"It is easier to get forgiveness than it is to secure permission."
Jesuit Principle

Get Leadership Notes by Email

Leadership Notes -- Thoughts on Leading People and Making a Difference in Organizations

Word count this issue: 429


Estimated reading time:  3:00


Good morning from sunny Vancouver. I’m working this week as a learner in an organizational development course. We’re learning about models and tools to support the work of teams and organizations as they seek solutions. I have particularly enjoyed learning about data gathering tools, and how the interpretation of the data is vital. 


One exercise had us break into small groups to analyze survey data. Each group had exactly the same survey and ancillary information.  Each of us was to develop 3 recommendations on next steps for the organization based on the data we had. We went away for an hour, and each group came back with different recommendations.


Even accounting for the fact that many of us were not data analysts and therefore would not necessarily know what to look for, there was enough expertise in the room that one could imagine some common recommendations to come from each group. What surprised me was how dispersed the recommendations were. In fact I wondered if some of us were even looking at the same data! And as we were hearing back from the groups one fellow learning, not from my group leaned over and said, “nobody has mentioned ‘x’!” And when I looked back at the data I thought, “wow, she’s right!” It looks like we had all missed it, even her, until that moment.


From a leadership perspective I wonder then about how we too often interpret data. A survey comes across our desk and we pour over it, often alone. I’ve learned, get the data out there, facilitate a dialogue among a group of people about what the data may mean for them, both the good news and challenging news. Yes, some expertise will help point people in certain directions, and people are smarter collectively than individually, tap that collective power. 



This observation reminds me of a moment in grad school when I was studying under a rabbi. The rabbi explained to us that a rabbi would never say, “I will teach you this text.” S/he would always say, “let us study this text together.” When you have raw data coming into your area or team, work with the team to discover the meaning of the data for the team; study the text together. It will give them ownership and increase their status and autonomy, and give you a far clearer understanding of the data than sitting alone in your office scratching your head.