Developing Your Leadership Potential


There are a lot of great leaders within the testing community. Most everyone could produce a list of whom they consider a leader and the qualities that they admire about them. However, I do have a concern that the “leadership” label can actually prevent testers from recognizing their own potential. Too many testers believe if they do not have the “right” title they cannot be leaders. Some testers will have “leader” in their job title such as a “team leader”. They may lead a team of testers to meet a testing deadline by providing direction and oversight. Others will have “leadership” implied in the job function. A senior software tester may provide leadership through decision-making and solving complicated testing problems to provide guidance to more junior testers. The Testing Manager may provide leadership through sharing vision and strategic direction. I would like to dedicate a few postings to talk more about developing your leadership potential and opportunities – regardless of your job title.

Leadership Definition
How do you define “leadership”? Depending upon whom you ask, they may provide a slightly different definition. Below are definitions from popular leadership experts and from the online business dictionary.

Dr. Stephen R Covey teacher, organizational consultant, and author:
“Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.”

Dr. John Kotter, Harvard Business School and the Chief Innovation Officer at Kotter International. From HBR Blog network January 9, 2013:
“It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities. Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change. Leadership is not about attributes, it’s about behavior. And in an ever-faster-moving world, leadership is increasingly needed from more and more people, no matter where they are in a hierarchy.”

From the online Business Dictionary:
The activity of leading a group of people or an organization or the ability to do this. Leadership involves:

  • establishing a clear vision,
  • sharing that vision with others so that they will follow willingly,
  • providing the information, knowledge and methods to realize that vision,
  • coordinating and balancing the conflicting interests of all members and stakeholders.

A leader steps up in times of crisis, and is able to think and act creatively in difficult situations. Unlike management, leadership cannot be taught, although it may be learned and enhanced through coaching or mentoring.

Whose Leadership Do you Admire?
Create a list of testers who inspire you and whose leadership you admire. What makes them a good leader? Did they receive a promotion and suddenly people started to follow them? Or did they build a reputation over time where earned respect resulted in people seeking them out and following their direction? How many of them had “leadership” in their title or job function?

There are many testers I admire for their leadership skills – often I do not know their job title or job responsibilities. I respect the ability to identify and progress a vision that is adopted by other testers. The creation and evolution of weekend testing is a perfect example. There were the initial testers who led the initiative and then testers around the world stepped into leadership roles to create and evolve their chapters. I admire those who become a champion for different approaches such as documenting test ideas and strategies. A great example is the teaching and sharing of practical examples on how to use a tool like mind maps. The leadership I have witnessed by several testers has influenced many testers throughout the world to adopt mind maps as a testing tool.

Throughout the years, I have witnessed leadership within companies I am employed by testers stepping into this role when their title and job function does not indicate “leadership”. Some have taken the lead when a project is in trouble. Other testers have taken the initiative to learn complex functionality to lead those testing efforts. While other testers excelled in their communication ability to present new ideas for acceptance by other testers.

When testers believe that they need to be in the right job before they can become leaders, they can actually limit their career progression. Typically people are promoted once they demonstrate the ability to perform higher-level position responsibilities. This should not be interpreted that you should only work on your leadership skills when there is a promotion opportunity. Developing these opportunities can make your current position more rewarding. Becoming a leader is not like turning a light bulb on and off. I receive a promotion and now I can be a leader. This is flawed thinking that I have witnessed in the testing community. Leadership presence is not a title instead it requires influence and respect that is earned through your actions. For example, it is making eye contact, personal connections, building trust and respect, and acknowledging other people’s skills and abilities. Leaders initiate communication and relationships with other people – they do not wait for people to seek them out.

So you might be wondering how to develop your leadership potential. Leaders identify opportunities and take calculated risks. We have seen that with the examples I discussed in this article. However, do not be concerned that you need to start off with something big. Find small opportunities to develop your leadership skills, reputation, and consider developing your own learning plan.

What have you done to develop your leadership potential? What could you be doing now to be a better leader?

9 responses

  1. Great thoughts Bernice! I like the way you research a subject and provided us a Dictionary meaning and experts like Steve Covey’s meaning of leadership. It really helps.

    As a tester who is working to improve leadership skills, I have been learning new skills from fellow testers, from my direct managers and also from folks who are programmers or business analysts. There is so much opportunity to learn these skills from people around you.

    1. Thank you for reading my posting and responding! Your feedback is valuable for me to know what type of information people may like. I agree with you that not only can we learn from other testers, but we can learn from people in other job roles. I love watching how people handle different situations such as presenting a new idea or approach or dealing with conflict. There is always something you can learn.

  2. Thanks Bernice,
    I left thinking about the roles of lead (dev/test). I believe who strives and leads the team with motivation and sharing knowledge with the team – creating new ideas, mentoring is an inpiring leader.

    1. That is a great definition of leadership! I especially like the sharing of knowledge as I too believe that is critical. As a leader it is important that you are sharing your knowledge and as such you also need to be developing your own skills.

  3. I love this post, Bernice! I agree with you 100%. As most of us have experienced, a title does not make one a leader. It’s who you are, how you carry yourself, how you help others. And if/when you get a ‘title’, don’t believe you’ve ‘arrived’. It doesn’t define you, it’s just a title. Continue on your journey of being an even better leader and person. There’s so much to learn and everyone is a teacher!

    I actually wrote a blog post about leadership myself back in September that I hope you’ll enjoy (

    Nice job!


    1. Thanks so much Teri! And you are right – don’t act like you have arrived – there is always something to learn – a better way to lead – new problems to lead a team through – so much more than a title. I loved your blog and thank you for sharing it with me!!

  4. […] my first posting I started a discussion on leadership and what it can mean to testers. I want to share Teri Charles […]

  5. […] skills, I will be sharing a few books that I have read and found beneficial over the years. See Developing Your Leadership Potential and Leadership Books, Seminars, and Workshops for the first two parts of this […]

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