How Testers Can Become Better Leaders: An Interview with Selena Delesie


In this interview, Selena Delesie, a visionary speaker, coach, and trainer, explains how to give your team an edge. She covers what principles successful teams embody, how often people overlook the skill of listening, and a couple of her guiding principles that help people change.

Josiah Renaudin: Welcome back to another TechWell interview. Today I am joined by Selena Delesie, a visionary speaker, coach, and trainer. She will also be a keynote speaker at our upcoming STARWEST conference. Selena, thank you very much for joining me today.

Selena Delesie: Thank you, so happy to join you.

Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely. First, before we really dig into the meat of the content of the keynote, could you tell us a bit about your experience in the industry?

Selena Delesie: Yes. I started in software right out of university. I went to school for programming and mathematics. I started at a school that I could get a job as a tester, and I did not know that until my resume ended up in the wrong pile, so that's where I started. I found a joy for that—for finding problems and for helping to solve problems. Very quickly, within a year, I was moved into leadership roles. I did a myriad of leadership roles. My first job was at Blackberry when it was pretty small, and I got to see that company through a lot of growth, and as a result, through a lot of larger handhelds like smartphones before smart phone was even a term, and moving into meeting larger teams, projects, and programs.

Beyond that, I moved into starting a test department at another company and grew that very quickly, working closely with the executive levels in those organizations, and people all the way through. Outside of that, after I did a little bit of work as a scrum master and coaching agile teams, I started my own business in supporting, consulting, coaching, and training across those test organizations and agile teams and organizations as a whole. That's what I do now. Mostly I love to focus on helping managers become leaders and helping team members become leaders so that everyone can really be putting their best selves into their work and really love what they do.

Josiah Renaudin: You have been a part of a lot of teams.

Selena Delesie: Yeah.

Josiah Renaudin: When we’re talking about successful teams, it’s hard to have this broad, umbrella statement of what works, this is what makes teams successful. What do you see as the major principles that successful teams most often identify with and embrace?

Selena Delesie: Yeah, I wish I could say there is a silver bullet. It is not an easy thing. That said, it actually is kind of easy too, in a way. It is basically what we learned as children as to what it was to really be good people in my standpoint from my experience. It's really that people, they matter, and we need to treat people as they matter and really care about each other, listen to each other, and really be curious about how to work together to be creative and to come up with awesome stuff and produce great products.

There are a myriad of approaches and processes that you can use. When I am coaching from an agile standpoint, there are so many different things you can pick from, and I'm not going to tell you which one is right for you or for your team. It depends on what is right for that context, for that situation and for those people involved. It really comes down to how do we show up as people to really interact and collaborate and work together, and how can we create a space where people feel safe to do that and feel safe to do that with themselves at the same time.

Josiah Renaudin: I think sometimes when we are talking about teams, we think of them as this single unit instead of a unit made up of individual parts, of individual people. I work on a smaller team—my publishing department at TechWell is small. We have all been able to get on the same page, work together, and do really well as a group, but how difficult is it in all the different situations you've seen to get every member of the team on the same page, especially if you are talking about Blackberry, where there is just so many different people on a single team? What is the best way to get everyone on the same page?

Selena Delesie: I think it depends on the culture in the organization as to what the best approach is. I have seen it work really well when the culture is pretty healthy and open. When I say healthy, it's open, it's communicative in all directions. People are heard and listened to. You can get everyone on the same page by having an open, a leader comes in and says, "This is what we're doing now," and people feel like they can express themselves and talk about it, and that works really well. If the organization space does not feel safe for people, though, there are a lot of secrets and backdoor meetings, and people aren't open, and they feel like their jobs are at risk all the time. It's a very different approach. The approach comes down to how do we create safety?

We create safety ... To get people on the same page, you need people to feel heard. That is always where I start.

Josiah Renaudin: Right.

Selena Delesie: My job ... When I go in to work with a team and they are in really rough shape, and that people are miserable and unhappy, they are not successful. My first job is to create space with each person to allow them to express themselves and feel heard. From that standpoint, when people are able to say what's on their mind and actually explore that with other people on the team and get to know each other, then we can get people on the same page, but it comes down to aligning our core values, but you can't align core values if people don't feel safe.

