Building leadership skills can be problematic if you don’t have a set of qualities to aspire to, both inside and outside your job. In my journey to becoming a data leader I've focused on three areas:
- Becoming a leader in general. Leadership is relevant regardless of industry, and includes the ability to balance strategy, execution, accountability, and empowerment. Setting my sights on these areas has helped me to be successful in every role I’ve held, and this one increasingly so, because data and analytics are more than just technology; they are drivers of a cultural change that requires leadership.
- Working as a translator. This means being able to translate business problems into data or analytics solutions. Because I used to do commercial operations for our last company’s Europe, Middle East, and Africa geography, I knew the pain points that our end users were experiencing and I could help my team translate what I experienced but also anticipate what might work in the future. The better you can translate problems as a leader, the more relevance you’ll have in your organization. You have to be able to paint a picture and bring somebody along the journey with you.
- Being a networker and communicator. I see myself as the chief marketer and salesperson for our data and analytics solutions. I get out there to not only talk about the things we’re doing, but connect the dots when other people are trying to solve similar problems we’ve seen before in other groups. By doing so, I'm generating more demand for our capabilities and better connecting solutions with problems.
Three Aha Moments
In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Thomas Kuhn asserts that science advances through small progressive steps, interrupted by breakthrough periods that change the game and pave the way for new directions. My data leadership journey also has been characterized by ‘aha’ moments that drove me forward. Here are three that really helped propel my career:
- Making accurate predictions during a pandemic. I’m sure many people have their own disruptive moments thanks to COVID. In my case, we had a captive audience among employees, everyone at home trying to make sense of the world around them because no one had lived through anything like it before. Naturally, the question we all wanted to answer was, “How bad is this going to be and for how long?” We started to do that using a lot of the instrument telemetry data we collect as a baseline and putting data science behind that to predict what the future of our business could be and what the drivers of that were. Presenting that to management really clarified what we knew what we could influence versus what we were held to by the market itself and showed me the value of taking advantage of an opportunity when it presented itself.
- Using information and insights to bring groups together. One of the key tools we launched in my last position over the past year was a Commercial 360 view of customers that included sales, services, marketing, and operations data in a single frame. That’s fantastic for any one group to have, but what opened my eyes was how effectively that single view drives better conversations across internal teams as they see their customers in new ways. We created a common language through which our teams are deciding how to interact with customers and how to be relevant in the next. Even better, we improved our cumulative data literacy by understanding the pain points of other teams.
- Giving the right people relevant insights at the right time. It’s not that difficult to create one-size-fits-all tools, just as it’s not necessary to create tools merely because you can. When we started to narrow down the data to a few use cases and say, "We're just going to push out on a weekly basis what we think is meaningful to you," the engagement level went up significantly. Not only were people better at absorbing our information, they could really do something with it. It was actionable rather than just interesting. That was a big aha moment for me because you really have to know our audience well to curate relevant insights for them that are also timely.
Nate Mayfield is Vice President, Applications Service Excellence, Strategy & Operations at Oracle. Previously, Nate served as Global Head of Commercial Data and Analytics at illumina. There he was involved in the expansion of the illumina Accelerator in the UK and building commercial data and analytics capabilities as a key driver of commercial success, customer impact, and competitive advantage. Previously, Nate served as the Lead of Commercial Operations, Strategy, and Inside Sales for illumina business in EMEA. He has also been involved in the expansion of the illumina Accelerator into the UK, helping advise early-stage genomics companies with their commercialization and go-to-market strategy development. Prior to illumina, Nate spent 10 years at Cisco Systems, and served for 5 years in the US Military.