5 steps to becoming a data-driven leader

5 steps to becoming a data-driven leader

As a flood of big data and analysis tools rushes toward them, leaders are frozen – defaulting back to flying by the seat of their pants. Take these concrete steps to change your ways

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3. Constantly generate strategic questions you want data to answer

When we looked at what makes for great leadership in the digital age, curiosity was identified as a mission-critical trait. In the realm of data, curiosity indeed serves as a powerful tool.

Leaders who actively frame strategic questions to be answered by data – as opposed to passively taking in whatever analysis is offered to them – consistently make more thoughtful data-driven decisions. Using strategy as a guiding light, and pushing data exploration rather than regurgitation, they are leading with data ... rather than letting data lead them. (Don’t be the leader from the joke that opens this blog, which was sourced here.)

4. Build strong relationships with data scientists and other providers of data-driven insight

There’s a bit of what could be called a “pizza myth” around data in organizations – the notion that data can just be delivered to a leader’s door, ready for consumption.

Effective data-driven leaders get into the kitchen, so to speak – they forge true connections with the data scientists and other folks who drive the organization’s analytical journey. By better understanding what’s possible – and the logic and limitations driving data-driven explorations in their particular organization – they help generate better information, and then use it better, in turn.

5. Create a forum where data is discussed and debated by a diverse array of voices

The dangers of a lack of diverse thought when data is generated and analyzed have been well documented. Limited samples – and algorithms framed by homogeneous (and accordingly mono-thematic) populations – generate often alarmingly bad results.

But the onus for diverse thought should not just fall onto data production and analysis – users of data need to make sure people representing varied and even conflicting viewpoints receive and react to the data, as well.

Data patterns that may seem opaque to one group may tell a compelling story to another group with a different frame of reference. (For instance, it might be obvious to parents of small children that a surge in sales of sunflower butter correlates to increasing nut bans in schools – context that childless  20-somethings might well lack.)

The above five steps represent a strong, concrete start toward becoming a better data-driven leader. Leaders who understand their own thinking, the data they’re looking at, the questions they’re trying to answer, the folks providing the data, and ultimately the right group to help them make sense of that data are at a tremendous advantage to their peers who operate by instinct alone.

Editor's note:  A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn, "5 steps toward data-driven leadership."

[ Get answers to common digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: What is digital transformation? A cheat sheet. ]

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