I like to keep an eye on the market to see which companies are hiring, and for which roles in the BI and Analytics space. It helps to keep me grounded firmly in reality, and provides a view into the trends within the industry. I regularly use LinkedIn Jobs to view this information, as it allows me to filter by location and level of experience. A frequent search which I use is “Analytics” in the “United States” with an “Executive” and / or “Director” level of experience. Something that continues to amaze me is the frequency in which high levels of technical expertise are required for executive and leadership roles in the analytics and BI space…which leads me to the question, how have so many gotten it so wrong, or is it just me?

I can fully appreciate the requirement for technical skills in the organization, you need them to do BI and Analytics of any sort, but should they exist at the leadership level? Don’t get me wrong, there is a benefit to having a leader who has some knowledge of these skills, but should they be defined as part of their job? To me, the job of someone in a leadership role is being a leader!!

Leadership may mean different things to different people, and the skills of a leader may appear at any level of an organization, but we are specifically discussing the highest, most senior roles in an organization or company. These roles typically have titles that range from Senior Manager to Director, Senior Director, VP, Head of XYZ, CxO, and others. These are individuals who typically have 15 or more years of experience, define vision and strategy to bring the company forward, inspire those around them, and break down the barriers to help those around them to accomplish the goals of the organization and company.

The Business Dictionary defines leadership as:

The activity of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do this.

            Leadership involves:

  1. Establishing a clear vision.
  2. Sharing that vision with others so that they will follow willingly.
  3. Providing the information, knowledge, and methods to realize that vision.
  4. Coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all members and stakeholders.

A leader steps up in times of crisis and is able to think and act creatively in difficult situations.

Dwight D. Eisenhower summed up the role of leadership very succinctly: Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.

Other experts on the topic speak of leaders as individuals who have followers, translate vision into reality, empower others, or have influence.

None of the definitions detail specific tactical acumen of any sort, so why should BI and Analytics leadership roles be any different? Why should they have expert or advanced knowledge of Python, SQL, R, SPSS, Hadoop, MongoDB, regression models, neural networks, etc. to be a leader? How will these technical skills, which can be purchased through any of thousands of recruiters during the course of an afternoon, help someone who is trying to guide their function to the future and guide their company or organization to success?

Though I will not specifically list the companies, I am including a few snippets from executive and leadership level job postings in the BI and Analytics space which include highly technical qualifications:

  • Head of Marketing Analytics
    • Must be a SAS expert
  • Vice President of Analytics
    • Demonstrated experience in statistics, test/control methodologies, supervised and unsupervised machine learning algorithms and advanced analytic techniques…
  • Head of Analytics
    • Strong knowledge of SQL, ability to write and read/understand and optimize complex queries.
    • Experience with Python
  • Director Business Analytics
    • Exceptional SAS skills to deliver statistical models, analyses, reports and move and manipulate data
  • Vice President of Analytics
    • Proficient with the use of advanced statistical analysis software and applications (SAS, R, SQL programming, etc.)
  • SVP Analytics
    • Extensive knowledge with logistic and linear regression models, variable reduction techniques, hypothesis testing, non-parametric testing, design of experiments, ANOVA, CHAID analysis and other advanced data mining techniques.
    • Strong knowledge of SAS, particularly SAS base, SAS/STAT, and PROC SQL.
    • Intermediate knowledge of R.
    • Demonstrated ability to use SQL and SAS to extract data from multiple data sources.

Will a leader who can debug script, code in Python, or work miracles in R be a better leader? I think not…this type of work will take them away from their primary responsibility of being a leader, and caring for those in their charge.

If we were truly looking for leaders, each of these could be re-written in a better way to include phrases like:

  • Exposure to…
  • Working knowledge of…
  • Familiarity with…

What is not said in the job description is just as telling, and just as important as the job description itself. Many of these examples include little or no mention of the hallmarks of leadership, with nothing about vision, strategy, influence, setting goals, inspiring others, communication or enablement. Be cautious about what is NOT there.

As a job seeker, beware of the job postings which are looking for leaders with a high level of technical skill, I suspect you will find yourself in a more tactical role than you are led to believe. As an employer, be extra diligent when interviewing that individual with a high level of technical capability, who also proclaim themselves to be leaders. The 2 are not mutually exclusive, but they are uncommon in a single individual, as they are completely different disciplines. If you do find the unicorn with exceptional technical and leadership skills, do whatever it takes to get them on your team and hold on to them!!

Leadership is a full-time job, which goes beyond management. It can be learned through the successes and failures of experience and accelerated through strong mentor / mentee relationships, but it also includes a set of skills which are difficult to teach. Look for individuals with depth and success across a broad scope of functions, and who have some level of expertise in the industry of BI and Analytics. You want folks with strong leadership skills, who know what can be accomplished with Python, R, SPSS, SQL and other technologies, not experts in the use of them.

For my money, I will hire a great leader with little or no industry experience over a technology expert with moderate leadership skills every single time.