How to prepare for a leadership role
This article is the first part out of five of a story of joining a startup as the first QA.
Let’s talk about one crucial thing that you should do before the very first day in a leadership role: preparation.
Why is it so important? You can either take it for granted or learn the hard way. I did the latter and let me tell you what happened.
The opportunity for taking over my current QA Lead role first arose in October last year. I deferred the response, in effect missing that chance - as any other at that time. Why? Simply because I knew I was not prepared.
However, one day around that time, I learned Seneca’s definition of luck and it stuck in my mind:
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
Ever since I’m about to start something new, I always remind myself about the importance of preparation with that sentence.
And when you think of this - it makes sense. The more you’re prepared, the more you increase your chance to get lucky. But there’s the other side too: lack of preparation leads to missed opportunities.
So when the same message appeared four months later, I was feeling confident enough to pick it up thanks to the continuous preparation I was working on at that time - because I realised that’s what I needed to focus on. This time I felt I was lucky.
How to prepare for a leadership role
Now, as you learned how important it is to prepare, let me give you 6 practical advices that will help you get ready for a leadership role. It’s set in context of QA Lead but there’s no reason why it could not be applied to any other case. Here we go:
1. Imagine yourself in that role
It’s the first point and, at the same time, the most important one. No matter how cheesy it sounds, it really is crucial to start with the simplest but the most powerful thing you can possibly do: imagine yourself in that role.
Why? It’s well said that winners first win in their head before they win on the field. There’s no exception from this rule if it comes to taking over a leadership role.
The thing is, when you let your imagination go towards that direction, you may find both prosaic and more abstract pictures shaping in your mind. Whether they seem possible or not, welcome them all as you go and start writing them down - the dots will magically connect and you’ll end up with a vision of yourself knowing what you really want to do.
It’s not only about finding out what but also why. Ask yourself: why this role? I’ll give you a clue: for me, the main trigger to take over a leadership role was to try doing things my way. To take the full ownership.
So, what drives you?
2. List out possible scenarios
Once you imagined yourself in the role, some possible scenarios may also emerge in your mind. List out 2–3 of them and find a plan for each one.
For example, I listed three - imagining myself in:
- An early-stage startup focused on releasing its own product with no or very vague testing process.
- A rapidly growing startup with its own product already released, some testing process in place and possibly couple of QA engineers.
- A well established company with broad product range, advanced development and testing processes and a QA team.
Even though it sounded abstract to think of taking over a big team at that point of time, I still tried to imagine and write down what my role would look like and what actions I would take in each case.
When the real opportunity appeared on the way, I was thankful for these notes because it was much easier to speak about potential challenges that may pop up as the company scales. I was more confident because, again, I felt prepared.
3. Face your fears
While wondering about each scenario, you may run into some questions or concerns as well - and that’s completely natural. Think about what things you’re unsure about, what risks you can already see and what fears you have.
One of them could be that you haven’t done it before, another one that you haven’t worked in a company at this stage. Whatever they are, accept them and try to find ways of how to mitigate one after another as soon as possible. This should set you in a proactive mode and you will soon realise that even the biggest obstacles that you have in your mind can be conquered.
How to deal with it? My recommendation is to write everything down. By doing so, you’ll be able to see all your concerns which will help you not only to realise what you’re fighting against but also prepare to have an open conversation about the role.
This is exactly what I have done and, frankly, it massively helped during recruitment process because I could be completely honest on what my fears related to the role are and what solutions I can see to mitigate them.
4. Learn from others
It’s a good tactic to see how others have done something before you and learn from that (if that’s why you’re reading this article, you’re on a good path).
Reach out for that knowledge whether it’s internet articles or someone who has done it before, like your current manager.
If you don’t feel confident and comfortable, don’t underestimate yourself. You can still draw conclusions based on how it looked like in previous companies. I’m pretty sure you can also easily identify what worked well and what could have had worked better.
If it comes to me, ever since I got interested in a leadership role, I started to observe how my previous managers and team leaders were doing their job. I was also referenced an amazing article about 90-days plan of turning engineers into managers, which I strongly recommend to you as well.
5. Put your knowledge together
Make sure you believe in what you know and more importantly in what you speak of. Sometimes even the key aspects are forgotten and it’s good to keep a strong reference to your knowledge.
It can be anything, notes or minds maps, stores in a notebook or on your device.
For example, putting together the definitions - the ones you truly believe in - helps immensely. You can then get back to them anytime and check if you’re still on the same page, or maybe you have discovered something new so you can update accordingly.
The same applies to lessons learned. It’s easy to forget what happened before and what you learned, so better let the paper store it.
Personally, I collect notes about everything related to QA in notes app, making it accessible at any point of time.
6. Research your future team
Since you’re joining a new company, most probably you have already checked it out. This time, however, revisit what you know and focus on the team itself.
I mean, really, do your homework. Look at the people you’re going to work with. I suggest LinkedIn but you can go as far as you want to. Try to memorize the faces and names, where and what they have worked on before.
This will help you get in the team and make relationships much easier, which, in QA world, is extremely important.
And that’s it.
All this is to help you feel more confident and ease the stress when taking over a leadership role - because now you’re prepared.
What’s coming up next? In the second part you’ll read about 3 takeaways from the first day in a new job that I wish I knew before. And you, probably, too.