One of my previous posts kicked off the Test Leadership series on my blog, if you missed it, please catch-up here :THE TEST LEADERSHIP LEAP! AN INTRO (PART1-LEADERSHIP SERIES), at the end of that post I did mention that there were layers and layers of aspects behind leadership- so in this post I would like to dive into a few more aspects that could help shape your leadership skills. Today I will touch on these important points:-
-The art of listening in leadership
I will try to focus on the above points firstly in generic terms and then try to bring it back specifically to the testing world and how this could be implemented practically.
The art of listening
Has your partner ever told you “But you never listen to me?” – sometimes this statement can have serious repercussions to a relationship and sometimes its just a frustration. However in a professional context especially when you are told this as a leader, it could potentially have a negative impact , possibly even lead to mistrust between individuals, leading to the resignations of individuals. Ultimately leaders (and managers) who listen effectively create much more trustworthy and open relationships. This also builds your image as being a more empathetic or compassionate leader. Finding the perfect balance between tech, testing and people is not always the easiest but it goes a long way in building a team of people who follow a common vision.
So how can we apply this concept to the testing field. Firstly all testers are people (sorry automation tools :-)) and no testing leader or manager will be dealing with people who are immune to personal issues. Whether it be to due personal relationship matters, health issues, financial matters or anything else of a personal nature, the leader has to rise up to factor this when delegating or assigning any task/project or deliverable. Whether that deliverable be a short term sprint level goal or even a company wide goal one has to take into account what impact external influences have on achieving a task before evaluating when a task has not been met.
One aspect I recently changed after starting my leadership journey in the recent months was to tackle this element of ‘active listening’ by setting up recurring one on ones (or catch-ups) with those I am leading. Not only doing that but changing my approach on how I go about tackling these one on one sessions by starting of conversations to have a personal touch rather than going into robot, work mode. I will elaborate on the frequency and approach change below.
setup time and space to listen:
Being in a tech space I found myself constantly working across multiple technologies and looking to implement new tools, type of tests etc. This made time to catch-up with my reportees and mentees much less and very unfair to them. If they had certain expectations in a team and broader context which were not being achieved, by me not knowing the circumstances around these non-achievements is not a fault on them but rather on me as a leader.
Managing expectations based on real-world circumstances around individuals is so key to maintaining effective output in a workplace. Unrealistic expectations usually leads to frustration, disengagement and a feeling of going with the flow. Never let this happen to those you ‘lead’. By increasing the frequency of catch-ups from monthly to bi-monthly and also open the door to impromptu private chats (when needed) has made a massive difference in my relationship with those that I lead. Its amazing what you get to hear from others if you just set aside time and space for them to share what experiences, challenges ,celebrations and impediments they are facing – both in a private and work context.
Some initial concepts around my approach to enhance listening included the following:-
- Start catch-ups with ice-breaker or comments funny/interesting events happening currently to make the mood/setting relaxed and comfortable
- Leave the stage open for the person to tell you how things are going for them in a personal and work context.
- As a leader its important to maintain proper body language and show genuine level of caring in what they are sharing (put yourself in their shoes)
- remove or put away distractions like smartphones etc during the catch-up
- try to let them tell their full story , do not interrupt unnecessarily
- give suggestions if a problem or issue has been highlighted. A suggestion based on practical implementation is valued way more than something blue-skies or unreasonable.
This then equips the leader with a mental map of how to tread when dealing with a specific individual. From Test Automation task to General test tasks I now know better the boundaries or barriers regarding achievement of these tasks by each one of the people I lead, also
‘hopefully’ 🙂 gaining their trust in having a genuine interest in their lives
If you are doing feedback as a leader which is one directional (leader>lead) you might want to revisit or open yourself to feedback the other way too (lead>leader). With any relationship, open and honest two way communication is critical to the success of that relationship.
Usually to most people let alone leaders eliciting and requesting feedback can seem like a daunting task. But in my view this is imperative for one to have sight of their ‘blind-spots’ and help them grow as a leader.
Even when a leader musters the courage to request frequent feedback, how one goes about requesting it, usually requires a measured approach.
- Be specific. For example in your catchup or emails to those whom your lead, don’t just state “do you have any feedback for me?”. Usually the person you lead will feel scared or uncomfortable to speak his or her mind. Ask questions like “right now do you feel as if there is anything more I can do on the UI automation side to make automation easier for you?” or “do you feel like you received enough support from me when that Dev challenged you on that bug that you logged”
- Don’t become defensive if you hear negative feedback. Rather gather your thoughts and try to think it through, then let the other person know that its a potential action point which they can hold you accountable to try rectify or action in future
- find peers or people on your leadership/management level to give you feedback on how you can be more effective or areas where they feel you need to improve on.
The ultimate goal for yourself is to look at negative feedback as something constructive and help find out where it fits in helping you to become a better leader.
More layers to come…
As I keep writing these posts I realize there are many avenues one can go down in this leadership journey, most overlap so its extremely tricky to put these down as a step-by-step guide to leadership. In reality leadership is a mash-up of various ingredients which only gives the best flavor when mixed and applied correctly.
Bolster your leadership armoury!