Business Analysts Lead from the Center
If I asked you to draw a picture of “leadership” what image would appear?
One image you might conjure is an org chart—the typical two dimensional, somewhat triangle-shaped hierarchy. “Leadership” is somewhere near the top.
Many BAs buy into this pyramid leadership scheme. BAs assume they are not leaders because they are near the bottom of the org chart or somewhere off to the side in a special “we-aren’t-sure-where-this-person-fits” box.
But all BAs, regardless of their level of experience, are perfectly positioned to be leaders—not leaders from the top—leaders from the center.
What does it mean to lead from the center?
Most BAs don’t operate at the top of an org chart, they operate as a hub. They sit in the center of multiple resources and pass information back and forth across the spokes.
A BA’s spokes tend to reach many teams and many levels of leadership. BAs often have a unique perspective because they see a 3D cross-section of their organization—they see the “how” and “why” that people looking down from the top of the org chart cannot see.
How do you demonstrate leadership from the center? The spokes are the key! The spokes connect BAs to their resources. They represent shared information and support the relationships between BAs and their stakeholders.
To be an effective hub, a.k.a. an effective leader, BAs need to know how to engage their stakeholders—how to get and keep their attention.
Do you have strong engagement with your stakeholders? How can you tell if your stakeholders are engaged? How can you improve stakeholder engagement?
Symptoms of Weak Stakeholder Engagement
Weak stakeholder engagement stalls your career, minimizes trust, wastes money, and hinders projects and processes. Here are a few symptoms:
- Strongly conflicting requirements between stakeholders.
- Stakeholders are silent, roll their eyes, sigh or multi-task during meetings.
- Stakeholders do not contribute to the project. They don’t return phone calls, do not reply to emails, do not review project documents, do not provide resources, etc.
- Stakeholders show up late for meetings, leave meetings early or skip meetings.
- Disparate groups do not understand other stakeholders needs and benefits from the project.
- Progress is slow.
- Discussions loop in circles.
- Decisions are difficult to obtain.
Signs of Strong Stakeholder Engagement
Strong stakeholder engagement builds trust and maximizes the value of a project or process. Here are a few signs of strong engagement:
- Stakeholders have a shared vision and can communicate the vision to their team/s.
- Stakeholders understand their connection to each other.
- Stakeholders trust each other and the BA.
- Stakeholders enthusiastically participate in meetings.
- Stakeholders make themselves and their resources available to the BA as needed.
- Questions, discussion and meaningful debates.
- Proactive, 2-way communication
4 Ways to Improve Stakeholder Engagement and Build BA Leadership Skills
- Analyze your stakeholders. Try to determine what motivates your stakeholder. What is their definition of success? Think about the project/process/problem and ask WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) from each stakeholder’s perspective. Truly empathize with each stakeholder to understand what they will gain or want they want to gain.
- Observe you stakeholders. Take the time to observe stakeholder behavior and interactions. Observe how they react to you. Do they share information with you openly? Do they seem bored or annoyed? When you talk about specific projects or processes do they seem excited or do they frown and roll their eyes? Also, observe how stakeholders interact with each other. Who comes into meetings together? Who eats lunch together? Which stakeholders seem to annoy each other or question each other?
- Boost your facilitation skills. Facilitation skills are critical for leadership and relationship building. Your meetings should be interactive, visual and physical so that all stakeholders contribute in a meaningful way. You should be able to engage SMEs and executives to generate creative ideas to solve complex problems.
- Boost your communication skills. Be prepared to discuss your project/process/problem with people from all parts of the org chart. What level of detail does your SME want? Your manger? Your CIO? Do you communicate visually? Can you spontaneously illustrate a process, an idea or an issue on white board during a meeting?
All BAs are Leaders
From the beginner BA to the director of the BACoE, BAs bring people and ideas together. They align organizations and pave the way for value-driven change. They bring a 3rd dimension to the org chart with their unique perspective across organizations and leadership levels.
Maximize your influence and leadership potential by building strong relationships with your stakeholders. Connect with them. Understand their priorities and motivations.
Be the hub. Mind your spokes.
How do you demonstrate leadership in your organization? How do you keep stakeholders engaged?
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