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  • Kimberly Reuter

Leading with Data

Leading with Data

I recently published a blog, Managing with Data. While encouraging teams to use data and establishing protocols for metrics are essential, leadership and leading with data is a critical component. Leadership sets the tone, urgency, and direction. No matter how many employees are managing data, it is all lost if there is a lack of leadership.


Leading with data takes consistency, curiosity, and diligence. Glancing at the deck during a weekly or monthly meeting is not enough. Leadership presence is not enough. Influential leaders, executing at the highest levels, engage directly and deeply.


The most impressive senior leadership team I worked with existed at Amazon back in the early 2000s. This should come as no surprise, as Amazon’s reputation for intense leadership is infamous. Outside of the intensity, sometimes bordering on brutal, Amazon senior leaders never allowed a detail to remain unexplored. It is this intensity and obsession that drove the level of success we see today.


So, what did these leaders do differently? How has Amazon been able to sustain the level of innovation and domination we see today? There are several factors but three that stand out.


All Data, All the Time – Having a meeting without data, is an opinion session. To quote one of my favorite Nordstrom leaders, Mike Sato, “If we are just going to sit around discussing opinions, well then my opinion matters the most.”


In summary, meetings without data are a waste of time. From weekly metrics to business prioritization to buying strategies…. all require data. Leaders that lead without data and accept opinion-driven decisions are the most dangerous employees in a company. Executive preference is not acceptable for high performing organizations.


Focus – Senior leadership at Amazon was hyper-focused on the task at hand. When leaders are distracted in meetings, personal or business, they miss details—texting with the family, checking Facebook, answering emails… are all distractions. Leaders must go beyond the summary page to the in-depth details. We call it going to the “second decimal point".


Successful leaders focus on the details of the problem, the details of the solution, and the details of the outcome. Focus must be sustained through the entire process. Not only does intense focus drive results, it shows appreciation and respect for the effort employees make in producing consistent data and driving sustainable results. Focus is self-fulfilling.


Courage – Many cowards have sat at the head of the table, too embarrassed to ask a challenging question…too weak to demand the best. Curiosity takes courage. Leaders are not expected to have all the answers, but great leaders have all the questions. Great leaders demand the best from themselves, first. Diving into the details takes a strong backbone. Leaders often shy away from exploring downward trends, instead enlisting “hope” that next week will be better. Hope is not a strategy.


Influential leaders, commanding successful companies, dare to ask the hard questions, demand reliable solutions and take responsibility for the tough decisions. A cowardly leader accepts the status quo. A courageous leader demands improvement.


Over the decades, I have worked with courageous, focused, and data-driven leaders. These leaders influenced my mental-model and continue to contribute to my own leadership and business process. Almost all these leaders continue to be pioneers in their fields and personal lives.


I have also worked with weak and cowardly leaders, too soft to make tough decisions, executing on personal preference…coasting along at the head of the table. I do not remember their names.


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