Credibility, and being leaders people would want to follow

A Facebook friend shared a video of a TEDx talk on leadership. And it starts off by posing the question why would anybody follow you. And I think this is something leaders should ask themselves. And if the reason is just because  “I’m the boss. (mic drop, gangsta pose)” then that’s not leadership to begin with.

Leaders should ask themselves this question — why would anybody follow you. It’s not about being insecure. It’s about empathy and understanding that most people are driven by purpose. It’s about finding out how you can be someone people would willingly follow.

Below’s a link to the video and some excerpts:

“…If you want to lead others, they’ve got to believe that you’re credible. They’ve got to believe that you’re honest, competent, forward-looking and inspiring. You can ask yourself how would people describe me. And you can ask yourself, in my behaviour and in my actions: Do I demonstrate to people my honesty? Do I demonstrate to them my competency? Do I demonstrate to them my enthusiasm, my passion? Do I demonstrate for them what it is that I care about?

We need to be able to tell the truth. We need to be clear on what’s important and why it’s important. And we need to be able to make sure that we act in ways that we say: we say this is important, we follow through with that. We need to continue to develop ourselves, our competency.  Our competency is an asset that appreciates over time. You’ve got to keep filling it up. And leaders are great learners. They’re always open to wonderment and always open to trying to learn more things that they can get better. Good enough never is. You’ve got to be willing to show your enthusiasm, to show your passion. … Show your enthusiasm. Be willing to say: I’m excited about this, this is important, this is significant. And you’ve got to be willing to take a stand. You need to be able to express an opinion. …You need to believe in such a way that other people will believe that you believe and will in fact be infected by your enthusiasm. … The simple truth is this: People will not believe the message if they don’t believe in the messenger.”

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Looking for that singular statement

There’s been some recent talk about vision and goals where I work, and that has somehow led me into thinking about what I personally stand for (at least professionally). Or maybe it could also be because I watched Batman v Superman last weekend and there was this scene wherein the lady senator wants to know what Superman stands for. Anyways, I tried to give it some thought. The truisms and platitudes that I often say crossed my mind. I thought of my default thoughts and my fave quotes. But it’s hard to capture what I stand for or what I’d like to stand for in a singular statement.

Be kind. Play fair.

Let your work speak for itself. Keep on learning. Keep the saw sharp.

No, not quite. Each statement doesn’t quite cut it.

Then something hit me. 16 years out of college, and it hit me! I don’t think I’ve ever been the type who’s so overly gung-ho about graduating from our state university. But I realized that the singular statement I was looking for was in our school motto all along:

Honor and Excellence.

Honor. This captures how it’s not about winning all the time, but more importantly it’s how you played the game. It covers honesty, integrity and respect. It covers selflessness, doing what is right, and giving credit where it’s due.

Excellence. This highlights competence. It covers knowing your craft and continuing to learn to be better than you were previously. It covers setting the bar high. It covers uncompromising standards. This also extends to paving the way for others to excel and being a spotlight to others when it’s their time to shine.

Honor and Excellence. You need both. It’s not one or the other. This means being good at what you do without the needless assholiness. This means rising above others while still remaining grounded. This means expanding your mind, capabilities, scope, or whatever; without getting so full of yourself.

This is a good reminder of what I’d like to see more of in myself, and what I should reward or encourage more in others.

Finished reading: Managing the Test People

It’s a quick and easy read as it promised to be. I’m not a manager and it’s not something I’m planning to be. But I am somewhat in a position of leadership so the book is still quite relevant to me. Judging by how much I’ve highlighted in the book, it’s undeniably quite relevant.

I’m also working with younger folks who I believe have great potential to be leaders. They can be even better leaders than who we have at the moment, but only if they’re positively influenced by the right mindset on both leadership and technical aspects.

I’d go recommend this book to them since the author really paints a great picture of a leader (or manager) to aspire to be. And with its focus on testing teams — or technical teams in general — it’s a perfect fit for us. Reading the book raises the bar for our expectations on managers but only as it should be because we can’t expect nothing less than for our managers to lead and empower their people. You also get insights on how managers should (better) deal with things. But more than that, and I guess what’s most important, you also get to pick up and be reminded on how you should be as a leader (even if not by title).

In closing, the author shares:

Stay on the right path by frequently asking yourself, “Am I being honest? Am I being consistent? Would I want to work with* me?”

*Originally “for”. But since we’re not bosses or managers, “with” seems more relatable.

Maybe that simple level of introspection — especially on that last question — is what we all need to remind us to be first and foremost good colleagues or team mates before even rising to becoming good leaders.

