Part 2: Understanding the Responsibilities of a Successful Data and AI Leader
In Part 1 of this series, you read about the first five responsibilities of a successful Data and AI Leader. Successful Data and AI Leaders plan their strategy, channel innovation, challenge re-thinking, empower a growth mindset, and embrace servitude. While these seem like a tremendous number of responsibilities, this list is not comprehensive of many more notable responsibilities of a Data and AI Leader.
In addition to the responsibilities covered in Part 1, this article will discuss five additional responsibilities which include the need of a Data and AI Leader to embody emotional intelligence, to be mindful and authentic, to be able to manage conflict all while staying patient, persistent and striving for excellence.
Embody Emotional Intelligence
Emotional Intelligence is an underrated trait for success in the workplace because many people are not intrinsically aware of its existence or how to improve upon it. As leaders, we need to be able to manage our emotions and understand the emotions of others. Leaders with high emotional intelligence understand their employees and are able to adapt appropriately to their emotions, which in turn creates a bond of loyalty and respect between the leader and their subordinates.
In an age where we rely on technology more and more while working remotely, modern interpersonal communication styles have led to lowered emotional intelligence and empathy in leaders as a result of the challenges related to staying aware of the emotions of our employees. Leaders are trying to adapt to these modern workstyles by scheduling more teambuilding meetings where being in video is encouraged. Additionally, weekly 30 minute one on one touch points allow leaders be more emotionally aware and empathetic towards the personal and professional lives of their employees. While the intent is not to add more unnecessary meetings to an already packed day, it is typically within these settings where employees openly express their emotions, concerns, and feedback which yields tremendous value to leaders. It also provides leaders with the opportunity to truly embody emotional intelligence by first clearly understanding emotions and then acting on these emotions to promote a healthy environment which leads to happier and more successful employees. A one-on-one setting also helps leaders build a deeper bond with their employees, which in turn builds trust and loyalty.
To fully embody elevated levels of emotional intelligence, leaders need to emotionally understand and communicate more with our teams and employees.
Be Authentic and Mindful
When asked what his leadership style is, former Kimberly Clark CEO Darwin Smith responded with one word: "Eccentric". Successful leaders are often authentic and mindful which leads to out of the box innovations and strategies for success. Authentic leaders might possess multiple leadership styles that are channeled by their emotional intelligence and mindfulness as they collaborate with their teams. These authentic and mindful leaders are often humble and self-aware of their own skills and limitations. These leaders realize that they don't bring all the answers to the table and are comfortable with trusting others and being vulnerable. Data and AI Leaders who view this vulnerability as a necessity often achieve greater success because they are comfortable with the authenticity of their skills and experience that they bring to the table, and mindful about the potential to channel innovation by leveraging the expertise of others on the team.
For example, as organizations are seeking to move into the cloud, Proof of Concept (POC) projects may span a variety of cloud platforms including AWS, GCP, and Azure which would require authentic and mindful leaders to adapt for success by embracing vulnerability as a necessity rather than a weakness. Mindfulness also involves the ability to act on emotions as result of high emotional intelligence. Mindful leaders can gauge an understanding of how their employees are thinking, feeling, and performing from candid discussions with them. They can then take away the feedback from these discussions to formulate an authentic plan of action to creatively remove impediments preventing growth and success.
As Data and AI leaders, we often need to manage the conflict that our employees endure within their day-to-day work with either clients, stakeholders, or other teammates. Conflicts may arise for a number of unique reasons such as pressure from upcoming or missed deadlines, scope crepe or a late change to a deliverable, or simply from toxic people and environments.
When managing conflict as a leader, it is always beneficial to hear both sides of the story to better understand where the gaps exist which caused the conflict in the first place. Then continue to listen for opportunities to resolve and prevent the issues from occurring in the future. As an example, if a Data Consultant is having constant problems with a client team member because the client is being rude and yelling, then there must be swift resolution to prevent an increase in toxicity in the work environment, added conflict, and personal health issues arising from a result of the stress needed to endure the conflict. In a situation like this, as leaders, we must be bold and arise to the occasion with a mission to quickly manage and resolve this conflict. This can be achieved by increasing support for the Data Consultant by increasing touchpoints to review solutions, obtain feedback on the situation, speaking with the client's manager to set expectations that this inappropriate behavior is inacceptable, and setting clearer expectations around deliverables to ensure that they are being met consistently all to ensure delivery excellence.
