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Leading With Curiosity

Leadership
Motivation

30 December, 2020

Wadah Sayyed, Director of Engineering at HPE, talks of his distinct leadership approach and shares how curiosity was his secret ingredient for excelling both as a tech leader and people manager.

Problem

Most leaders tend to develop their own unique approach over time for dealing with technical matters and the people they lead. Their approach usually reflects the values and practices that were driving them toward excellence. For me, curiosity was a principle that served me well for personal growth as well as building resilient teams capable of delivering for the business.
 

Actions taken

As an engineer, curiosity comes as a natural state of mind. One of its most evident manifestations is in my approach to testing. Whenever I start a new project, though I don’t have the bandwidth to go into all the details, I make sure to go deep into test strategy and approach. Defining the right attributes for the strategy (e.g., workloads, scale, resiliency, network topology, etc.) is a great way to validate architectural decisions and requirements. I ask many questions around that just to encourage people working on the project to think more about the actual scenarios our product will face. I usually do my own research to gain a deeper understanding of the test scenarios and their attributes to start to channel the voice of the customer in different conversations beyond just test strategy. For example, supportability and observability requirements can be finetuned through this deeper understanding of user scenarios.
 

Being curious and asking questions brings people together and includes them in the intensive thought exchange that also creates an alignment between different teams. For example, different teams would test differently for scale depending on the different components they are trying to deliver. I would try to bring people from different development teams to participate in the system test planning activities, and vice versa; I would include system test engineers to review test plans for development teams and provide feedback. I like to give people a lot of attention.
 

Lessons learned

  • Curiosity empowers people to proliferate ideas and creates an atmosphere where ideas can flow more freely. Innovation wouldn’t be possible if we, as humans, wouldn’t have that inherent curiosity to learn and be excited about new things.
  • Curiosity is strongly connected with having teams that practice self-initiative and autonomy, and I tried to build a culture around that. When I start working with a new team that is used to working with a manager who would be approving every decision, they are perplexed why I am asking and not giving orders. Moreover, I believe delegating technical decision-making to the team that’ll be implementing it creates a culture of ownership and accountability that inspires growth.
  • It takes time for people to get used to my leadership approach. I lead and execute by discovering and enabling other leaders. Curiosity is my way of instigating inspiration and excite and engage my team.

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