What is a Data Leader?

We talk often about being data driven and I don’t think there’s anyone who sincerely desires to completely ignore all data that comes their way, but I’ve come to learn there are some key defining characteristics of those who are able to effectively employ data in how they lead. These include:

  • Discerning fact from opinion. Some people see the two as equivalent, but a good data leader will be able figure out what’s based in fact and evidence rather than anecdote or belief.
  • Facilitating data-driven conversations. Being able to discern fact from opinion in their own minds, they are able to do the same for the organization they lead, cultivating a data-driven mindset by example.
  • Enabling the talents of others. Mike Flowers, NYC’s first Chief Analytics Officer, often talks about getting the smart people the data and support they need to apply their talents to a particular problem. Good data leaders aren’t the best data analysts, scientists, or engineers on their team. That is not their job. They bring smart people together with the data, technology, and time to solve the difficult problems, and then they get out of their way. That last part can be the hardest task of them all.
  • Seeking truth, not blame. It’s hard to pursue a fact-based approach if we’re afraid the facts will harm us. We lose the ability to not only see what’s broken but also what works, telling the story of the good with the bad. Good data leaders will recognize this and seek truth and facts as ends unto themselves. This doesn’t mean that they don’t hold people accountable, but that the accountability is shared by everyone, including the organization that empowers or constrains the ability to achieve.
  • Being able to articulate outcomes rather than just outputs. Data doesn’t speak for itself and not everything true is interesting. Being able to craft a story that is true and compelling for the organization is key. A good data leader keeps the team focused on the outcomes of the work, the overall goals and ultimate mission of the organization rather than on one particular output or deliverable.

This last point is what differentiates a leader from a manager. A manager gets tasks done, but a leader provides the vision that makes the tasks meaningful.

I’d love to know what you think about these points. I’m sure there are missing. Share your story about being a data leader and the key lessons you’ve learned. I look forward to hearing from you!

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2 thoughts on “What is a Data Leader?

  1. Pingback: Putting a Data Leader in their Place | Datapolitan

  2. Pingback: Leadership is About Influence | Datapolitan

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