On: Leadership

So, I had a friend and colleague ask me about leadership advice since they’re applying for a leadership position, and it inspired me to share some of the things that I learned from my 5-ish years as a Test Lead at Keywords’ Babel Games Services. Please note that this is just my take on how I did my job and doesn’t necessarily reflect the current level of high quality that should be expected from Babel’s services.

I worked as a tester for many years before I became a Test Lead, so I was very familiar with both Leader and Boss manager archetypes. I’ve felt both punishment and reward for my efforts as I learned more about about testing methodologies and what works best for different people. When the opportunity rose to become a Lead, I didn’t really want the job, but I could see that I could make a difference and knew I’d be able to do the job well.

Turns out, I loved it! I get great satisfaction from making people’s jobs easier, and that’s what I did for my team. I had previously also worked in over-counter customer service, so making sure I pleased my clients became second nature to me, and was easy-peazy.

Whenever there was a problem like an inefficient or lackluster database, and checklists that would drive you mad, I tried my best to optimize them and shuffle testers every so often to keep people fresh and avoid the feeling of being “punished” by betting given the shitty checklist.

We worked with the Atlassian suite, and I learned so much about JIRA and Confluence that I could probably teach a course on them right now. I even used them at home for tracking hobby projects and my first attempt at organizing my stories in a coherent way that worked well for me (though I obviously didn’t launch my stories until now).

I’ve always had a bit of an anarchist streak, so bending the rules within reason so my teams could listen to music when not testing audio or watch videos on their breaks was a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. My motto for my teams was “as long as we get the work done well, I don’t mind what you do to keep you focused”. Personally, I work best with some Electro House or Operatic Metal tunes blaring in my ears – and I acknowledged that everyone’s got their optimum environment for productivity.

Plus, I’m super easy going, which helped make me a very approachable leader. Folks came to me for work advice that they would’ve been otherwise too embarrassed to ask about. I coached teammates with things from basic computer knowledge and use, to more advanced things like VBA scripts for MS Office. Like I said, I get satisfaction from making people’s jobs easier.

Another point in my favor was being as accommodating as possible. I was good with letting women on my teams take extra breaks or changing expectations – if they needed or wanted it. I did the same with a few diabetics talking some more breaks, and understanding that they may be low on blood sugar, and to keep an eye on them just in case. And there were two Muslims I worked with, one of which I organized him taking longer breaks for his prayers, and while the other was fasting, so we worked out him skipping his lunch break and leaving early (or being able to wiggle some overtime work and pay in for him when he wanted to). The point of this was that I actually got to know the people I worked with as people with needs and personalities, instead of just employees to squeeze numbers out of.

Trusting your team is also a very important part of leadership. Even if they think they can’t do it, trusting them to be able to handle whatever they’re thrown at will give your team an amount of confidence that encourages them to rise to the challenge and make sure that the trust is justified. Be wary of those who might exploit this, but surprise surprise they’re actually quite easy to spot.

I always felt I was in the trenches beside my squad, relaying orders from command. Not giving them orders from a secure operations base or the safety of a bunker, y’know? I’d take a bullet (emailed, of course) for anyone I worked with. And that was really a part of my job. The client or manager would come to me with the necessary targets or quotas, and I’d relay it to my team in the best and most efficient way possible.

I always saw my team members as co-workers just that my job was to facilitate between the client and them. Not “over” or “better”, just a different role with more risk and responsibilities.

If someone wasn’t feeling the best and wanted to go home, I’d encourage them to go earlier than try to get them to hold out for the day like other leads did. I felt it was better to go home and rest and come back closer to 100%, than to constantly overwork them so they’d be floating at 60% all the time.

In general, learning more about who you’re working with will give you the assets you need to ensure the best environment, assignments, and working conditions for your team. And for some reason you can’t get it done, be completely transparent about why you can’t get it done.

Trust me, they’ll appreciate it.

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