It is not possible to lead strategically by our definition without leading with information. That may mean that we have to collect, process and analyze a lot of data as part of our leadership. However, it may also mean that our role as leadership coaches is to ask questions that cause the team members to do the collecting, processing and analysis. In this case, our role is to ensure that the team has done this work, not necessarily to deal with the numbers ourselves.
Possible questions that we can ask to ensure that our teams are using information to lead strategically:
- What is your goal in numerical terms? Where are you now in those terms?
- What rate of progress are you making to date towards your goal?
- Are you on track to meet your goal given where you are now, and the rate of progress that you are making to date?
- What are the different alternative routes to reach your goal, and how does the rate of progress towards the goal differ for each of those alternatives?
- Show me that you are making the most effective progress towards your goal.
What do you do if you need data to make leadership decisions, but your in-house systems don’t have perfect data?
This was a question with which the team in which I work wrestled last week.
An answer can be found here. The bottom lines are this:
- Trying to make leadership decisions based upon incomplete data is probably better than trying to make them using no data at all.
- If you make decisions based upon imperfect data that affects the people who provided you with the data, then the people who provided the data will improve its accuracy for future decision making.
One of the most senior managers in our organization reinforced this in a story he told me last year. As a regional leader he wanted to allocate funds within the organization. He knew that the data describing the parts of the organization under his authority was not reliable. But, the data represented, was collected, and was entered into the database by the staff who worked for him. He used this (unreliable) data anyway, and allocated funds according to it. People complained. However, the completeness of the data entered into the database increased dramatically. The next year, the appropriate data was available to make good decisions that everyone knew were fair.
So, in conclusion, when leading strategically to cause an organization to most effectively accomplish a vision use the data you have rather then ignore it because it is not perfect.