Do you have what it takes to be a Data (and Analytics) Leader?*

October 26, 2015 — Leave a comment

In advance of my presentation at the Data Leadership 2015 Conference in London (November 26th) entitled: “Profiles in Data Leadership”, I thought that I would set the tone by asking a fundamental question; Do you have what it (really) takes to be a Data & Analytics Leader? I hope you enjoy it.

It seems that everyone today aspires to be a Leader in whatever activity or organization that they are involved in, no matter their background, capabilities or experience.  Many endeavor to pursue the Mantle of Leadership by engaging in “soft activities” such as writing articles & blogs, social media participation, conference presentations, etc., to demonstrate their abilities & potential, but few are successful it seems. Conventional wisdom says that being promoted to Manager is a pathway to Leadership as well. I disagree with all of these approaches.

Over the course of my career I have come to this belief; Leadership is Earned, not Learned! You can educate anyone on the principles of Leadership, but that does not make them a Leader. Leadership only comes from experience, character, fortitude under fire and other key behavioral/cognitive attributes. Given all this, it brings me to the title of my column this month: “Do you have what it takes to be a Data Leader?”

Recently, Information Age announced its selections for the “Data 50”, a group of data leaders & influencers in the UK. The “50” were chosen from a group of nominated candidates submitted this past Summer (2015). The Data 50 represent an interesting cross-section of data folks in the UK from all sectors and I am familiar with a number of them.  Independent of the Data 50, I have been writing over the course of this “Year of Data Leadership (2015)” about the 8 CEOs whom I have chosen for my series; “Profiles in Data Leadership”. Not surprisingly, there is no overlap between these two groups as they do represent completely different ends of the what I refer to as the Data Leadership spectrum. Let me explain why.

At one end we have the notion of what I call “The Data Leadership Nexus”, a strategic framework for becoming a Predictive Enterprise. Central to this concept is the role of Top-down Leadership by the CEO & Board in guiding the successful exploitation of Data & Analytics by everyone across their Organization in order to make it pervasive and ultimately to create sustainable sources of Competitive Advantage. The Nexus presumes that you have a highly functioning Leadership structure in place already, which is fully accountable for strategic, tactical & operational performance in the classic sense, but has also undergone a transformation over time to be highly competent in areas of data & analytics. This Data Leadership Nexus is Transformational in approach and encompasses Executive Leadership, Core Strategy, Organizational Culture & Technology to achieve its desired outcomes.

At the other end of the Data Leadership spectrum, we have the traditional technology-focused Data Management activity within the IT Organization. Leadership here drives functional responsibilities and is focused on how to best deliver data & analytics as a service to Users and Executives. This is a very critical role in every organization and today and is often referred to as that of the Chief Data Officer. In many of these same Organizations this role may also be responsible for Data Governance activities as well as liaison with Business Units to establish SLA’s, Functional Requirements, etc. The emphasis for this role is to provide technology services & expertise in support of the Organization’s Objectives (strategic, tactical & operational).

In order for any Organization to be successful in its quest to become a Predictive Enterprise, the entire Data Leadership spectrum (both ends, much less the middle) must have inherently strong leaders in all roles that intersect with data, analytics & information governance. Whether top-down, bottom-up or middle-out in respect to the location of these roles or their span of responsibilities, every Data Leader must work from a position of strength & experience in respect to knowledge, acumen & abilities. This is a much deeper set of requirements that almost all other managerial or executive positions.

If you want to become a Data Leader (or a better one if you already are) my advice is as follows; You must be a true leader at your core, one who understands not just the technology, but the why & how of making it a core competency for your Organization in its pursuit of strategic excellence. You must be fully accountable for those who work within your span of responsibilities and lead from the heart. Finally, you must steel yourself each and every day to more worthy and capable of the challenge you have been tasked with. In the end, Leadership is not for everyone, especially those who want the spotlight on themselves constantly.

*This posting in an edited version appears as an article in the November 2015 issue of Information Age (www.information-age.com)

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