This notion of the “Data Leader” is an interesting proposition no matter how you slice it. Clearly by definition, we are referring to the person responsible for providing task, purpose, motivation and direction to all of those who eat, sleep, and breathe data management, information governance and anything else loosely associated with the governance of all the stuff we collect along our enterprise highways. What makes this particular leader any different than a leader in finance, or medicine, dog catching, or even the military?
The short answer is nothing. There isn’t a shred of difference between the principles and values of any of the people who stand in front in any of these seemingly disparate professions.
There are, however, certain leadership talents that are used more frequently in one versus the other. There are physical requirements, technical requirements and a litany of others, which I will leave to you to surmise when stuck in traffic at rush hour. So while there certainly are norms, which vary between professions, I think there are several specific qualities that successful leaders in Data must master.
As I have traveled the country within the data community I have seen some incredibly gifted leaders. So much so that selfishly I have muttered to no one in particular “they missed their calling.” By that, I would have loved to serve under them during my military career. What do these men and women have in common? I call it, the three and a half lessons learned from Data Leaders. Here they are:
Successful data leaders are creative. Not necessarily the artsy creative, but they gracefully think a little differently than the rank and file. These leaders know that the right angle structured foundations from which they grew are important. But they live today with very wide boundaries. They are flexible and they don’t limit themselves to conventional thought. They can easily jump back and forth between conventional and creative.
This would seem to be the kryptonite to #1 however; it has nothing to do with being creative or not. It has everything to do with their ability to know when we need metrics and measures, timelines and milestones to support the execution. They easily task, organize and map success for their teams. They pitch process like a 98 mph fastball. It’s pretty remarkable when you see it done well.
We all like to think that we are “strategic thinkers.” But, honestly, most of us miss the mark. Maybe you are related to the Oracle of Delphi, but I am not. Having worked for several name brand leaders who live up in this apex of the leadership ozone, I do know it when I see it. In the Data Leadership world, the great ones have that gift to see impact on their own products, their clients’ products, their own people and their client’s people simultaneously. They have almost supernatural 4D optics. Most of us are 2D at best. They see immediate threat from one eye and 1000m from the other. They see a rounds impact before the trigger is squeezed.
And the half credit has to be a really fun personality. There is no doubt about it; working in and around data can be a little less than sexy, generally boring and not a lot of fun. In fact, the potential for really awkward exchanges about the specifics of this industry is alarmingly high. The greats make it fun. Period. They have fantastic personalities and they enjoy bringing energy and excitement to the teams. Not everyone can do this. They don’t do stand up but they just make me enjoy being around them.
We live in a world that has walls. Sorry, wrong movie. We work in an industry that is incredibly complex and requires impeccable technical expertise from our teams. If you are working on your leadership skills these four traits are great starts.
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