What makes them leaders I want to work with

So leadership happens to be one of the things I think about, you know, just for fun. I’ve been working for quite some time now and I’ve had my fair share of leaders — some by title and some for real. Now, I don’t want to dive deep into my memory banks so I just thought of two leaders I’ve had the good fortune of working with recently. One is my former manager, Eric, and the other is my current project’s product owner, Maneesh. I posed the question: What about them makes it feel like it’s worth it to follow them?

Vision

They aspire for great things. They have an idea of what they want (or at least they seem to). You know they already have a picture of what they want to achieve or some sort of a plan in their heads (or at least it feels like it) so it doesn’t feel like they’re waiting on you to hand them the answer on a silver platter. More importantly, they are able to communicate their views clearly enough to get the team’s buy-in.

What you say matters

When they ask for your inputs, it doesn’t feel like they’re just asking out of courtesy (well, they could’ve been but you couldn’t tell). When you raise a concern, it doesn’t feel like it went in one ear and out the other. You go out of the discussion feeling like you’ve been heard.

Ego is thrown out of the door

They don’t insist on being right all the time. So if you happen to have conflicting ideas, they’re willing to hear you out and they’re also willing to explain where they’re coming from. The focus is on the problem that needs to be solved. So it doesn’t matter if you’ve disagreed on some points midway — what matters is you agree on a solution in the end.

Follow through

When something needs to get done and they’re the one who needs to do it, they act on it right away. Of course, you understand that they’re busy with a lot of other stuff but you can still count on them to follow through — without the need for multiple follow-ups from you.

Clarity, transparency and integrity

It’s hard to pinpoint if one is just the effect of the other. Or if they should be separate points instead of bundled as one. Either way, these three make it easier for us to understand the reason behind certain decisions or actions. Things don’t come in as a surprise (or a shock) because they’re communicated clearly, discussed openly or aligned with some bigger plan or purpose. What’s been done is congruent to what’s been said. There’s little to no room for second guessing or thinking “Oh, he probably means well…”

Your success in mind

Maybe it’s just me, but I think to have your success in mind is a basic expectation from your managers. Of course, I also expect that people help themselves but managers have the role of removing impediments on your way and setting you up for success. I don’t want to work for someone who just passes the buck (delegation doesn’t always equate to “empowerment”) or throws you out to the wolves.

As for our product owner, I expected that his focus would only be on the product that we’re working on. But for him to express interest in our career progression or on us maturing in our practice, that was something. I do understand that if we do improve ourselves, in turn we’ll provide better service to him. But what I like is that he considers wins for both sides — ours and not only his.

Coincidentally, there’s a buzz in the team on the “growth mindset” — the thinking that you just have to work at something hard enough in order to succeed. But while I understand that it is hugely up to the individual to drive his own success, you can’t discount how it’s also a matter of a bunch of other things including leaders who truly empower and enable you. I guess the paragraph below from this post states it much better:

“Ultimately, I’m convinced that there’s great power in starting from a place of believing that all people can improve themselves if the conditions are right, and I think that’s what Kohn is getting at when he worries about the growth mindset ideology being co-opted by personal responsibility advocates. Human beings are not vacuums. We rely on family, teachers, economics, societal expectations, and a range of other factors beyond ourselves to contribute to our success. The notion that personal responsibility is the only condition that matters for success, or the most important one, is just plain false.”

That’s about it

So those are just the stuff that’s on the top of my head. Ultimately (I just had to use “ultimately” myself), I think the best relationships are the ones that don’t feel forced, and that also goes for you and your leader. I guess one last thing I can add to the list is how they didn’t just ask for my respect — they earned it.

Brain dump: Being a test lead

I’m grooming a team mate to become a test lead. What makes this role different from being a tester?

As a tester, your focus is on your test assignments. But as you become more senior (and not just when you become a test lead), you need to start looking at the bigger picture. Not just in terms of functions being tested e.g., you become more concerned as the system as a whole. But you also start seeing your purpose in the software engineering process i.e., you’re an integral part of it and what you want to deliver aren’t test cases or bugs but rather an application that has been fortified by your testing, an application that the target end-user will actually want to use. Software isn’t made to just make jobs for us who are in the business of delivering software. Software is for helping people do the stuff they need.

I guess I’m getting ahead of myself with that explanation and that might be too much to take in.

