Thoughts on leadership

Last week I was at the Test2008 conference in India. The organizers from PureTesting planned a grand event with workshops in Hyderabad, Delhi, Bangalore, and Pune. Then the main conference was then held outside of New Delhi. When I arrived in Delhi at the conference I was told I would be on a discussion panel. Surprise!

Although the conference organizers thought the topic would be controversial, in retrospect it turned out to be a non-issue to the majority of the audience. But, during the discussion one person asked the most important question of the session. He essentially said that new people coming into the industry and specifically the testing discipline are sometimes confused because there is sometimes contradictory information. "So," he asked, "how do new people know who the leaders in testing are?"

Rather than drone on forever, here is a list of traits of leaders whom I respect, and attributes I try to follow when I lead a team or mentor people.

  • Leaders are able to foresee¬† technological changes and changes in business practices on the horizon and predict how those changes will influence the careers of the people they manage or mentor.
  • Leaders don't let the people they are managing or mentoring to become stagnant.
  • Leaders constantly seek opportunities for the people the manage or mentor to flourish.
  • Leaders constantly help the people they manage or mentor develop their careers even if that means moving to a different role or team.
  • Leaders connect with the people they manage or mentor and develop a nurturing bond.
  • Leaders delegate responsibility because they explicitly trust in the people they manage or mentor to do the best they can do. Similarly, people respect leaders who they know grew to become a leader and were not merely placed in some position of management.
  • Leaders understand the challenges in the industry and they unleash the potential of the people they manage or mentor to take on and tackle those challenges. If the team fails the leaders accept the responsibility and support their people for giving it their best effort. Then, they rethink the problem, and try again.
  • Leaders don't say that something can't be done, or you can't do such and such; they¬†continuously search for alternative solutions to problems.
  • Leaders identify hard problems and point the people they manage or mentor in the right direction and say, let's figure out how to solve this together as a team!
  • Leaders don't whine about changes in the industry. We work in one of the most dynamic industries in the world, and leaders can successfully lead their teams to face new challenges head on.
  • Leaders don't shamelessly ridicule other people or hurl personal insults.
  • Leaders challenge the ideas and statements of others, but they do so in a professional manner.
  • Leaders present compelling points of view based on rational logic and empirical analysis. Not everyone may agree with a point of view, but they comprehend the results, and may sometimes present conflicting data which is repeatable in unbiased studies.
  • Leaders must also occasionally make hard decisions that may be unpopular with the people they manage or mentor or even their own managers.
  • Leaders don't attempt to segregate the discipline or mislead neophytes with reckless statements based on emotional or philosophical ideals.
  • Leaders have a strong personal constitution and are not swayed by emotional opinions or baseless peer-pressure.
  • Leaders not only strive to improve the people around them, but they also continually strive to be the best they can be.
  • Leaders never become apathetic or dispassionate. (If a person is apathetic or dispassionate then it is way past time for them to leave and pursue other directions.)
  • Leaders are often recognized as technical experts in their fields.
  • Leaders are respected by other leaders in their field.
  • Leaders don't refute challenges to ideas or statements with hypothetical or philosophical multi-syllabic hyperbole, they present substantiated facts or logical and rational points of view within the context of the discussion.
  • Leaders know to criticize in private and promote in public.
  • Leaders are also competent contributors.
  • Leaders know the difference between 'big-bang' one-time dog-and-pony shows, and achievements that provide lasting results, and they reward accordingly.
  • Leaders figure out how to permanently fix small problems so they can tackle larger and larger issues.
  • Leaders drive themselves and others around them to be the best they can be because they know that being good enough is simply not good enough in the long run.
  • Most importantly, leaders provide strategic direction and help guide and grow the people they manage or mentor to face new and exciting challenges.

I rattled off some of these traits and in the end I told the person that I have come across a lot managers in this industry (people who have people reporting to them in some capacity), but in my opinion there are too few real leaders. Fortunately I personally see many new highly knowledgeable and technically skilled people coming into the discipline again along with many experienced people who are reemerging. These people represent the potential for the type of leaders we need to help drive the discipline forward. Are you one of those people?