People Before (and Behind) Data: Forge meaningful connections with the people behind the data

In the age of digital leadership, technology takes center stage and big data is the lead actor. But behind the scenes and the data are people—customers and employees who either create, or consume, your products and services. What separates a digital leader from a savvy digital leader is not the technology they use, but the ability of leaders to smartly use digital tools and digital information to forge meaningful connections with people.

Establishing connection means factoring in several things:

  • Trust – Digital transformation means that incredible amounts of information are publicly available and easily shareable. It behooves leaders to be transparent—to share information freely and openly. Employees will trust leaders whose words and behaviors are consistent with what they know and see themselves. And in a digital age, employees know and see a lot, so being forthcoming is critical.
  • Communication – Communicating clearly, regardless of the format, will engender connection. In a digital age, communication is happening with fewer words and more images. Emails seem almost antiquated in favor of tweeting, texting, or posting on social media. When you have just 140 characters at your disposal, being thoughtful about word choice takes on new importance. In an age where countless hours have been spent analyzing the punctuation in leadership tweets, being intentional about how you communicate is important.
  • Authenticity – When leaders are authentic, they know and show themselves more—with skill. Authenticity engenders greater connection. A digital leader can enhance authenticity by considering the tone they use in their communication. Telling stories, painting a visual picture, and making a personal connection to what is being shared can convey authenticity. An authentic leader communicates core values, strengths, and even weaknesses but does so in a judicious way. There is vulnerability that comes with authenticity, and while finding that balance in person is tough, doing so on a broader digital stage can be downright intimidating. Be mindful of thoughtfully expressing who you are and not who you think your followers want you to be. Even through digital means, people want to connect with someone they feel is being real.
  • Sensing – A leader forges connection by appropriately reading a situation and responding to the soft data around them. But what happens when “big data” and “soft data” collide? Situation sensing, or reading soft data, can help leaders better understand the nuances of what’s being shared. Quite simply, it can help you “read between the lines.” Consider trends that show a dip in employee engagement that a leader better understands by reviewing Glassdoor reviews or company chatter on Yammer. Or what about data that reveals a declining product success that is then augmented by firsthand customer commentary in online reviews of that product? A connected leader seeks not only the hard facts, but also reads the nuances in tone, word choice, and emotion in the environment and the information being shared.

Leaders should lean in to the tools, information, and new ways of working spurred by digital transformation. It’s important to remember that behind “the digital” is “the person.” Thought and intentionality in how leaders build trust, communicate, share of themselves, and sense what others are saying will help establish and maintain connection with what (data) and who (people) really matters.

Leah Clark

Leah Clark

Director, Strategy and Planning, GP Strategies Corporation

Leah leads Strategy and Planning for BlessingWhite, a Division of GP Strategies, focusing on bringing new products to market and enhancing the participant experience. She works with clients to understand their leadership and engagement challenges and consults with them on the creative solutions.

Prior to joining BlessingWhite, Leah had her own practice in executive coaching and consulting. She is a certified professional coach through an ICF accredited organization and is a Myers-Briggs practitioner.

Leah has over seventeen years of experience in marketing, strategy, and product development in a corporate environment. She has also served as an adjunct faculty member in the fields of psychology and organizational psychology.

She has a Master’s of Arts degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Sociology from Boston College where she graduated summa cum laude.
Leah Clark

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