3 Tips for Moving Up the Testing Leadership Ladder
Some folks sit around and just hope they’ll be promoted. Some ask for promotion before they are ready. Some wait a decade for promotion through attrition. I’ve learned a lot of lessons trying to move up the leadership ladder, so here are three tips.
The first is to simply shadow your boss. What would you do in your boss’s shoes? Would you have hired that person? Would you have paid that much to the new vendor? What does your boss’s boss want? What leadership skills do you think the team needs more of? Less of? Role-play as if you are making the decisions.
This will build up your critical thinking skills. If your boss rolls out a new strategy doc, take the time to write your own private version of it. If your boss sends an email or a status update, discreetly write your own copy. Don’t wait for that promotion opportunity to start thinking about how you would execute in the new role. If the moment is right, share your thoughts, but for the most part just keep your thoughts to yourself and exercise your brain. Before you know it, people will realize you are thinking at a higher level, and opportunities will open up.
Second, move to the opportunity. Perhaps the most difficult but most effective way to move up the test leadership ladder is to work on teams that are growing quickly.
Rather than wait for someone to retire, move to a team that is creating new positions. If you work at a large corporation, look for the new initiatives—the next-generation teams. Yes, it can be a bit risky, but your promotion velocity will speed up.
The most extreme form of this is two steps forward and one back: Join a startup where you can get an inflated title that is two levels above your current title. Then, when you return to a mega-corp years later, you can take a slight downgrade in your title (that’s still higher than the one you had when you left). Look at the resumes of some of the most senior test folks on LinkedIn and you’ll see that they often pulled a maneuver like this, whether they intended to or not.
Third, make others wish you were in that role. If you are an individual contributor, don’t just keep your head down and excel at your current duties; look for ways to mentor your teammates, collaborate across teams, and build a relationship with the people a level above your bosses.
Selflessly look out for your peers’ needs. Understand and ask about their work. Help them out when they are stuck. Let them trust you. Be proactive about sharing with other teams in your organization, even if it's not your role or they haven't asked. Grab coffee with your boss’s boss, show that you care about their concerns, ask what their vision is, and look for opportunities to help them out and further their vision.
The goal here is to connect with the people around you and make them wish you were farther up the ladder. Not only would it be better for the company if you were on that next rung, but their career would be better, too.
Jason Arbon is presenting the Leadership Summit session Lessons Learned Moving Up the Testing Leadership Ladder, as well as the keynote The AI Testing Singularity; the tutorial Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Skills for the Testing World; and the sessions Postmodern Testing and AI in Testing: A Moderated Panel Discussion at the STAREAST 2019 conference, April 28–May 3 in Orlando, Florida.