How to be an Analytical Leader: Lessons from a MLB Team President

9/13/2016

It’s time to get real and call some of you out. This might come across kind of harsh, but I have the best intentions in mind. I want to challenge you to be extremely honest with yourself. When the results of your actions don’t materialize in the analytical data as expected, do you panic and spin the story? Or do you move with agile precision and use the data to test a different strategy? What type of Analytical Leader are you?

As a guest to a Tampa FEI chapter event (Financial Executives International), I was recently reminded the keen differences between these two leadership styles. We were invited to the private Q&A session, with about 50 CFOs. I had the extreme pleasure of listening to Brian Auld, Team President of the Tampa Bay Rays. He spoke about how the Rays, with one of the smallest budgets in major league baseball, used analytics to go head-to-head with powerhouses like the New York Yankees.

Have you seen the movie "Moneyball"?

I have seen the movie Moneyball starring Brad Pitt, but didn’t realize that my home town team was a master of it. Using analytics, the Tampa Bay Rays stretch their budget by recruiting undervalued baseball players. They then play them in way that drives up their stats. Once a player’s stats hit a point where they become noticed and desirable to other franchises, they trade them for a large sum and money to purchase several new undervalued players.

Analytics is prevalent in all of the Tampa Bay Rays franchise business decisions. One of the biggest issues facing the Rays is low attendance. The issue isn’t as simple as it appears. It’s truly a combination of factors. First, the transient nature of Tampa Bay. Secondly, the fact that spring training for half of major league baseball is in the Ray’s backyard, making it easy for transplants to stay loyal to home state teams. Finally, we must mention the aging Tropicana stadium and it’s less than central location.

This is when Brian won me over. Not only is he a moral and ethical leader, but a true analytic leader. When asked about his ambitions to build a new stadium, he responded, “If the data doesn’t support the decision, then we don’t do it.” Most professional sporting teams are hiring lobbyists and other political advisors to push their agenda. However, as Brian and his team research to understand if a new stadium and/or location would improve attendance, they continue to rely on the data.

How does this relate to me?

Let's pivot back towards the analytical leadership spectrum. We have leaders in this industry who only engage in analytics if the numbers make them look good. To protect the “not so innocent”, no names will be directly called out. However, as I write this, I see their faces.

Instead of recognizing that it is just as valuable to understand what doesn't work, these leaders become masters of political spin. This happens when the data shows the current course of action is not producing the desired results. It's like a personal strike against their ego.

The key is to understand what IS and what IS NOT working...

They are missing point! Understanding what is and what’s not working is the best part of business analytics! How smart would you look in this scenario? You are standing in front of a room full of decision makers. You then explain how your department is using data and analytics to take corrective actions. Moreover, you're adjusting the strategy on the fly to move with the ever changing business environment. Sounds pretty good don’t you think?

In some cases, it is not entirely the bad analytical leader’s fault. Most are the byproduct of a bad organizational culture that includes finger pointing or blaming. In addition, you may find the constant threat of being fired is prevalent. If this is your reality, I am sorry to hear that. However, you do have a huge opportunity to positively impact your organization. If you’re ready to step up to the plate, it will take courage and sharp influence skills.

So what type of leader are you? Are you an analytical wet noodle? Or are you like Brian Auld - respected throughout your industry as a cunning analytical thought leader?

More Links on becoming an Analytical Leader

analytics leader
analytics leader

If you are reading this and thought, “Hey, I am senior level finance leader in my organization. I'd like to network and attend amazing functions with other finance leaders.” Then we suggest you use this FEI Chapter link to find one in your local area.

For more information on how to build an agile analytics program check out our “Choosing A Visualization For Your Dashboard blog.

Want more amazing FREE content on how to be analytical leader? Join the Lodestar Solutions Clubs as we are continuously adding videos, checklists and other forms of content.

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