Since data is not yet well recognized as an organizational department in many corporations, it requires effort and energy from all leaders to really achieve the goal of becoming data driven.

This means we need to sometimes enlist data leaders from all over the org.  There are few definitive ways to identify a data leader. Here are the most important attributes I’ve seen in successful data leaders, and ones I’ve tried to model throughout my career:

  1. Data Leaders can define the vision and the strategy for their organization. This means they can define the ideal end state the organization is trying to achieve when it comes to data, as well as the road or strategy to get there. They also can prepare their organization for what that looks like and what lies ahead. 
  2. Data Leaders can balance getting the work done with inspiring their teams. The ideal combination of skills in a data leader means they can push their teams to create to the best of their abilities while meeting every deadline.
  3. Data Leaders can build organizational trust. When a data leader is able to not only define a big win but also realize one, they can leverage that opportunity and position themselves as  a voice of influence. And the more they can do that, the more they clear the path to actually do more with data. 
  4. Data Leaders can retain happy data people. The data scientist has a 12- to 18-month lifespan at their current company before they move to their next one. It's probably one of the sexiest jobs in the world right now because everybody wants a data analyst or a data scientist. The challenge for a data leader is, "How do I create a situation and an environment where my folks aren’t tempted to go elsewhere because they're getting their needs met?” That means defining growth paths, enabling meaningful learning, and defining interesting projects.
  5. Data Leaders can educate and drive the broader organization forward. Change management is a major part of data leadership. Honestly, 50 to 60 percent of what a great data leader does is about educating their organization and shepherding change. 
  6. Data Leaders can generate desire for data services. You can’t blame people for saying “I don’t know if I want to invest in an analyst” if you haven’t given them a taste of what you can do. In addition to advocacy, a good leader will create “free samples” of data that build interest in different departments. 
  7. Data Leaders become essential. Marketers talk about marketing always being the first function on the chopping block when there are cutbacks, but the same is true of a data function that hasn’t proved its value. I’ve seen situations where a data leader can make their organization part of the company core just by showing off a dashboard or a cluster analysis and opening someone’s eyes, especially when they hear how fast you can do it. I used this strategy to grow a data department from just me to 15 people (and ten more open reqs). Prove your value every day and you will become invaluable. 

Ultimately, data leadership is largely about creating understanding and excitement for the power of data. Because when people understand what you do, they know how to use you. They know where you need to be. They realize that data is an indispensable asset, and you are the ticket to that asset.