No one will argue against the statement “data is important”. The proper use of data can make you and your organization very successful. Being aware of the areas that need to be improved and the areas that your customers love is a good thing. If you ignore the signal in your data, you risk seeing your operations and your products wither away before your eyes.
Data can be your ally and it is now widely recognized as the most important asset that any organization, public or private, possesses. However, we need more leaders with the ability to shepherd the good and virtuous process of executing on a data mission.
So, how do you become a Data Leader?
When I say Data Leader, I am not referring to having the title of Chief Data Officer, Chief Data Scientist, Chief Data Evangelist, Chief Data Strategist, etc. I am talking about cultivating and developing the traits that enable you to function in that capacity for your team.
As someone who had the honor of being amongst the first wave of Chief Data executives in the Federal government, and who achieved success in the role, I want to share the lessons learned that will get you on the path to being a Data Leader.
Current expectations are that a Chief Data Executive should be a technologist, a developer (scoping, implementing, and transitioning data products and services), a steward (for improving data quality), an evangelist (for data sharing and novel data business model generation), and a strategic visionary (for the organization’s data assets).
It is impossible for a single person to be all these things and accomplish them all in a standard work week. Thus, it becomes critically important that as a leader you are excellent at “managing by influence” . This means that you have developed relationships, where you can guide and work with other teams to execute on a common data mission - even though some team members do not report to you.
Influence is the cornerstone of the collaborations that are necessary to achieve escape velocity, i.e. the rapid stream of quick wins needed to build excitement and buy-in, and then to have long-term success and sustain it.
Building alliances is key to successful executing on your data mission. Generally, you cannot do it alone and your team cannot do it alone. You have to develop connections with the other parties that play a part in the mission’s execution.
In order for these alliances to be meaningful, your colleagues must have trust in you with regards to your word, and with regards to your moral compass and values. A Data Leader whose actions and or words are not grounded in integrity and cannot be relied upon will have a hard time achieving and maintaining the relationships necessary for any sort of success.
It is time to start demonstrating those values and building your reputation.
In this context, competence refers to “having sufficient skill, knowledge, and experience to perform the job”, i.e. being properly qualified. The common set of skills that are required to be a Data Leader include knowledge of the business and mission, knowledge of computer science, data science, or both, and knowledge of product definition and delivery. A competent Data Leader is a rare mix of technical guru, businessperson, marketer, and adept executive — someone able to communicate in all spheres and that can easily translate between each.
For some, it may be time to adjust your personal learning plans to include a few competence requirements for Data Leadership.
Even though many speak of the rise of the Chief Data Officer and the new damn of the suite of Chief Data Executives, many organizations and employees are still struggling to understand what these Chief Data Executives do, where they fit into the organization, what their essential skills should be, what these executives are responsible for, who they should report into, and how to measure their impact. I am confident that this will get sorted in due time.
However, the untapped and unrecognized gem in this entire scenario is the realization that these Chief Data Executives are harbingers of what is the come - a future where every team has at least one Data Leader who is performing the duties of a Chief Data Executive at the local level.