Leading with information

Recently my friend Ken made an excellent presentation on what it looks like to lead up to senior leaders with information. I was madly taking notes.

The organization I work for is emphasizing “leading with information”, meaning we are trying to learn to make decisions more objectively and transparently, not just by who tells the best anecdote.

Stories and data are both helpful in making decisions. Here’s what I captured from Ken’s advice on how to shape the conversation when you’re asked to emphasize the data.

1. Measure what matters in the mission – Be intentional about identifying what the top metrics you actually need to lead are. Chances are out of all the data points available, there a 3-5 actual key indicators that all the other data points are inter-related with. Even better if there’s one. Focusing on a few metrics will enable a much more objective and candid discussion with leadership. Find the ones that actually show progress. Maybe it’s the number of volunteers. Maybe it’s the number of wells dug. Maybe it’s the number of mouths fed. It’s not likely donations or the number of employees you have.

2. Measure the gap in the mission – People tend to respond well to information that shows where we are not, not just where we are. People likely signed up for your cause because they saw a need. If you can continue to demonstrate to leadership that there’s a need, a clear gap that someone needs to stand in, you’ll have their ear.

3. Show trends in the mission – Presentation goes a long way in helping leaders understand current reality. Graphs are usually much better indicators of trends than tables. Spending a few extra minutes to punch out a visual representation will really help in showing the big picture to big picture leaders.

4. Use executive summaries – Leaders are busy. Don’t just simply dump all your information. Honour people’s limited time and keep it to one-page, a few slides etc… Your biggest value-add to your organization might be your ability to summarize and curate. There’s always a job for people that can do that.

5. Don’t embarrass me… yet – Senior leaders are in an awkward position – they bear a high level of public (and even legal) responsibility for the information shared, but they are rarely the first to know about the details before they surface. Help them see what you see without blaming them for the results. They need time to process information, especially “bad news.” You will want to offer them information along with the opportunity to connect that to a larger context that you may not be aware of. If a leader is consistently unresponsive to information and trends, then it may be appropriate to share this in a wider circle after a season of time. This is a judgment call.

What tips have you found helpful for leading with information in interacting with your superiors?

Checkout Ken’s blog at <www.onleadingwell.com>

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