Business Leaders: BPM Wants You

Scott Francis
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The Problem A good friend, John Reynolds, has eloquently commented on a subject near and dear to my heart: Leadership.  More specifically, Project Leadership vs. Project Management:
My job lets me work with talented programmers and business people all over the world.  These folks all know their jobs – the programmers know how to write good code and the business folks know how to run their business – but when you bring them together they often can’t get a project finished. The objective of all projects is to deploy Business Solutions. Requirements grow up to be Plans, Plans grow up to be Projects, but many Projects just don’t grow up to be Solutions. Like the Energizer Bunny, these Projects just keep going and going and going… but they never get anywhere. I blame a lack of leaders.
John has captured the essence of the problem.  The projects that become successful solutions have leadership.  And this is something we’ve written about quite a bit. BPM especially requires leadership because you’re asking different constituencies to play nice together, despite the fact that the changes wrought by BPM will have uneven benefits and consequences.  The leader can coerce, cajole, persuade, confront… and can bring the resources and willpower to the project to get it done. Leaders: Born or Made?
I fear that leaders are born, not made (although training certainly helps improve them).  When a project is stalled, a hero can’t just “take charge” and get a project back on track.  Leaders aren’t leaders without followers.
There have been many variants of this debate with regard to athletes, entrepreneurs, CEOs, leaders.  I come down on the side of nurture more than nature.  I’ll not deny that we are each born inheriting our own gifts, bestowed by our parents.  But how we develop and hone those gifts and shore up weaknesses it what makes us the adults and professionals we grow to be. A Solution? How do we develop leaders?  We might first ask, how do we develop heroes? Step 1: expose your high potential team members to people you consider to be heroes.  Let them work in the proximity of great contributors to learn what it means to be a great contributor.  Try to awaken in them an awareness of what it is that makes the hero admirable, and an awareness that they, too, could be a “hero”.  Work with them to leverage their strengths.  Let them learn by following the example set by your heroes. Give them opportunities to succeed AND fail. If I can distinguish between a hero and a leader – a good hero “leads by example” – not by consciously thinking about leading, but by doing all the things that we would want others on the team to do.  They work hard, they are focused on what’s good for the team, the project, the company.  They care about their colleagues and will help them. The first step in evolving a leader from a hero, is to create self-consciousness (let me explain).  We have to wake in the hero, that self-awareness that they can lead intentionally, rather than unconsciously.  The key difference is intention.  A leader intends to have the effect of leading others.  A hero may lead others but isn’t intending to do so, and may even be alarmed and uncomortable when it happens.  There is a fear of responsibility, fear of failure, fear of letting others down.  If you want to foster that leader, give them the opportunity to succeed and fail.  And invest in teaching what you expect from leaders, and what their team will expect.  It takes a fair bit of coaching or self-awareness, but people can learn to lead.  I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve seen it happen even within our own projects among the customers we work with.  Soon, someone walking the path to becoming a leader, acting with intention, will learn from the feedback loop of consequences.  They’re on the path. This is important because, for BPM to continue to grow and succeed, we need a lot of leadership. John has a few more important points to make:
What we need are Project Leads… People who command the respect of both the Business and Technical folks.  We need people who have met both Business and Technical challenges in their careers, and who can show all of us “how to get there”… That’s why we lack leaders for our projects.  There simply aren’t many Business people in the world who are respected by Techies, and not many Techies in the world who are respected by Business people. This is not by any means an easy problem to solve – but if we want success for more of our projects, we need to find more of these leaders.
This is why, at BP3, we have tended to focus on developing our technical heroes into leaders who care about business.  But we also try to make sure that they understand the value that business leadership brings to the table, so that we’re ready to embrace it when we find it within our team or within our customers’ and partners’ teams. I agree with John: not an easy problem to solve, but sometimes the ones that are worth solving aren’t easy.