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Observations from Test Leadership Camp, part 2: Defining Leadership (Rhythm of Testing)

On September 25, 2013, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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Test Leadership Camp was held the Thursday after CAST in Madison, Wisconsin.  These are my own thoughts based on notes, recollections and tweets made during the day.  I’ll be writing up thoughts and recollections from this in several posts.  This is the second.  The first is here: http://bit.ly/1aXfJrY .

A less energetic, and perhaps more thoughtful, conversation at Test Leadership Camp which I participated in was one focused on defining leadership and test leadership in particular.  It may seem odd to have a session on “what is leadership” at a function ON leadership, however, with an eye to “define what we are about” this session was intended to frame future discussion and help the participants wrestling with how to express fundamental ideas. 

In no particular order, things I know were mentioned:  Gerry Weinberg’s “Becoming a Technical Leader”  ; Matt Heusser’s observation that “If you think you are a leader, every once in a while look over your shoulder.  If no one is following you are just some guy going for a walk;”  behavioral characteristics of what we’d expect in a leader; being a “leader” does not mean one is always a thought leader.

Lesson 1?  Too many people conflate “leader” and “manager.”  For purposes of our discussion, the focus was on Leaders – not Managers.   

After much discussion, we landed on a fairly simple definition for a leader.  A Leader is one who influences others, who them want to follow (the leader.)  This seems almost obvious.  Except remember that some times, folks may not want to think about themselves as leaders.  They may simply see themselves as, themselves.  This is part of the conflation of Leader and Manager.  This is worth deeper thought.  (and not part of the discussion, which is the point of this post.)

One path we DID go down, was the idea of an unintentional leader.  They are doing their thing and – SHAZAM!  People are talking about them as if they are leaders.  The thing is, they are going somewhere and others seem to think that may be a good place to go as well – so they follow.  Whether they wish to be leaders or not, they are one.

This brought us to the idea of Authority and Leaders / Leadership.  In some instances, the authority is positional – it comes with their job.  For other folks, the authority comes not from their position, but from their experience.  When you have seen stuff, experienced stuff, and been around the block a couple of times you can, possibly, anticipate options and formulate possible paths based on those things – those experiences.  This gives them a different perspective from people working from theory and case studies.  In some contexts, this tends to lend a certain weight to their ideas and opinions. 

Two really straight-forward ideas.  The first was Leaders need to know themselves and be honest with themselves.  Leaders, in all forms, need to be aware of their own weaknesses and be honest about them.  In doing so, they must also learn from their mistakes.  Related to that, they must be open to learning from others.  

The second was one I’ve blatantly lifted from my lady-wife, Connie.  She comments on people being trustworthy “when their words and actions match.”  Part of that also implies an honesty with each other (tied to the above point, of course.)  Having said that, the trust factor of the leader will go up when the people around that leader recognize that honesty. 

One important point was a simple warning – test (or any technical) leaders may not be “thought” leaders.  One thing interesting is that people may be sharing other people’s ideas with their company or team, like, ideas they picked up from a conference, and make it clear they are not their ideas.  Still, for the company, they are “thought leaders.”  Reporting other people’s ideas may be a form of thought leadership in some form.  (Having said that, from my own experience, its a little uncomfortable for people to slap labels on you when the ideas are not yours and are still “cool things to look into more.”)

Lesson 2?  The signs and traits of Leaders apply to more than Test Leaders.  These tend to apply to many forms of technical leaders.

 

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