“Learning from the Best” is a series where I share lessons from some of the best mentors, coaches, and role models I’ve learned from. I hope you will find them inspiring too.
The next person I want to introduce you to in my series of inspiring mentors is Bob Prentiss. Known throughout the PM/BA conference circuit and industry, “Bob the BA” is the leading authority and subject matter expert on business analysis. Bob co-founded The Uncommon League based on the premise “Think, Learn and Work Differently”. Bob and team realized that to change the world, three things were needed: 1. People needed to step up and lead change. 2. People needed the tools and confidence to stand up. 3. To build tools and confidence, people needed access to quality training and coaching. The Uncommon League provides training, webinars, conferences, and coaching to teams and individuals at an affordable and disruptive price point. In the spirit of Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
Bob’s life has been a story worthy of a Hallmark movie (a good one, or maybe Netflix series would be better). He possesses an inner strength and willingness to confront and overcome challenges and never giving into them. Forced to leave home as a teenager for being gay, Bob worked multiple jobs before finding his career.
Does anyone really intend to become a business analyst? Many of us woke up one day and realized there is a name for our affliction defined in the BABOK, rather than APA Handbook of Clinical Psychology.
Bob’s intellectual and emotional intelligence helped him advance quickly as a thought leader in business analysis, training, and public speaking. When faced with a moral dilemma, Bob decided to leave his job when he couldn’t change or accept their unethical practices. I believe this was a defining moment for his principles that would guide the rest of his career. Not only did this solidify his desire to right inequalities and unjust practices, but also the desire to motivate and empower an army of change agents who would help make the world a better place.
From Bob’s myriad lessons, I picked just five to share with you.
Continuously build and update your toolbox
Any successful practitioner needs to have a good set of tools and know how to use them. For our careers, it can be as simple as learning new techniques or as challenging as developing our leadership philosophy. Continuous learning is the key difference between having 15 years’ experience and having one year’s experience fifteen times. Look for knowledge from diverse sources, people you admire, and stories that resonate with you.
Get inspired by others
In one of Bob’s presentations based on his book Little Slices of Big Truths, he shared examples of people who inspired him not because of fame or fortune, but their determination to overcome challenges. Bob used these stories and his own experiences to shape the world he wanted to make. All our lives are filled with inspiring people and similar stories. It is important to listen and embrace the lessons these stories provide.
What are the traits and stories that have inspired you?
How can you work them into the value you deliver?
It is not your opportunity, it is your obligation
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke
Over the last decade, Bob became increasingly worried about issues the world was facing. He fought against the continued attacks and attempted isolation of the business analyst’s role (we’re talking to you Agile evangelists!). In a wider sense, he wanted to do something about the social issues we were facing. Instead of buying poster boards and glitter glue, Bob decided to turn to his superpower and inspire people to take action. Anyone can be a leader and influence without authority. We must be willing to take the risk, confront what is wrong, and continue to try, even when our first attempts fail.
This is not a sprint, but a never-ending relay race. In the name of Bob and how much we all believe in you, don’t miss your shot, grab the baton, run with confidence, and pass it along to the next change agent. Take a deep breath, the next baton is waiting for you.
Savor Everything life has to offer
Bob has two personal passions: food and theater. He believes that we need to savor and enjoy everything life has to offer. Bob and I were presenting at a conference hosted by Amy Ruddell in New York City. In addition to presenting at the conference over multiple days, Bob and husband Paul went to seven plays and musicals in just four days, including Hamilton. After each event, they shared the moments that had enriched and impacted them both. They always found something of value to consider and enjoy, even if the production wasn’t great.
Try something new, something different. Challenge your beliefs and make your principles stronger. We can find inspiration from infinite sources, if we get better at listening. Search for sources that go against your beliefs and outside of your comfort zone. You already know that you love chicken tenders. Why not try the chef’s signature smoky deviled eggs this time?!
I can’t think about the movie “Sing” without picturing Bob on stage. If it weren’t for his business analyst affliction, Bob could have been a professional singer. Deciding to rekindle one of his loves, Bob joined the Twin Cities Gay Men’s’ Chorus. He LOVES to perform, whether on stage in a theater or in front of a room full of conference nerds. Bob creatively weaves songs and theater into all of his presentations and connects with people on a deeper level. His use of songs inspires and brings happiness to the audience.
We may not be lucky enough have a singing voice like Bob’s (I most certainly do not), but we do have a voice. How are you going to use your voice to share, connect, and inspire? As Bob would tell you, “It’s not your opportunity to sing, it is now your obligation.” Grab the baton, hold it like a microphone, raise your voice, share what you’ve learned, and now SING!!!
Epilogue – Spoiler alert, the sad part
When this story is posted, Bob will have lost his battle with cancer. After living each moment to the fullest, it was time to pass the baton one final time. For those who knew and loved Bob, there is nothing that will fill this void. As Hagrid said to Harry, [paraphrased] “You alright Harry? No, how could you, but you’re going to be.” I know these words are true, but that time seems so far away right now.
I’ve struggled for months to find a way to let him know just how much he meant to me and helped me through difficult times. I’m a better person, a stronger leader, and thanks to our friendship, I’m going to raise my voice even louder. I didn’t want to wait until it was too late, but just couldn’t find a way to sing to him.
Where I struggled to find the words, Bob once again filled the void and helped me complete the process. He texted me from the hospital with a simple message and short goodbye telling me he already knew what I had wanted to say and that he had always known.
I didn’t need to raise my voice to him. I needed to raise my voice for him now. The best way I could say goodbye to my best friend was to share his story, to honor his inspiration, and carry it forward without him. The road will be harder without Bob, but we are strong and willing to take those steps.