said that "secrecy is the lifeblood of the business" and it can be, but without jeopardizing the ethics we should have towards the company we work for and the clients we want to establish long-term partnerships with.

Companies' internal policies must be accepted and internalized by everyone who works for them. As we say in Portugal, we have to "wear the jersey" like a team. Today's organizations have a greater social responsibility than they ever had in the past because the evolution we have seen over the last few years forces us in companies to be more careful with the colleagues who work alongside us. As we have seen an increase in the number of cases of burnout in society, a company must take care of its employees with the conditions they need to maintain their well-being within the company and give them the chance to have a correct and healthy balance between work and family life. If we analyze it carefully, we will conclude that nowadays we spend more of our day-to-day life in our companies than with our families.

If we guarantee a good working environment, employees will be fully integrated into the goals, vision, and mission of our companies.

If we can be fair to our employees in terms of evaluation, then we will also be fair in salaries and bonuses. The best tool we have in our companies is people. Our co-workers! They are the ones who will defend the company daily. It is the employees who will keep customers working with us continuously. And if we are fair to our employees, we will be in a win-win relationship in which the company and the employee win!

On the other hand, when it comes to customers, we must be sincere and transparent. Our clients are advanced companies that have capable and trained people on their staff who expect the best solutions for their needs from us. What I usually say to a new client is that in the same way that I give them the good news, I will also give them the bad news. We shouldn't hide ourselves behind a co-worker when things don't go as the client expected. When we face bad things, we are sincere in our relationship with the customer and they will certainly understand that we did everything to fulfill their expectations about a service or product that we are selling.

With clients, we need to be available when they need us, they must be sure that they have someone who will be there for whatever they need when they need it. We know that there are only 24 hours in a day and in those 24 hours we have to include our rest, but we have a commitment to the client and if we want them as a partner, then we will often have to be available after hours or on special occasions. When we do this, more than just a customer, we will have a partner.

2. What do 'VISION' and 'MISSION' mean to you? And what does it actually look like to use them in real-world business?

The vision and mission of a company are what will be the basis of its actions toward customers and shareholders. A company's vision and mission, as long as it is done well in a transparent, sincere, and ethical way, will be the basis of its company culture.

If we can get our employees to internalize the company's vision and mission, a customer may speak to different people, but the message or response will always be the same.

It is the commitment we have to the company that will make it a strong company among the internal and external public. The mission and vision of a company is something that should never be neglected as it is on these bases that will keep the company as a reference company regardless of the market moment it may be in.

It is on the vision and mission that the company will emerge from a less good year and it will be on the vision and mission that everything will be based on achieving its goals. It is something that must be shared by everyone who works there.

I once had a client who had a meeting with me about a certain problem we had at the time and I explained to the client my perspective on that same problem. A few days later, that same client had a meeting with me together with my CFO and my CFO explained to the client the same perspective that I had already shared before the client said that it had been incredible how my colleague and I had presented it the same perspective on the problem and this without us having talked before. The client was sure at that moment that he was indeed dealing with a unique and special company that would guarantee him the best options for every need he may have.

3. How can a leader empower the people they're leading?

We can empower our employees if we are fair in the assessments we make with them. If we can convey our confidence to them, assuring them that they have the autonomy to make mistakes, they will feel empowered.

Yes, making mistakes is part of learning. If we know how to accept that one of our collaborators makes a mistake without condemning him for it, he will be more confident to carry out a task that is delegated to him.

We used to say that with a co-worker we must claim in private and praise in public.

Knowing how to delegate is also important. It is important that when we delegate a task to a co-worker he knows how to do it. Many company CEOs only delegate what they are not interested in doing and a co-worker feels this. An employee feels when he is delegated a task that no one else wants to do. You need to know how to balance task responsibilities.

It has happened to me when solving a problem for a client and preferring the good news to be given by a colleague other than me. By doing this we are giving our colleagues more confidence so that they are seen by the customer as someone who also has know-how and can solve their problem.

As I have said many times, the most important asset in companies is people. The people we have in our organizations are crucial to achieving success.

4. Who are some of the coaches or mentors in your life who have had a positive influence on your leadership? Can you please tell a meaningful story about one of them?

I am fortunate to have had some leaders in my professional career who inspired me to be better.

