Test Leadership Congress 2019 - The wanderlust for leadership knowledge - Part 1 - The Workshop.
"EMPOWER", "EMPATHIZE", "LISTEN","EMBRACE" - These were the learnings I came back with from TLC'19. The 3 days wanderlust had given me a whole new perspective of my leadership knowledge and approaches. This conference was also my first ever Test conference as a speaker. So, the experience was extra special. Finally got time to pen it down and share it with you all.
First, a little background about the conference. TLC is 4 yrs old conference and started from 2016 but it has already established itself as one and only conference which gathers world class QA leadership under one roof in a tight nit setting. TLC felt very personal as it didn't have unnecessary product advertisement or oodles of sponsors stepping on your toe to sell you some product. TLC is also run by a non profit organization Test Master Academy and Founded by a super inspirational women named Anna Royzman. Conference attendees background ranged from VP of QA who handles multiple groups in one of the biggest Airlines in the world to newbie QA manager.
How did I find out this about this conference ? My wanderlust started back in Oct 2018 when I first spoke in wonder women in tech conference in long beach. The seed was planted in my heart at the very moment I went on to stage and open my heart out as #weareinovator tech panel. As I was researching to submit my CFP in march 2019, I noted down the top 10 recommended QA conference in USA and luckily the cutoff date of TLC was inline with my submission and I had no knowledge on what to expect next. Within few days of my submission, I heard back from Anders and Anna the chair and founder of the TLC. On April 4th I got confirmation that I have been selected as a "Speaker". It still feels like a dream when I think about the whole selection experience. How many of us can say our 2nd CFP ever and first CFP of 2019 was selected in TOP 10 recommended QA conference. It didn't take me long to make the arrangement to land in NYC to start my journey of a dream path of public speaking.
The actual Journey - As I landed in NYC on 25th June and checked in to my high rise hotel's 42nd floor, I felt very small, felt like is it really real? I was staying in the same hotel where the conference was taking place but google map took me to a walk in the morning and after a stroll, I finally found the conference venue. As I entered the venue, I was welcomed by Anna. I met my mentor Anders and I can't explain how excited I was to meet him in person. I quickly started my day with leadership Workshops.
Day 1 The workshop - Though there were multiple choices to attend various leadership related workshops , the one I attended was given by Anders Dinsen and Ole S Rasmussen Personal Leadership Development for Quality Professionals. The key take away for me from the morning session was to dig deeper, what leadership means actually. I understood, "Leadership" is a art of helping, helping organization achieve their goal. Leadership can also be think as a type of coaching. As a leader we should not push people rather help them achieve their goals. But if there is a fire situation we should use command and make the team follow them. The best part was to learn there can be two aspect of leadership the human aspect and the strategic aspect. There is also three different domain of leadership, psychological-sociological-philosophical. The cognitive aspect of leadership is to understand the present situation of a person, understanding their actual thinking. It is also important to understand the psychodynamic angles of a person, that is to understand their past experiences, what made them that person.Understand patterns like introvert, extrovert etc.
Motivation - The next session after the morning break was understanding various kind of motivations as a leader. I never knew there could be two different kind of motivation inner motivation and outer motivation. Inner motivation last longers as it deals with learning, ownership, interesting task, inclusion and being part of the team where is outer motivation like money and title can have very small impact on retaining people for longer terms. Everyone likes to feel special and as a leader it's our duty to find balance between feeling special/feeling challenges and feeling included/safe. As a leader we need to find the sweet spot for everyone where our team is neither over challenged nor bored , else they can lose motivation quickly.
The next eye opening topic was how we as a leader tend to be center of everything. We have to learn to delegate and stand at the edge of the organization, we have to empower the team to achieve their tasks, enable them psychologically , we should not punish or humiliate them. Let them understand its ok to fail, learn from failure and move on. As a leader we have to show our team the bigger picture and our team should feel safe to fail and come to us when they are in need. We as a leader need a framework to recover from failures. Many of top leader does not understand that ANXIETY can not be a motivation. To influence your circle you can fail in front of them to show its ok to fail. We can evaluate those situation, find process improvement, find root cause, a common purpose and avoid finger pointing.
The rest of the day I learned about team building , values, listening skills and practice how to ask questions effectively also various leadership frameworks. From the team building session the key takeaways were inclusion,building trust, avoiding anxiety and insecurity. Make the team feel comfortable to ask any questions. The next lesson was about values. Value gives us inner strength and certainty. Freedom is acting out of values. We need to talk about values and using poteptic dialogue can be a great tool for that - why the value is important ? how and why it matters in our daily life? I also learned about the greek square of freedom.
It was evident that as a leader we have to be fundamentally appreciative and genuinely curious about our team members, what they say and how they feel. The listening session touched various pain points of today's leader. How important it is to listen to oneself. Truth, integrity and facts matters when listening and we should not ask questions by getting influenced by our biases. Retention and active listening goes hand in hand. We have to understand reflect on what empowering a team/person means. Not everyone wants to be successful, they can value happiness over anything for an example. Asking the WHY question is super important too. Also, resilience is a major quality of a great leader. The hitting of a ball example Anders gave will remain with me forever. If we hit a ball hard on a wall it bounces back very strong and make noises. If we hit the ball softer it oscillates and becomes resilient. Resilience is a key to avoid many problems.
The last topic I could remember from that great workshop was managing up, how to build a narrative and explain to higher up why it is important for the company. If your explanation not working out with higher up, just sleep on it. don't show emotion or act like its your pet project. We always think that we need to make our team feel safe but it is very very important to make our higher up feel safe with their decisions. We need to know their core values too. What is most important for them at the present moment. So same learnings applies to managing up very much. Major takeaways were talk to your manager to understand values, demonstrate you are working on values, build trust upwards as well, always avoid burning platforms, make clear communication and accept compromises, may be ask for more clarity from the beginning. Detach yourself from emotions and don't be too driven by your passion that make your hireup uncomfortable. Ask question thoughtfully, don't come across rude. Be more assertive than offensive. Help them feel safe and use less metaphors. At the end, we got to practiced lot of real world scenarios from the above learnings with our team mates and It was super fun exercise.
In conclusion, I could say, I felt like I was reborned as a leader after this workshop. I learned so much about how to be better at my work. How to make other feel safe, motivated and encouraged. I don't know If I have been able to achieve everything after this conference but believe me I am trying very hard. Some day I win, someday I fail miserably. But I know the learning is never ending and as I read my notes more often I feel I am learning one step closer towards my ultimate destination. If you are reading this blog and want to improve your leadership skills TLC is a must conference to attend. Make sure you reach out to your organization to get it approved and show them the value it will bring to you. By the way just realizing this is end of my sunday and I have to get ready for monday grind. Adieu till next time.....My 3 years old screaming for dinner...