Last week I was talking to a team lead, about a team that was really struggling. I asked her why she thought they were struggling, and the answer was immediate: "Leadership! They lack leadership!"
It's easy to see the absence of leadership - but how do you define it's presence? I was confused.
I asked, respectfully, if someone on the team demonstrated leadership, what would that look like? How would it manifest?
That's when things got quiet.
In some cases, a strong leader may be able to demonstrate skills - rapid testing, for example, that others can follow. In others, the leader can be successful through his knowledge of systems, software, and the code itself, explaining why the software is doing what it is doing.
You can hire someone to fill that void, but it's going to be very hard, if possible at all, for an outsider to lead in either of those directions. After that, what's left? Organizing the company softball game? Getting everyone to wear Hawaiian Shirts on Fridays?
Leadership is an area that, like Architecture, deserves a whole lot more thought. To be frank, I find the "obvious" definitions and assumptions to be naive and more than a little silly. Just like architecture. But I digress.
When I was a cadet in Civil Air Patrol (the Auxiliary of the United States Air Force), I learned the definition of leadership as essentially this: To make the other people in the group want
to accomplish the mission.
You'll notice, however, that the definition above is an outcomes-based definition: It is about what happens, not how it happens. To get to the how, we'll need to dig a little deeper: I will borrow from Harvard Business Professor John P. Kotter, in this book On What Leaders Really Do
1) Leaders set direction.
We all have too many things begging for our attention. Leaders make it clear where we are going, and what we should focus on.
2) Create a Common Culture.
A clear direction without culture will leave people without a sense of how to work together, what the Japanese call "Gung Ho." Leaders establish which behaviors are acceptable, which are not, and why.
The hardest part of the three, the leader has to get the other people in the group to rally round the idea and want to accomplish it.
hmm. Now that you mention it, #3 sounds a whole lot like getting other people to want to accomplish the mission. How can we do that?
W.E.B. Griffin, in his historical Novel The Captains, defined it this way:
"When I was a cadet at West Point, I was told, and I believed, and my experience has proven true, that the essence of leadership is this: Men Must have faith in their officers.
Officers Build and establish this faith in a number of different ways.
They never lie to their troops. They never give an order that they themselves are unwilling or unable to perform. And they never obtain a creature comfort until the last private in the rear rank has that same creature comfort."
I read those words when I was sixteen years old -- you guessed it, while I was a cadet in Civil Air Patrol. They stuck with me.
The one thing I have learned since (and this is just me talkin'), is that leaders do stuff
Maybe it is starting Hawaiian
Shirt Day, or "Goofy Youtube video Friday." My style has been to write and speak publicly, to organize user's groups, conferences
, and even organizations
dedicated to software testing -- all the while not taking myself too seriously.
Leaders take action.
The Leadership Void
Back to when I was a military cadet, I once asked my mentor, William F. Duke, what the deal was. I mean, the organization was spending all it's time trying to grow leadership, but there are far more slots at the bottom of the pyramid than the top. Why all this focus on leadership?
Bill replied that we have a leadership void in North America; that if all 55,000 cadets in CAP went off right now to become dynamic Americans and aerospace leaders (the mission of the cadet program), it would be a drop in the bucket.
I'm afraid he had a point. As a nation, culturally, we've lost our way. We've replaced leadership with management
, and we suffer from it. This replacement pushes us, to a great extent, to many of the maladies you've seen on this blog: The desire to institutionalize process, to have easy answers, to manage to a template or a spreadsheet or process instead of getting out there, understanding the problem, and, you know, fixing it
If you'd like, this might be a great place to dig into test leadership, software leadership, and just leadership in general. To wrestle with it and make suggestions. Or, if you want to talk about bug hunts or quality, we can dig into that too, let me know.
If the mean time, the folks at STP are putting together an Online Summit on test management
April 10-12, for about three hours a day. I am pleased to report that it's run by people who "get it", with a session on Invigorating your Team by Anne-Marie Charrett, one on Mentoring Testers by Brian Osman, another on Motivation by Ben Yaroch, and a talk on motivating distributed teams by Karen Johnson. All told, more than half of the content is on leadership, and there's more to come after that.
More to come.