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Do you have what it takes to be a testing leader?

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Jennifer Bonine, Global Solutions Vice President, tap|QA LLC

Have you ever needed a way to measure your testing leadership IQ? Or been in a performance review where the majority of the time was spent discussing your need to improve as a leader?

The fact is that technology has changed, and it continues to change faster than we've ever seen. As a result, leaders need to be different because their teams are different.

It used to be that someone managing a team was a subject-matter expert who moved into leadership. But today, because testers have such deep technical skills, the teams you're leading probably have more knowledge about those skills than you do.

Leadership has been described as a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task. Some people see a leader as someone who others follow or as somebody who guides or directs team members, while others define leadership as motivating and organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal.

To be a good testing leader, you need to understand your role and how you can best serve your team while meeting the goals of your organization.

Here are the attributes that make for a good testing leader.

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Lead by example

This sounds easy, but few leaders consistently do this well. Successful leaders practice what they preach and are mindful of their actions because our workforce is not looking at what we say but what we do. As a testing leader, you can't just follow old patterns; you have to embrace creativity.

For example, you tell your team you want to promote a safe-to-fail learning culture. But then something doesn't happen the way you expect. What do you do?

Let's say a tester on your team tries something new but it doesn't work out and a major issue gets out into production. If you say, "Oh, you’re in trouble. We can't do that again," that doesn’t reinforce your message that you're promoting a safe-to-fail environment.

Instead, you have to embody that message so that everyone will continue to feel safe to step outside the boundaries even if they fail. So you should say, "Hey, I'm glad you stepped outside the boundaries. It didn't work out, but what did we learn from it?" Truly embrace the learning culture.

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Make others feel safe to speak up

Many times leaders intimidate their colleagues with their titles and power when they walk into a room. Successful leaders deflect attention away from themselves and encourage others to voice their opinions.

They are experts at making others feel safe to speak up and to confidently share their perspectives and points of view. If you are the one always doing the talking, and you're never listening, you end up with people around you that have nothing to say.

Say that someone on your team comes to you with a big issue, such as a massive defect in the product, but you dismiss it and make that person think the issue isn't important.

In the future that person will hesitate to come to you with a problem. That's why you have to let your team members know it's okay for them to speak up and offer their opinions, as long as they’re doing it in a productive way.

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Challenge people to think

The most successful leaders understand their colleagues' mindsets, capabilities, and areas for improvement. They use this knowledge/insight to challenge their teams to think and stretch them to reach for more.

For testing leadership, that means encouraging and allowing people to test the boundaries. This sounds like: "What do you think we could do better? Do you think there are other ideas that we haven't tried yet? Do you have suggestions about a different approach?"

Teach your team how to be continual learners and that it's not important to do things the way you've always done them. Let them know the importance of always looking for other options and better ways to do things.

Invest in relationships

Successful leaders don't focus on protecting their domains; they expand those domains by investing in mutually beneficial relationships. Successful leaders associate themselves with lifters and other leaders—the types of people who can broaden their spheres of influence, not only for their own advancement, but for that of others.

More than ever, testers and testing organizations are the voice of the customer. Do you really understand, and are you invested in, what the consumer needs and the impact on the consumer of whatever it is you're testing?

It's hard to be that voice of the consumer if you've never tried the software yourself outside of work. Or if you’ve never talked to people who depend on a particular technology or are users of that technology.

It's not enough to stay busy doing your everyday testing. You have to get out of the office and spend time talking to your customers in their environments to learn what their challenges are with the product, to learn what they need, to learn how it could be better, and to learn what's causing them pain or angst.

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Stay close to the challenges

As a testing leader, you have to stay close to the challenges that your customers are facing. Also, you must ensure that you’re removing roadblocks and enabling your people to do their jobs better.

Create an environment where it's safe for people to have ideas and to speak up, and one where you challenge people to think. Don't expect them just to sit and do the same thing every day. Instead, challenge them, and encourage and reward them for coming up with better ways to do things.

Finally, don't just focus on your tasks, because a lot of the important work you should be doing can get buried if you're always thinking: "I have these 12 things I need to check off my list." Spend part of your day building the relationships that you need to succeed at your job, versus just doing the tasks that were on your list.

Want to know more? During my STAREAST conference session, I'll talk more about Testing Your Leadership IQ. The conference runs April 28 to May 3 in Orlando, Florida. TechBeacon readers can save $200 on registration fees by using promo code SECM. Can't make it? Register for STAREAST Virtual for free to stream select presentations.

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