Providing Value as a Leader: More Than Just Being the Boss
At the beginning of every school year, my girls create posters that read, “When I grow up, I want to be a …” and we take photos of them and have memories from each grade. There have been some great aspirations over the years: mommy, teacher, princess (and princess tiger!), camp counselor, horseback rider, and even flamingo!
As a manager or future manager, what does your aspirational poster say? Is it, “When I become the boss, I want to fix things,” or “to be in control,” or “to make great decisions”?
My poster says, “When I become a leader, I want to help my team be the best they can be.” As a leader, my job is not to be the boss and check on every task, but to provide value to my team, helping them grow and learn to fix things and make great decisions without me.
To grow my team, I have to give them supportive ownership. When I first had management responsibility, I wanted to have all testing information come through me so that I could understand everything going on, keep track of workloads, assign tasks, and be “in control,” even though that was an illusion. I was a funnel—the single important point of contact. While this has the upside of allowing me to have lots of information, it doesn’t lead to independent, awesome testers.
Now, instead of tasks coming to me for assignment, I’ve assigned a few testers to each development team we support and given responsibility directly to the testers on those teams. They have to work with developers, product managers, and documenters to release awesome features. They have to advocate for quality and testability. They have to push back when development is outpacing testing. Testers on my team have to own testing, not just accomplish testing tasks.
Of course, I do support testers by also pushing back on development, advocating for quality, and interacting with the leaders of those teams, but one of the best ways I provide value is by asking testers lots and lots of questions. Questions are the primary way I learn about people—where they came from, how they think, and why they approach something in a certain way. Questions help clarify expectations, confirm understanding, and build relationships. Questions can also uncover unvoiced issues that might be happening, challenges someone is experiencing, or highlight something new and exciting.
The best questions to ask are the ones that lead to more questions: What if … ? Have you thought about … ? Can you tell me about … ? What do you think? How do you feel about … ? All of these are open-ended questions that lead to more than one-word answers, and that enables me as a leader to give more informed guidance, next steps, or correction, helping my team be the best they can be.
Without asking questions, I’m either left to assume (and often my assumptions are incorrect), or I’m back to control—I need to be cc’d on every email, review every artifact created, and be constantly following what my team is doing, which isn’t practical, effective, or motivating. I choose to give up control and ask questions instead.
As a leader, what aspiration is on your poster? And what’s your plan for achieving it?
Jeff Abshoff is presenting the session Providing Value as a Leader: More Than Just Being the Boss at STARCANADA 2019, October 20–25 in Toronto, Ontario.