By Henry Elisher
Business Analysis (BAPL) Consultant
Business Analysts as leaders
You don’t need to have a title to be a leader, but, it is a choice. In much the same way, leadership is not a rank. Some individuals may have the title of implied leadership, and in fact we do end up doing what they say because they are authorities, but, if it were a choice, there are some of those in authority that we wouldn’t choose to follow.
Leadership can exist anywhere, in your personal life and within your social circles, in the community, and at the office. These are the people that can provide us with a sense of safety, assuredness or vision. They can also educate, empathise and provide the opportunities that we need in order to achieve and be successful, for both themselves and the collective. We know who these people are. If we thought about it we could all recognise those in our daily lives that we categorise as leaders and quite often we seek them out by our own volition.
Having authority on the other hand does not automatically extend to leadership. Authority that is exercised is a kind of legitimate power, and people follow figures exercising it because their position demands it, but this is done irrespective of the type of person that is holding that position. Authority which we bend to out of necessity. That’s not to say that people in authority aren’t or can’t be leaders, but, not ALL people in authority are leaders.
Business Analysts as leaders
I was listening to a TED talk by Simon Sinek on ‘What makes a good leader’. His idea was that the art of leadership comes from a certain place, from what people feel. Primarily he suggested that it was an aspect of trust and having a sense of co-operation that made people want to follow a leader. In our modern day working environments we are commonly surrounded by things that can threaten our position. Be that technological evolution, organisational restructures, economic fluctuations or competition. These variables are beyond our control, but there are variables that can be controlled. They are the conditions that exist from within an organisation. It’s here where leaders have the capacity to set the tone, to utilise their skill-set in order to provide a sense of assuredness and have those around them to combine their strengths to work in the face of danger, or in the face of change.
In our working environment as BA’s we operate at the coal face of change. We become part of, and the advocates for the very thing that people are fearful of. Change fosters uncertainty and change can promote fearful actions in people, manifesting itself in ways that we don’t automatically realise as fear, such as disinterest, disengagement, anger or detachment.
As Business Analysts we are in the right position to help people overcome their fears. We have all the traits of leadership at our disposal, most of which are interwoven into the skills that are required to be a Business Analyst. We need to use our influence to get others to accomplish a certain range of tasks, and on many occasions, these are tasks that people don’t enjoy doing. To utilise words a line from Henry Kissinger on leadership:
‘The task of a leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been’
Our primary roles as BA’s are to do the analysis, elicit the requirements and assist with creating the product or the solution that will delight the customer and make tasks simpler whilst also benefiting the organisation as a whole. We also work with business users and technical team simultaneously. When we look at it we have a quite a large sphere of influence and hence by assisting in the understanding of what needs to be accomplished, by assisting in establishing a clear vision of where we need to get to and by allowing people to own the result through their contribution and collaboration, that is what will promote empowerment. The will to do things and accomplish for something greater and to feel safe to do so in a working environment can only be fostered by leaders. Once again, by our very position as Business Analysts, we occupy the prime position to lead. The choice is therefore ours.
Back your soft skills
In an earlier blog that I wrote entitled ‘The T shape of you’, I talked about the importance of soft skills to the Business Analyst. Leadership was one of the qualities I mentioned as being pivotal in being able to provide great business analysis. More importantly, it’s a quality that’s ‘ready made to carry’, meaning that its readily transferable from one role to the next. Leadership itself however has its own soft skill set that a business analyst can both tap into and develop in their everyday working environment in order to heighten their leadership skills. Some of those skills are:
Communication: Be concise, set the tone and be transparent. Having your message understood is a critical tool in creating the vision and establishing buy-in. Utilise this with stakeholders, establish influence and aid collaboration
Negotiation and persuasion: By understanding perspectives, viewpoints and the emotions of stakeholders we can understand their reasoning for hesitancy or support. We can harness the momentum of supporters and overcome resistance by creating the vision of success and what it means to the individual
Empowerment: Information transitions through the Business Analyst constantly. From end users, to development teams to managers, we facilitate the knowledge transfer and as we know, knowledge is power. The more knowledge you have, the less the fear of the unknown
Problem solving: Being in centre of where the business and technology meet on a puzzle will allow us to gain perspective, think differently and act, in some ways as a solution provider. Again, providing us with the support to create the vision
Gear shifting: In our roles we transition through small issues to large, with end users to board members, through a plethora of meetings with interactions on various levels, we establish relationship, build links in our working environment and gain trust by ‘shifting gears’ through our days
Focus: Overarching objectives, business politics, competing agendas, unimportant wants. We provide focus in environments where resources can be scarce and competition for them his high. Staying focused and dedicated to the vision is of utmost importance
The skills of a business analyst are aligned with those who lead. How we utilise those skills and how we develop them will manifest in the ways that others operate either with you, or indeed, against you. If you want to take a group of people to a place they’ve never been before, then you’ll need someone to lead. A Business Analyst can very much be that leader.