Despite all efforts to remedy the solution, if issues and conflicts occur more than a few times over a short duration, then it is time to change the communication method between the Data Consultant and the client, or replace the Data Consultant with another in the interest of reducing friction and frustration from the client, improving overall mental health of the Data Consultant, and preventing the Data Consultant from being a flight risk from the organization. This is one of many examples on how a leader can embody emotional intelligence by listening, understanding, and acting to manage conflict.
Stay Patient and Persistent
Character is the ability to dig deep within ourselves and maintain strength and a positive attitude even when times are tough. It is this attitude of staying resilient by never giving up and overcoming failure which leads to the mindset of a champion. By remaining energized, patient, and persistent, leaders can provide critical support for getting through turbulent times. For example, during unfavorable economic times, patient and persistent leaders would try to prevent layoffs or furloughs at all costs. It is these resilient leaders that might even hire the right people who are available on the market during these tough times with the understanding that they will have the right skills for taking on the right work as soon as the turbulence subsides. Patience also involves continuously honing your Data and AI skills and delivery excellence methodologies.
Every incremental addition to a leader's skills elevates them one step closer to greater success. Just because the results may not be clearly visible at a singular point in time does not mean that the efforts were wasted. By being patient, we embrace the understanding that our efforts will be the rewarded in due time. In the consulting industry, leaders are often challenged to stay patient with clients that are beginning their cloud transformation journey, while also remaining persistent in their leadership efforts to guide the client, project, and team to success. Persistence often involves adopting a challenger mindset to steer the clients and stakeholders in the right direction. With both patience and persistence working together, we move towards higher level leaders with the capability of achieving higher levels of success over time.
Strive for Excellence
A leader that embraces an attitude of servitude strives for excellence when delivering services to their employees and stakeholders. Excellence is a result of determination and a disciplined work ethic wherein excellence and success are derived from the knowledge and experience through previous iterations of delivery. It is through this experience that we learn how to improve performance and quality on future projects. Also, by staying informed and educated on industry relevant Data and AI topics and certifications, leaders will be well equipped to deliver excellence consistently while minimizing risks and issues. For example, in the consulting industry, delivery excellence is an iterative process all the way from pre-sales to scoping to delivery. Peer reviewing and ensuring that the proposed project work is set up for success and excellence will lead to successful planning and delivery. In addition to ensuring that the deliverables will lead to delivery excellence, leaders must also hire and staff the project with the right roles and hours. When junior consultants are placed on the project, ensure that they have the support of a lead. It also helps to have an oversight lead responsible for client relationship, team and overall project leadership. When potential issues and blockers arise, use emotional intelligence, skill, and experience to resolve issues and mitigate potential risk quickly.
Leaders who strive for excellence lead by example and are constantly honing their skills by pursuing certifications, researching solutions, sharing their insightful content in the industry, and improving themselves through books and other learning materials. By designing and implementing patterns of success through an iterative process, over time leaders can achieve excellence in their careers and commitments.
Leadership is an ongoing journey which involves a number of responsibilities for success and continued growth. In this two-part series, I described many of these key responsibilities of leaders in the Data and AI domain.
Leaders with a strategic plan hire the right people and are able to channel innovation within their teams. They also possess and empower a growth mindset by constantly challenging their teams to re-think which again leads to fresh perspectives and innovation. Leaders are called to serve and therefore must embody emotional intelligence to be authentic, mindful, and have the ability to manage conflict.
Leaders who stay patient, persistent, and always strive for excellence often channel success and growth within their teams and projects. These leaders leave behind a legacy of greatness that extends far beyond their role and official time within an organization. Simon Sinek offers great insights in his book ‘Leaders Eat Last' when he states that we must judge a leader on the legacy they leave behind rather than the successes during their time of leadership. The responsibilities of a leader outlined here begin to capture what is needed for leadership success.
- Read McKinsey and Company's article "Five insights about harnessing data and AI from leaders at the frontier"
- Read Fortune's article A.I. can be a cornerstone of business success if leaders make the right choices
- Read INSEAD's article Three Key Steps to Prepare for Data and AI Leadership
About the author
View all my tips
Article Last Updated: 2022-04-25