The Reluctant Leader

By Neil Bazely, Vice President Chapters, IIBA
imageThrough my journey with International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) a common topic is the BA as a leader. I have come across many BAs that are reluctant, even timid, when considering that they could be “leaders”. There is a constant refrain of “I’m not ready”, “I don’t have the skills” and “Someone else would be better than me”. Over the years I have found three main themes when considering business analysis and leadership.
Does the nature of analysis hinder us from becoming leaders?
There is a school of thought that posits that the people who are drawn to the profession of business analysis are not leaders, and are not likely to become leaders. From this line of reasoning follows that because we are analysts, thinkers and advisors, that we are not naturally inclined to the transition to leadership. And for some people this is true. It’s true for analysts, just like it’s true for any other profession. Being good at accounting or engineering does not necessarily lead to leadership but there are many accountants and engineers in leadership roles.  
In fact, I believe there are a number of skills inherent in business analysts that lend themselves to leadership.
  • Analysts have a tendency towards unbiased decisions.
  • We strive for clarity and unambiguity in our communication. Furthermore, it is in our nature to try to understand a problem from the view of all stakeholders.
  • The nature of traceability in our analysis should lead to strategic outcomes when applied.
  • It is also in our nature to solve problems.
Does the nature of our role in projects lend to leadership?
A common complaint is that when we work in projects, we don’t develop leadership skills because we have a Project Manager leading our projects.  To that I say “Nuts!”.  A manager is a steward. A leader has a vision. There is no one role on a project that inherently has more vision than another. But what we do have in our role as Business Analysts is a focus on the business value of the initiative. Extend that focus on value to outside of a project and what would you have.
If you are working in a project you have the opportunity to be a leader. Provide your project with a vision. Align that vision to the business value that you are supposed to be delivering and the business values in your organization’s culture.
And the venerable: Are leaders born or made?
Young & Rubicam chairman and CEO Ann Fudge, said, “All of us have the spark of leadership in us, whether it is in business, in government, or as a non-profit volunteer. The challenge is to understand ourselves well enough to discover where we can use our leadership gifts to serve others.”
Becoming a leader takes work—just like reaching any other goal. If you were training for a marathon you would plan your training to be able to run that 42.2 kilometres. You wouldn’t expect to be able to run it on the first day but you would work up to it. You would practice, running more each day and building your skills and endurance until you could complete the run. Why would you expect that building the skills to be an effective leader would be any different?
Identify the skills that you feel make an effective leader. These skills will be different for each person, and according to the leadership style with which each person is most comfortable. Practice those skills. Practice them by being a vocal leader in your project and in your business, promoting the vision that will make everyone successful. Practice them by using your influence to achieve better business results.
And by all means, practice those skills outside of your work. Take your vision to your local IIBA® chapter and get involved. Volunteer with another organization that you are passionate about, but get out there and practice. After all, there’s a marathon out there with your name on it.