Why the quality of data received by strong leaders is generally poor

Apr 8, 2011

In this brief series 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 receive. Today, let’s examine the other side of the story – the poor quality of the actual information they’re getting. Here’s what that looks like:

The quality of data decreases as the personality indicator increases

Note: If you’re viewing this in your RSS reader and cannot see the image above, please click here to view it online

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.

2. 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. Pressure of time.

Same thing as 2, 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 instruction.

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

In reality, it’s 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.

Next: How to change this dynamic and start receiving high-quality data.