The Skills You Build  

By Neil Bazley, Vice President, Chapters, IIBA  
The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future. It would be fought here, in our present. Tonight...April 19, 2011, 8:11 PM Skynet gains sentience.
Okay… so it’s not that dramatic. But there was an important date in 2011 nonetheless. On January 1, 2011 the first Baby Boomers turned 65. It’s estimated that approximately 8,000 people reach retirement age per day in the United States alone (Source: AARP). Even with the trends toward later retirement, that is destined to leave a leadership gap in many organizations. Are you positioned to fill that gap?
Leadership Skills for the 21st Century
The eternal question on leadership will always be are leaders born or made? As a matter of fact, I’ve been in many of those discussions over the years and my belief is that it’s the wrong question to ask. Some leaders do have an intuitive feel for what it takes to inspire, manage and develop the people around them. There will always be stories of those visionaries filling up the shelves of the business section of your favorite bookstore online vendor.
The reality is that most of us—and to paint with a broad brush, especially us Business Analysts—are not these natural born leaders. However, leadership skills can be taught and you, yes, even you dear Business Analyst, can be an effective leader. 
There are many ways to gain these leadership skills. Formal training, building mentoring relationships, reading any of the myriad of books out there, or joining the military can all help you build your leadership skills.
Unsurprisingly, given my role in International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) and the passion I feel for how our chapters strengthen the discipline of business analysis, I’m going to focus on building your leadership skills through getting involved in a not-for-profit organization such as your local IIBA® chapter. (What? There isn’t a chapter in your area? You should start one!)
Following are some of the important leadership skills that I believe you can develop by being involved in your IIBA chapter.
Strategic Planning Skills
Strategic planning is one of the most important management skills to develop, and one of the hardest to get the opportunity to do so. It involves building a long-term vision for the organization, then communicating that vision and the strategies that accompany it to your stakeholders. Tied to that vision is creating the plan to realize it, executing on the plan and measuring your success.
As a chapter leader, it is your job to build that plan and communicate it to your members. You must see and communicate the big picture so that your stakeholders can see the whole organization rather than an assortment of moving parts, and you have to make sure that there are challenging but achievable goals set out to make it happen. Then you have to measure your achievements against those goals and effectively communicate where you are to your members. After all, as a chapter leader, you are accountable to your members. They are your bosses.
As a strategic leader, the plan creates accountability for the whole team.
When teams don’t commit to a clear plan of action with measurable goals and a time-line, peer-to-peer accountability suffers greatly. Even the most focused and driven individuals will hesitate to call their peers on counterproductive actions and behaviors if they believe those actions and behaviors were never agreed upon in the first place.
—Dewey & Kaye; Building Healthy Non-Profit Teams
Influencing and Inspiring
Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.
—Mark Twain
Effective leaders inspire others by creating an environment where people feel empowered to achieve and innovate, and where their contributions are acknowledged. People are motivated by feeling that their contributions have meaning.
Chapter leaders positively affect a volunteer’s motivation by communicating how the action assigned to them contributes to the overall vision. As BAs we are all used to creating paths of traceability and this is another such one. Once the path is set, the leader can build and keep the enthusiasm levels high by publicly acknowledging and reinforcing good behaviours, and privately providing constructive opportunities for improvement.
From Recommending Change to Leading Change
It’s not enough to create the plan. Someone has to execute on it. A strong chapter leader has the skills to plan and adapt to changing environments and has the ability to influence people to change their behaviors to meet the goals of the organization. The effective leader doesn’t manage change, but persuades people that it is in their, and the organization’s interest to change.
Developing these transformational skills as a chapter leader is an important way for you to get recognized as a potential leader in your organization. You do not stop at analyzing your stakeholders. You empower them to change their behaviours. Your confidence in being able to guide and direct people in your chapter will directly translate to your ability to do so in your career.
Decision Making
As Business Analysts, we are recommenders not deciders. It probably goes without saying that leaders make decisions. Our Catch-22 as BAs is that in our current roles, we rarely get that opportunity to show our ability to make decisions. Our role is to analyze, and as we are analysis oriented, not action oriented this is often the most difficult part of the leader role for us to be effective at.
As a chapter leader, it is an opportunity to build on our problem solving skills and turn it into action. As a chapter leader you will grow into taking decisive actions, accepting responsibility for both the good decisions and the ones that we learn from and most importantly, knowing the difference between making the decision and being the one that must act on it. Yes, effective managers delegate. As I’ve said to chapter leaders time and time again “If you’re doing it, you’re doing it wrong.” A chapter leader’s job, and that of the effective leaders in your organization, is to set the plan, and guide and support people in delivering on that plan.
I opened with the question of whether you were positioned to fill the leadership gap that will be left as demographics change. I close with this challenge to you: If you want to become one of the future leaders, how are you going to be able to demonstrate that you have the skills to lead when the time comes?