When Your Mentor Moves On:
 Dealing with A Change In Ideal Leadership

By Brian J. Noggle

In retrospect, it seemed idyllic.

The QA manager was great. Not only did the boss understand and support your drive to learn more by attending conferences, but he or she even allowed you to read articles and interact with the testing community on company time. When someone sought a scapegoat when a bug slipped into production, the manager fought back and left the team out of the political maneuvering.

Of course, you only recognize this acutely now that someone else noticed and has hired or promoted your mentor away from you. Things are going to change, and you're afraid not for the better.

Although things are going to be different, you can follow certain steps to ease your own transition. Your organization might hire, transfer, or promote someone to lead. (The Powers That Be might even promote you, but if that's the case, you've got other things to worry about than learning to work with a new manager.)

This article describes some things to consider when facing this situation.

Don't do anything quickly

The departure of your mentor can be a sharp and sudden emotional blow. Depending upon the replacement protocols--whether your organization promotes from within or looks for someone from outside the organization and how long the process takes--and who replaces your old boss (certainly not that peer whom you don't like), you might be tempted to immediately walk out in a fit of pique. Although it's never a bad idea to keep your options open and to keep apprised of available openings, don't make a sudden move because of the change. It might be for the better, it might be for the same, but it doesn't have to be for the worst.

Wait for the equilibrium to return.

A change in leadership comes with a period of change, including the transition out by your sensei, the search for the new leader, and then the most dramatic and difficult of all: the time it takes the new boss to learn your organization's situation and to apply his or her knowledge to what you're doing, such as your balance between automation and manual testing and why. This transition will go a lot faster if your organization has promoted from within.

Regardless, it might take as long as a couple of months for the new person to fully get it. Be patient and see how the new chemistry and workflow evolves. You probably won't be able to predict this accurately immediately.

Recognize it is a new situation

The new boss won't do things the same way, and the environment and micro-culture of your group or team will change. Although you will be tempted to compare how things are to how things used to be, you're better off if you can conceptualize it as an entirely new situation. Instead of thinking of the new leader as the new guy, think of yourself as the new guy, as though you were hired for this job anew and you have to fit into the existing culture.

It's a bit of an extreme mental exercise, but it can help you to de-center in the situation.

Learn new things from someone new

Whoever replaces your manager will bring new perspectives and experience to the position. If he or she comes from outside your organization but a similar company, analogous situations he or she encountered there might suggest efficiencies to apply to you group or problems to avoid. Perhaps back in the old country, the testers switched teams often to maintain fresh eyes. What would that be like here?
In addition to the business knowledge, another person might have a different leadership style than your previous manager--more Lombardi and less Vermeil, more Jack Welch and less Sheryl Sandberg, more Elizabeth II and less Mary, Queen of Scots. You can learn things not only from a business perspective, but also in a meta sense how he or she deals with people--like you. Each thing that the new manager does differently from your last offers a chance to compare the two and to perhaps learn which is better and why.

Take a moment to teach.

When you're presented with some newbie in your team, even if it's the boss, you might have an opportunity to show the new manager the ropes, what your existing procedures are (and why), and how to improve them. You can explain why it's good that your team reviews all copy before it's put into the Web site, but perhaps it would be even better if you could review it before it went through legal approval to streamline the process.

In addition to learning from the new boss, you can learn something about how well you share information.

If all else fails, leave at your own pace

You might find that you do not fit in with the new manager. Maybe the new manager discards your experiential knowledge of the company and insists you should change from Selenium to an obscure and under-supported automated testing framework it because that's what his old company used. Maybe the new majordomo dismisses ideas from underlings with little thought. Maybe the new boss likes meetings more than working. Perhaps she pops her gum. For whatever reason or, more likely, reasons, you and the new manager do not work together well. If so, you can leave at your own pace.

Explore the opportunities, take the time to research and contemplate your next move, and then act when the time is right. By biding your time and not acting immediately when your mentor leaves, you'll keep yourself from a desperate situation where you don't have a job or accepting the first job offer as salvation from your disappointment. Although you're not in control of your situation or your leadership, you can remain in control of yourself and survive and even succeed through the transition.

About Brian J. Noggle

Brian has worked in quality assurance and technical writing for almost twenty years, working with a variety of software types and industries. He currently works as a freelance software testing consultant through his own company, Jeracor Group LLC, and has published a novel set in the IT world, John Donnelly's Gold.