Lessons Learned About Leadership, From Perspective Of An Aspiring Leader
For testers trying to get into Team Lead or similar roles
by Mirza Sisic
For the most of my career, I was perfectly happy being a regular member of the team. Over time,I have been observing other leaders and thinking about what I would do if I was in their shoes - what I would improve and how I would go about doing it. In the past two/three years I have been performing more of a senior role. I also kept thinking about being a team lead,and wanting to try a different challenge, to lead others.
Often, I felt that a lot of leads were not leading the team - they were mostly doing administrative stuff (mandated by the company) and not genuinely caring for the team. A lead is not just a manager, a lead, in my opinion, should be a servant-leader, inspiring the team, leading by example, inspiring confidence in their team members and being there for them.
This article reflects on my personal observations and the mistakes I made while trying to become recognised as a QA lead, also, to share the lessons learned from those mistakes.
Find a Mentor
Finding someone who has already followed the path you are planning to take or even a similar path, can be incredibly valuable. Whilst you can learn a lot by watching courses and completing training, there are things that you can only gain from experience and having someone who is willing to share their experience with you will go a long way.
Become a Mentor
You could also become a mentor yourself, this way you can show that you have some of the skills that a lead may need. Speaking from personal experience (I was a mentor four times), being a mentor can be demanding if you are a caring person. Even so, it is a valuable experience, you get to witness first hand a lot of things that motivate and/or demotivate people. Also, as a lead you may be required to mentor your team members (to a certain degree) this overlap in skills will help you in the long run!
In many instances, this could be your current team lead, as it may be the most obvious and often the most practical approach. Or it can be a less official kind of a mentor. Choosing your current supervisor as a mentor can be problematic as some people might be jealous of potential competitors and may refuse to mentor you, or even worse hinder you by giving you wrong advice. So in short, give it a decent amount of thought and choose your mentor carefully.
Finding an external mentor can also be beneficial if you find someone who is willing to help you out by passing on their knowledge. This can be through a volunteering opportunity, perhaps by offering to help a local meetup organizer, or taking part in some other type of community and trying to learn from the community's leader.
What Qualities Should You Look For in a Mentor?
- Your mentor should be someone with relevant knowledge and experience, in our case, an individual who has experience in testing and leading a team of testers-.
- Your mentor should be a person that is willing to share their knowledge, someone who is passionate about teaching others.
- Your mentor should be someone who treats others with respect, regardless of where others might be placed within the company’s hierarchy.
- Your mentor should be a good communicator who is able to share useful feedback, both positive and constructive feedback.
- Your mentor should be someone who is enthusiastic about mentoring. Mentoring others can be very demanding and ideally your mentor should be teaching you of their own free will, rather than someone who has been just ordered to do so by their higher-ups.
- A good mentor should show empathy. Meaning the mentor should remember that they were also new to this journey once upon a time and explain things that they might take for granted, but are very valuable to you as a new leader.
- Your mentor should encourage and empower you to do things outside of your comfort zone, helping you to increase your level of self-confidence in your growing leadership skills.
Learn About Leadership by Observing Your Team
You can learn a lot about leadership by observing how the members of your team are feeling about your current team leader. Look for what your team members like about the leadership style of your current lead and draw lessons from that.
Also, even more valuable, is to take note of things your team doesn’t like about your team lead. Finding out these things won’t come overnight, for people to confide in you they’ll need to accept you and that takes time.
Observing how your current lead is behaving in different situations can also provide you with valuable insight - if they are under pressure do they take it on their own subordinates, or do they try their best to protect the team?
These can range from micromanagement (people rarely respond well to that) to lack of genuine interest in the career growth of their subordinates. Bear in mind, however, that you will need to gain trust of your team before they start disclosing such things with you.
Understand the Culture of your Company
Since you are trying to become a lead in the company, you will need to adjust your leadership style to match the company culture. Taking on board accepted practices and company’s official policies - if these go against your own values, then you might want to look for another company, so you can remain true to yourself. Are you deemed as a “culture fit” within your company? The person mentoring you can also provide more insight on this, both directly and indirectly so you can assess what type of leadership style is acceptable within the company. If not, ask yourself if the company values and work atmosphere are in conflict with your belief and work ethic. If that is not the case, you might need to look for a company that has a culture that you can get behind.
Generally, theory and practice usually differ, so what the official company policies state might be entirely different in practice, so keep that in mind. You can get more insight on the situation in the company by observing the employees, checking to spot any non-written “rules”, looking it up on online review sites, like Glassdoor and talking to people who previously worked in a company - since they no longer work there they might be more open for discussion and willing to share some insider tips.
Define your Ambitions
If people do not know that you want something they won’t consider giving it to you. I got passed up for a team lead position once, one of the reasons given was the fact that I never expressed interest in becoming a lead. Most companies will have you set up some kind of career plan, with goals set in the future, for example for a yearly performance review. You should let your superiors know that you want to lead a team so your personal goals can be aligned with this goal. This way you will be able to set yourself a timeline with achievable objectives so you can keep yourself accountable for completing them - this is an important motivational factor to avoid procrastination.
Why do you Want to be a Lead?
You need to figure out what motivates you to become a lead. Why is leadership important to you? If you are only aiming for a better salary there are possibly better ways to go about it. However, if you have a sincere desire to become a lead in order to improve things for your team, to encourage them to grow, improve processes and learn new valuable skills then you just might be on the right track! Think hard around the reasons behind your ambition, to determine if this is something you want.
Demonstrate what is expected of a lead - from my experience, this can be in the form of a replacement, by taking over your lead's duties while they’re on a vacation and, as mentioned previously mentoring others. You can also get feedback from others on things that you may be lacking as well, make them aware of what you want to achieve and then see if there's any feedback from them to help you achieve your goals. You might have to take certain certifications, workshops focused on leadership and soft skills, getting familiarized with the company’s administration tools etc. If you are long enough in the team, you can ask to become a temporary replacement for your team lead, for instance, while they are away for a vacation. This will be extremely valuable as you will see in practice what are the duties of a team lead.
Mind map of the described process:
To summarize, some ways which might help you become a lead would be to find a mentor, or/and to become a mentor for someone yourself. Make sure your mentor is someone knowledgeable and willing to share knowledge, and if you become someone else’s mentor make sure you fulfil the same criteria you are expecting from others. Observe your team and learn by analyzing what you notice. Understand the culture in your company, pertaining to leadership and decide if it coincides with your values as well. Make a plan and be clear to yourself about your ambitions, ask yourself a lot of “why” questions. Most importantly, be persistent and sincere in attaining your goals!
Mirza has always been a technology geek, helping friends and family with computer related issues. Started originally in tech support in 2014 and moved to testing in 2017, and have been there since. Worked as a freelance web developer for a while as well. When he’s not sharing memes online Mirza is usually learning new things, or writing posts for his blog.