Developing Data Leadership

2 min read In progress
Image by Oliver Thomas Edwards

Ever felt like the realm of data and digitisation exist solely within the confines of technical expertise? Think again. Let’s explore data leadership through a contrarian anecdote derived from one of my journeys across India.

Picture this: you’re standing atop a massive stone wall, surveying an overgrown temple courtyard in southern India. In the center, a chalk paint mixing area bustles with activity as temple workers engage in the seemingly mundane task of blending mineral colors. Amidst their work, something extraordinary unfolds. Take note of the well-worn paths emerging throughout the overgrowth.

These desire lines, carved into the landscape through the simple act of mixing paint, serve as an unconventional metaphor for leadership in the data realm. Similar to the workers creating paths through the wilderness, effective data leadership entails forging clear and purposeful pathways through the complexities of information.

Comprehending these desire lines as data goes beyond technical proficiency; it demands a different set of skills—a fusion of curiosity and communication. The chalk mixing facility, initially perceived as an isolated technical space, unveils its significance when viewed through the lens of intent. Likewise, in the world of data, grasping its nuances and extracting value necessitates more than mere technical expertise.

In the early stages of my career, I was convinced that my lack of technical aptitude hindered my ability to engage directly with data analysis and statistical modeling. Some people even told this to my face. As a junior with an architectural background this perspective was all too easy to adopt.

Luckily, as I progressed into more seasoned roles, I came to the realisation that data needed to be more business-focused, and the technical side was given undue importance. Data leadership isn’t solely about mastering technical intricacies; it’s about recognising that data is inherently intertwined with the business landscape, with technical components playing a supporting role.

To step into the realm of data leadership, one must refine the non-technical skill sets that truly drive success:

  1. Communication skills: Effectively articulating insights gleaned from data bridges the gap between technical complexities and business understanding.

  2. Business acumen and understanding: At its core, data is a business discipline. Effective leadership requires an understanding of the intricacies of the business landscape and alignment of data initiatives with overarching objectives.

  3. Ability to demonstrate value and insight via data: Leadership involves showcasing tangible value and insights derived from data efforts, not just collecting and analyzing data.

Organizations that promote data leaders solely based on technical aptitude with little regard for these core skills raise a giant red flag. While focusing solely on technical skills may elevate data initiatives, without a foundation in communication, business understanding, and the ability to extract meaningful insights, the journey toward data maturity will be significantly impeded.

In a landscape dominated by a technology-first mindset, extracting real value from data becomes a formidable challenge. Without clear alignment with business objectives, any data initiative is at risk of faltering—much like the fate of a data leader lacking essential non-technical skills.

So, as you navigate the terrain of data leadership, remember: the desire lines may be etched by the technical, but their true value lies in the artful blend of curiosity and communication shaping the landscape of success.