Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

  • November 1, 2020
  • minute read

6 Hidden Reasons You’re Receiving Poor Data 

Listen to Les McKeown read this blog post:

In this series of posts we’re looking at why leaders with strong personalities have one major problem: the stronger their personality, the poorer the quality of the data that they receive.
Last time, we looked at the first part of that equation – an over-inflated belief in the quality of data that they receiveAs a reminder, here’s what that looks like:
Data perception to personality index
Today, let’s examine the other side of the story – the poor quality of the actual information they’re getting. 

Why do strong leaders receive poor quality data? Usually for one or more of these reasons (note, some of these reasons are mutually exclusive: not all apply to every strong leader, but every strong leader suffers from one or more):

1. Fear.

Every strong leader engenders fear in those around them. If they are benevolent, the fear is usually fear of disappointment – the peer or team member fears “letting down” the strong leader. If the strong leader is malevolent, then it’s just plain fear.

Either way, fear always – always – produces a data distortion field. If you're a strong leader, don't kid yourself that you're somehow different - that this doesn't apply to you. You're not, and it does - the only question is to what degree. 

2. The desire for simplicity.

Running a complex organization requires finding ways to simplify, clarify, separate and prioritize. And while sometimes that need for simplicity (“Give it to me on one page”, “Just show me the final powerpoint slide”, “Get to the point”) helps the discussion along, sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes you just have to get down and dirty – in mind-numbing detail – to truly understand the data.

3. The pressure of time.

This is the same thing as #2, just with a different impetus.

4. Loyalty.

Strong leaders build cliques. Cliques support their strong leader. Sometimes that means distorting data to make a case. Not good.

5. Poor communication.

It’s an interesting exercise to ask team members to write down – immediately after an interaction with a strong leader – exactly what they believe they have just been asked to do, and to compare that with what the strong leader believes they have just said.

Especially with strong leaders, there’s a high percentage of musings that are interpreted as instruction, suggestions that are interpreted as policy, and instruction that is interpreted as suggestion. And guess which of the parties involved is mostly at fault?

6. Imposed constructs.

On the road to becoming a strong leader, most people develop constructs – ways of looking at data, ways of analyzing it, ways of presenting it – that work for them. 

One example is the constant and persistent use of a specific metaphor as a framing tool for thinking through problems - sports and war are the most frequent offenders - or the constant and persistent use of one tool (mind-mapping, say, or Venn diagrams, or a 'balanced scorecard', or... well, insert your favorite tool here) to address all issues.

It’s natural to pass those constructs down to others. It sometimes feels like mentoring or coaching to do so.

In reality, it’s often just building an echo chamber – amplifying your own mindset, your own way of looking at things, and squeezing out alternative thought processes, alternative conclusions, alternative solutions.

In the next post, we'll see how to change this dynamic and start receiving high-quality data, but in the meantime, ask yourself these two questions:

1. What can I do, personally, to reduce the 'fear distortion factor' in the quality of the information I'm receiving as a leader? and
2. Of the other five candidates (The Desire for Simplicity, The Pressure of Time, Loyalty, Poor Communication and Imposed Constructs) it's likely that just one of them is impacting the quality of data you receive much more than the others. Which one is it in your case, and what can you do to reduce it's impact?

As always, if you're in doubt as to whether any of these do actually apply to you, or which  weigh most heavily on the quality of the data you receive, ask your colleagues - you'll likely have a lively - and hopefully informative - conversation.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

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  1. Les,
    You make some great points. The quality of data is an important topic.

    I think a lot of leaders overemphasize the hard data–the numbers and facts and underemphasize the soft data–people's feelings and emotions.

    Certainly the hard data is important but the soft data also tells an important story.

    It's also important to look at enough data points so you understand the trend.

    Paul B. Thornton

    1. Agreed, Paul – I once had a senior leader in a household-name organization tell me “If I can’t see it on a spreadsheet, it isn’t important.” I recall wondering what his kids thought of that being his touchstone of importance… – Les

      1. Les—you are an expert on leadership.

        I was hoping you would do me a favor.—Please!

        Find my new ebook on Amazon. (You don't need a Kindle device to download it. You can download it to the Kindle Cloud Reader).

        Leadership: Perfecting Your Approach and Style: Adjust as Needed!

        Read it (it's quick read–but good stuff) and post a short review on Amazon.

        Thanks. I owe you a review on your next book!

  2. Great to see you here! What do you think? Are you – or a leader you work with – receiving poor quality data for any of the reasons above? What tips do you have for counteracting it?

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