So a simpler answer…

  • As a test lead, you need to be able to coordinate test tasks among the test team.
  • There’s also a lot of admin work like you need to be able to note attendance or how to contact folks just in case they don’t show up.
  • You also need to watch out for risks, dependencies, assumptions, constraints (or basically anything that could go wrong), and for issues (when things went wrong), and capture lessons learned. As a tester, you already do this but it scales up when you’re the test lead.
  • You also act as a representative of the test team — if there are concerns that they hesitate to raise, you have to either encourage them to raise it or raise it yourself.
  • You need to be able to initiate creation of templates, standards, guidelines, workflows that will help the test team do their work.
  • You need to be able to review other testers’ work — be it test case drafting, test execution, bug reporting, status reporting.
  • You need to be on your toes in case something tricky or complex comes along so that you can suggest options or strategies on how to go about with it.
  • You also need to be able to take the blunt hits for your team when something doesn’t work out, because in a way you are more accountable if you’re the “lead” in general. You might think leads or project managers have it easy because most of the time it looks like they’re just doing reports or asking others to do the work. But when shit hits the fan and the team doesn’t deliver, someone’s going to look for a neck to choke and often it’s theirs.

Ok. That’s about all I can write this morning. Till my next brain dump.

Testing Mindset

At work, I’m helping a colleague in developing a material on ‘testing mindset’ which is to be shared to our fellow testers. Initially, we have this list of one-liners — catchphrases that we hope would stick like: Always ask the question why, Assume the product is broken, Trust but verify, etc.

I tried going over them one evening. And while they do emphasize some qualities that are important for testers — like being persistent, curious, attentive to detail, critical-minded — I felt that it was still lacking. Some qualities that I deem important were missing — like having good communication skills, being a team player, being technically skilled, striving for self-improvement, having pride and ownership of your work/craft. I came up with an 8-point bullet list describing qualities that I would like in my test team, until I cut myself short since I was working time-bound. And as I’ve taken a step back from the one-liners to come up with this incomplete list of desired qualities, I took another step back from these qualities and thought of what is the driving force behind the need for these qualities.

Why must testers have those qualities I’ve been enumerating?  Why must they keep those catchphrases in mind?

In pausing and taking a step back, I realize it’s all for making things better. I guess that’s my personal testing mindset: I try to make things better.

When I started testing, I thought it was my nitpicking skills and slight OC-ness that made me such a good fit for the job. I just loved finding bugs (and still do)! Over time and over many projects, I found that my purpose in the team isn’t just to find bugs. Essentially, it’s to try to make things better. By “things”, I don’t only mean the products under test. But also my working relationship with my team mates, work loads, schedules, processes, the team itself, and even myself.

  • Say, I try to expose the bugs and report them, so that they’d get fix. Product gets better.
  • I try to provide suggestions for improvement like a comment on usability. Product gets better. If fixed, that suggestion could cut short the work that the end-user has to do.
  • I try to report bugs clearly and concisely. Dev’s life and mine are better than it would have been if i had given a vague report. Dev will hopefully be able to replicate the bug so he won’t have to nag me for details.
  • I try to find shortcuts and tools, and share them with the team. Tester’s lives are better. Even just the little things that could help minimize the tedium of some of the tasks we do is something I appreciate.
  • I try to read up, and try to continue learning and improving myself. I (hopefully) get better. (Well, i try.)
  • I try to encourage knowledge sharing among team members. The team (hopefully) gets better.
  • Etc.

Yoda might disapprove, because after all he said “there is no try.” But still, we must persist. The things we do, the qualities we instill in ourselves, our values — these must all drive towards the betterment of our team, our product, and ourselves.

Today’s team meeting: leadership and failure

We had our regular team meeting yesterday and Dwight shared a couple of videos. They’re both from TED talks. The first video is a talk by Derek Sivers where he shows a dancing guy whose top looks like he’ll have a pretty mean sunburn right afterwards. He starts dancing like no one’s watching, first by himself. And then one other guy joins in, and soon there’s a big crowd dancing. The video and a transcript of the video is available here: http://sivers.org/ff. The key lesson I suppose is that although leadership is important, but being a courageous follower is also important.

The next video is by David Damberger, who is the founder of Engineers Without Borders. He discusses how projects that sought to help the needy — through building physical structures like schools, wells, and such — would often fail due to lack of maintenance. And then there would be similar projects also aiming to help the same cause but also ending up with the same problems. In the end, these projects don’t end up helping as much as they should have. Here’s a link to the TEDx vid: http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxYYC-David-Damberger-Learnin. This reminds me of the value of lessons learned. And being in the software industry, it reminded me of the Classic Mistakes that I read about from Steve McConnell’s Rapid Development: Taming Wild Software Schedules. I previously blogged about it, so I got the notes from there and shared it to the team. In my post, I said that this list is not about rubbing salt to the would or adding insult to injury. It’s about knowing what most likely could go wrong (based on what had gone wrong a LOT), and taking measures to avoid them.