Leadership in Testing – What Really Matters

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Leadership in Testing – What Really Matters

I’ve hired lots of testers. I’ve hired some great ones, and some well, not so great ones. Some that exceeded all my expectations for them, and some that I thought were bound for “greatness” and fell short of the mark. Consistently, the one quality that I see distinguishing the ones who reach their full potential from the ones who don’t: leadership. I prefer to think of leaders using the definitional term “guide” when describing them. They play different roles under different contexts, but always guiding the organisation, whether it be a team or an individual towards the goal.

Now, it is a very common mistake to conflate leadership with management. A leader can be a manager as well, but as we all know, being a manager does not mean you are a leader. We’ve all struggled under managers who didn’t have a leadership bone in their body, so to avoid inflicting that terror on my teams, the following are characteristics I am looking for in either hiring or promoting leaders:

1) Honesty – I speak a lot about honesty because it’s so important to leading with integrity. It resonates into every aspect of how others see you, and how you see yourself. People want to know that their leaders are telling them the truth to trust them to act as a co-steward of their career. And that trust is built with a healthy dose of self-refection. Admitting you made mistakes, sharing information, apologizing when you’re wrong – good leaders have no fear of the truth. Honesty is the building block on which you’ll build great teams, and it has to start with its leaders.

2) Communication – All great communicators are not leaders, but all leaders are great communicators. Setting the context for the mission is essential to keep people motivated and aligned with the business, and that means you have to be able to relate goals to tasks. People who tell stories that find common threads in our shared experiences are typically the ones who get the most from their teams. In order to propagate an idea, it must be relatable to something we value ourselves.

3) Humility – History is full of examples of leaders with tremendous egos. In order to even want to be in a leadership position, you must have a healthy sense of self-worth. But I think the best leaders can drive organisational change, not as programmatic coercion, but as Dwight D. Eisenhower called “the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” That kind of leadership demands humility. A great tell on whether someone has a humble spirit is if they use “I” and “we” interchangeably when they speak about earlier teams, or give a pat answer when you ask them about their last mistake. I want my teams to take ALL the credit because they are the ones doing all the work!

4) Passion – People look to their leaders to keep their foot upon the accelerator, setting the pace for the organisation or team. Passion is what inspires people, and inspired people can do amazing things. I am extremely fortunate that I love my job. But what exactly is my job? My job is helping organisations and people improve themselves through great software testing. I tell my teams that we are not only responsible for improving testing on our projects, but also in the industry. Nothing less! If you’re not passionate about what you are doing, trust me, no one is going to follow you – regardless of your title.

In my experience the best leaders are honest with themselves and others, can speak in stories that tie things together, approach life with humility and their passion inspires those around them. I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded in finding leaders, but when I have been successful, they’ve met those marks. Best of luck and happy hunting!