When I was 9 years old, I’d play pick up soccer at recess. A couple of kids – the “leaders” would pick teams, and then we’d play. Since we were kids, the leaders of the teams were sometimes the best players, but usually the loudest kids. Leadership was short-lived, but effective for the purpose. I imagine that it works the same way with the 9-year olds of today.

But we’re not kids anymore.

Leaders today – the good leaders, still may not be the best players on the team, but they’re not the loudest anymore.

Leaders care about making progress in their work and in sharing their results. More importantly, they care about the work and progress far more than they care about their popularity. Good leaders are excellent decision makers (despite ambiguity), and are humble, honest, and accountable when they blow it. They know how to use conflict to draw out insights, and how to create harmony in a bad situation. Simply put, they lead.

I just wish we had more leaders. Leaders who cared more about progress than fighting decade-old arguments; leaders who strive to collaborate more than alienate; leaders more concerned about communication than being the loudest voice in the crowd; and leaders who foster and demand innovation from their followers.

But we don’t – or I can’t find them…but somehow I know they’re out there. Maybe they’re just quiet – or maybe they don’t know they’re leaders yet.

But we need them now.

Note: Sheesh! I’ve already heard from three people who think I’m picking on testing people. I guess it’s because testing people read this blog, but I wasn’t thinking about testing when I wrote this (although I suppose it does apply to leaders in testing).

I recently re-read Seth Godin’s Tribes and Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Temptations of a CEO. The latter (which is really about leadership)  was the primary inspiration for this post – not the loud folks in the testing field.

Hope that slows down the hate mail.


  1. Hi Alan,

    I’m confused by this post because I perceive a LOT of leaders (empower others) in our field, and some of them are quite demanding of other testers. I saw you be more demanding just a few days ago, and James Bach, Michael Bolton, Cem Kaner, Gerald Weinberg, Matt Heusser, Elizabeth Hendrickson, Chris McMahon and plenty of other people who are less well known are quite demanding of others.

    I agree that sometimes old topics come up and I can understand that it might feel like it slows us down sometimes, but it doesn’t change the fact that these people are leaders.

    Maybe that means that you aren’t empowered by anyone out there, and that could do a lot with your amount of experience, but for a younger tester like me I can’t be happier with the amount of empowerment and support I’ve felt from the testing community.

    – Joe

    • This was intended as a general post than a critique of the voices in test. Re-reading though, I can see where you’re coming from.

      Hmmm – more to think about now.

  2. I, too, thought you were talking about the test community — specifically taking aim at James because, well, he’s the loudest.

    But does a decades old argument mean we shouldn’t have passion and energy around it? A leader (to me) can be loud and does take a stand to provoke others to know how they feel about things.

    Can’t we all just get along? No. We can’t, we don’t, and we won’t. But we can learn about each others values and principles. Leaders inspire us to do that by their courage (and sometimes) volume.

    • I honestly wasn’t talking about James, certs, or testing at all. I had a my copy of Lencioni’s book on my desk and thougt it was inspriational and wanted to summarize my thoughts. on that and Tribes. If it were more of a book review I would have cited it (and perhaps I should have). I was thinking of command and control leadership within an organization vs. set direction and get out of the way leadership. I work with a lot of people in teams in my context that would do better in this type of leadership (sorry – that’s all I can say without pissing somebody *else* off).

      I can totally see why you (and others) read it this way, but I was talking about something completely different.

  3. This is the second post I’ve read in a week that mentions “caring” which I also consider to be “conscience.” (The first is from Thoughts on the Test Eye: http://thetesteye.com/blog/2010/11/turning-the-tide-of-bad-testing/

    I’ve just finished reading “The Sociopath Next Door” which examines conscience or lack of one and the effects this has on the people who are around someone with no conscience.

    Your post is talking about leaders who care, and I agree that I think the best leaders have a conscience and some sense of caring for others.

    I hope you do some more reading/writing about this because it helps me flesh out my own thoughts to see others writing about it as well.

    Your post may not have been about software testing but I think it’s an important topic for software testing. Perhaps that is why it seems to have struck a nerve with some.

  4. If there is a lack of leadership skills being developed, I blame the education system. Secondary Education does not promote critical thinking, and ‘team work’ is frowned upon in many courses. Then we get to College and have to figure this all out really quickly just to survive. Or at least, that’s what I’ve read.

    Truthfully, I think the problem is that we as a culture give too much emphasis on leaders, not leadership. We point to Sports figure A, or politician B and say they are a great leader for their team.

    Are they really? Or is it just that they appear to be in control of a situation when really they are just as much waiting for things to happen as the rest of us.

    I can tell you one place where leadership is not only practiced, but still being taught, and that’s in the scouting movement. If we had more people given opportunities to lead and fail before hitting their professional lives, then maybe that would not be the way things seem to be in some sectors.

    In the technical field, how many times do we promote and reward those who ‘end up being managers’ rather than reward based on some other criteria? Why in some companies do you have to reach a manager level to be adequately compensated after years of relevant work experience with the company? Why do we seek to promote to management people who would best be left on the technical side innovating and defining the cutting edge of technology? I don’t know why things seem to be this way in many companies, but something tells me it must change.

    • Wonderful comment – thank you. And thank you especially for seeing the core point of my post.

      I think a world of “me” and big egos has a big impact on leadership. Too many people in leadership roles continually try to put the focus on their own accomplishments or activities – but good leaders are selfless and are more concerned with the accomplishments of their followers.

      On the management note, one of the reasons I like working at Microsoft is because I (someone who really doesn’t want to manage people) can be promoted to equal (or higher) promotion levels than managers. By using management as a carrot for promotion, many people who have no right going into management (or leadership for that matter) end up their eventually.


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