At the beginning of my career, I had a CEO called Vitor Sanches. Vitor Sanches was someone whose mentality was beyond the technical aspects of work. At the time we worked for a logistics company called Pinto Basto and this CEO of mine did not have all the technical operational knowledge of the supply chain business, but he made up for that with an enormous ability to manage people. To know how to get the best out of them. Vitor Sanches was able to give their people the confidence so that they could overcome themselves, even in situations for which he had little experience. He was and is a charismatic person, a person who was praised in public and criticized in private. And when we have such a hierarchical superior, it gives us the confidence and security necessary to be successful professionally.

Currently, I have a CEO at Portocargo with different, but equally special, characteristics. Mário de Sousa is a person with incredible know-how in logistics. He is a person who has worked in the industry for more than 40 years and with the situations he has had in his hands and how he knew how to deal with them, he gives us the knowledge so that in similar situations, we can deal with them efficiently and correctly. Mário de Sousa is a person who transmits exigency to me and that makes me a better professional every day. Without this daily requirement, we would not be able to exceed the expectations that a customer has for us.

So, I try to get the best from each of the two names I mentioned so that, by example, I can lead my team.

5. Leadership is often more about what you DON'T do. How do you maintain focus in your role?

Well, I agree with the sentence above. In fact, as a leader, we have to be sure that we are an example for our people, and for our co-workers.

As leaders, we must keep in mind that when being an example to other colleagues, we must be able to prescind our preconceived ideas. We need to have an open mind to know how to deal with heterogeneous people.

In a conversation many years ago with a director, we talked about the need to have people with certain characteristics in the sales team and he, with the experience he had in managing teams, told me that even if we don't share the same beliefs and opinions as a member of our team, we must understand that for the good of a group, we need to have people with different personalities and thus we would have a heterogeneous team with multitasked capabilities.

The secret is knowing how to lead these very different people towards a common goal. Take for example a football or rugby team where we have so many different personalities, but within the field, everyone wears the same shirt and everyone fights for victory together. In companies, it works the same way, as leaders we have to be good drivers of people. We have to know how to get the best out of each person and manage in such a way that each person, with their personality, understands that the sum of the parts will be stronger than any individuality.

6. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Everyone plans differently. How do you plan for the week, month and years ahead in your role?

A long time ago I read somewhere that we should plan while it's easy and do what's big when it's still small.

Planning must be present in our daily lives.

Nowadays, with so many things happening at all times, it is difficult to make long-term plans. We have armed conflicts taking place in various parts of the world. Recently, the world was plunged into a pandemic that seemed endless. However, if we keep our goals in mind, then we will be able to know where we want to be in the short, medium, or long term. We should never forget our goals, personal or professional.

The ideal will be to stay focused without getting distracted from the route. Imagine a path that is traced on a GPS, if you notice, along the way, if we make a mistake or if there are difficulties along the way, the GPS gives us an alternative and keeps the final destination as the objective. We need to have our GPS turned on constantly. We know where we want to go and if we have to deviate at some point, we keep the destination as the final objective.

In the company where I work, we have group and individual goals that are set for 1 year. To reach success at the end of the year, we have to draw up small plans and actions that guide us along the way throughout the year. Meaning, that within the long-term plan, I draw up short and medium-term plans.

If there are changes midway, I adjust the short and medium-term plans, but maintaining focus on the long-term objective of the plan.

7. What advice would you give to a young leader who is struggling to delegate effectively?

Sun Tzu in The Art of War said that a great leader has the following 5 characteristics:

Perspicacity: Perspicacity allows you to identify changes to make quick and bold decisions;

Audacity: Leaders need to be bold to see the opportunities that arise with determination and without hesitation.

Humanity: A good leader must sympathize with the teams they lead, recognize their qualities, and appreciate their sacrifices.

Honesty: Leaders must be honest so that their colleagues can trust their word.

Rigor. Leaders must be extremely rigorous, demanding, and courageous so that their employees always remain disciplined and follow their example.

Leaders should understand their strengths and weaknesses as well. They continually reinforce their knowledge They have positive relationships with their teams, ensuring motivated and supportive teams.

More than being a boss, be a leader to inspire your team.

Empower your team effectively.

Lead by example!

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