Much has been written about how soft skills – particularly intuitive communication – and emotional intelligence are the hallmarks of the best business leaders.

However, potentially the most important commodity today’s leaders have is cold hard facts.

The nature of the beast

Rapidly advancing technology has put oceans of new information at the disposal of decision makers and managers. Our ability to gather, store, sort and analyse Big Data sets has rocketed in a short period of time.

Business leaders working within authentic digital workplaces can interrogate end to end data from any point in their organisation. From the status of ingredients and machine efficiency through to warehouse controls and customer feedback, data – and the technology and analytic skills to back it up – has created undreamed of levels of transparency and control.

A massive upsurge in connectivity also means leaders can share and collaborate on data in real time, instantly, from anywhere in the world.

Predictive analysis

Perhaps the ultimate leadership advantage, though, is that new data science provides a window into the future.

Successful leadership requires confident decision making. Data analysis tools now offer predictive capabilities that make that far more possible. Data can be sorted and manipulated in a multitude of ways, including using 3D modelling to plan structural development or to rehearse complex procedures.

This offers a greater ability to conduct feasibility studies, carry out R&D and plan strategic changes well ahead of time. Misdirection, mistakes and wasted resources become less likely, and decision making is backed by evidence more than instinct.

Taming the beast

It’s predicted that by 2020 there will be an unimaginable 44 trillion gigabytes of data in the digital realm. That’s double current levels.

Of course, the potential to use data to create leaner, cleaner and more decision-based businesses means organisations need data analysts – personnel in short supply, who can command high salaries.

However, some leaders appreciate that the Data revolution impacts their skills and understanding profoundly.

Insight into data management improves their ability to mentor and lead teams. From data, acuity comes better risk management, an eye for greater efficiencies, and the potential for more transparent decision making.

Taming Big Data requires leadership skills

However, as with all business functions, data control and analysis still relies on having the right inherent leadership skills in the first place. Data is only valuable in the right hands!

This includes having the insight to know what questions to ask. Big Data can be overwhelming and actually slow down business processes if you don’t know which reports to commission.

Nor can IT and data analysis be separate functions anymore – this is not a “dark art” but a central pillar of modern business methodology. Those responsible for data mining and analysis should have a seat within the management team and board room. Communication should be constant and ever growing.

You can’t gain a competitive advantage from data analysis if you are not “joining up the dots”.

You need focused and well-coordinated leadership to use this vast well of new knowledge, and not simply drown in it.