By: Peter Walen (Twitter/Blog)

Test Leadership Camp an open space meeting organized by the LeadershipSIG of AST, held the Thursday after CAST. One of the topics discussed was a fundamental concept, “What is Leadership?” The discussion was wide-ranging and covered a variety of topics.

The primary points under discussion involved a variety of topics around leadership. Central to this was that leadership and management are often conflated. For these discussions, the focus was on the technical aspects of leadership, and less on the organizational aspects around management.

In this, the ideas expressed in Gerry Weinberg’s Becoming a Technical Leader were discussed. This moved to a discussion around the idea that a Leader is a person who influences others. This influence may be intentional or unintentional in nature, depending on the nature of the relationship. A colleague may influence those they work with by example. A manager may influence a team by defining expectations they have. These can be either direct or indirect sources of influence or leadership.

In some instances, the person perceived as a leader may be acting on their own volition. They may be looking for something to address their needs or curiosity. They may be looking for solutions to problems for themselves, and find others are observing and learning from their work. The question becomes, are they a leader? If they are a leader, did they intend to be or are they an unintentional leader?

For them, they are pursuing their own ends and find themselves being talked about as leaders. These people are going somewhere and others seem to think that may be a good place to go as well, so they follow. Whether they wish to be leaders or not, they are one.

Others set out to be leaders by some measure. These are the intentional leaders. They step out and put themselves in a position of authority, either positional or based on experience. For those where the authority is based on position, to aspects of leadership can be tenuous. Experience based has its own pitfalls as well. Simply by having varied experiences, they can possibly draw on this experience to anticipate problems or potential outcomes. Thus, they have a different perspective and opinions that are often worth considering.

Those leaders who are in a position where that position in itself gives them some level of authority can have their own challenges. If they can draw on experience in testing, it may be a bit easier for them.

One core need for leaders of all sorts is honesty with themselves. Leaders must be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and be honest about them. When they are honest with themselves on their weaknesses, they may be more likely to learn from mistakes and help others learn from theirs as well.

These myriad ideas touch on aspects of leadership in its many forms. They are common to leadership in and out of testing, as well as those leaders who are also managers.

It is the intent of the Leadership SIG to focus on the aspects of testing, and Context Driven Testing in particular. In working with Test Management and senior management, test leaders need to demonstrate abilities to explain what they do in terms that are clear to non-practitioner professionals. It is our challenge to learn together and advocate and promote context driven testing to test managers and above.