Josiah Renaudin: Keeping on this track of talking about individual team members, I think, at least I believe you can't really teach a single person or a team member passion. You can't say, "Hey you, be passionate about this. Be passionate about this certain band. Be passionate about writing" or whatever, but is it possible to help instill at least excitement or eagerness in order to get the best out of an individual team member?

Selena Delesie: Yes, and as you said, you can't teach people passion, but people do know what they love to do. They don't maybe know right off the bat what it is in their work. They don't really know that it's even possible, but there is something in their day-to-day life that really excites them, and if you are able to support pulling that out of them, it is a lot of coaching techniques to do that, and leaders, we really need to be good coaches. You are able to tie that into their work in some way where they can show up that way and excited. It could just be a matter of they are excited to create really cool products that solve a particular problem for a particular customer. It could be that simple

It could be that they really get excited about writing code. Maybe they get really excited about just partnering with someone and exploring ideas. If we allow that to happen, whatever that excitement is, then they are going to show up and be passionate.

Josiah Renaudin: Now, I took a class called Listening in college. I remember when I took that class a lot of my roommates were like, "How is that a real class?"

Selena Delesie: That's awesome.

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah, exactly. When I first was taking it, I was like, "This is a real class?" As I went through, you realize half of communication is listening. It's one of those things that I think a lot of people overlook. How often is listening overlooked when people are trying to become effective communicators? How important is it to learn how to actually properly listen to someone?

Selena Delesie: It goes back to that we have two ears and one mouth. It's such an overused phrase, but it's so true. In leadership spaces earlier on in my training in that space, I really focused on how do you effectively express yourself and communicate and speak to people to get your point across. On the flip side, there is not a lot of talk around how do you just show up and just be? How do you be present? How do you listen? How do you have empathy for other people? One thing that we often do when we hear someone speak, we are usually trying to formulate what do we need to say in response to what they are saying right now instead of actually just being with them to listen.

Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely.

Selena Delesie: Right? It's a very different way to show up. I practice this a lot. I don't always get it, but I really intentionally just show up just to hear and to be and be okay with that there is a pause before I say something. Even for this interview, I read through your questions, but I don't know exactly what I'm going to say, and so I've just sat with your question as you've said it.

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah.

Selena Delesie: Right? That allows for whatever needs to be said to actually be said because I'm able to really listen and hear what is being said by you. It's the same in a team. You've got to stop trying to formulate a response and actually just stop and listen. People can tell if they are really being heard or not. It's so important. If you are showing up and you are being present with them, you are going to gain respect, and you are going to be seen and recognized as someone who is actually being there with them. You are going to be able to form stronger relationships. You are going to be able to cooperate better with people. There are so many tangible benefits from this. It's critical.

Josiah Renaudin: It just feels good as a person, too, when you can actually tell someone isn’t staring at you blankly, when they actually can respond with something.

Selena Delesie: Yes.

Josiah Renaudin: Like, "Oh, you did." You actually listened to that one detail I said instead of staring blank-faced and said, like, "All right, moving on."

Selena Delesie: Yeah, and that you clearly were just trying to get through something so you could say what you needed to say.

Josiah Renaudin: Yes.

Selena Delesie: It's not a nice feeling. I had a manager like that once, and I'm like, "Yeah, I can't work for you anymore."

Josiah Renaudin: In this abstract you wrote about your keynote that will be at STARWEST, you mentioned flowing through change and moving through fear, some of your guiding principles. Can you explain just a bit about what both mean in this specific context of your talk, and can they be related since people are so often afraid to actually change?

Selena Delesie: Yeah, they are definitely related. Flowing through change for me means recognizing that change is always going to happen. We don't have one moment that just stays frozen. There is always change happening around us. It could be a change in how people are interacting with us. It could be a change in process. It could be a change in organizational direction, or products, or technology, anything really. We can either resist those changes and cause ourselves all sorts of pain and pain for others, or we can find a way to move through that change, to flow with it, and figure out how does that now fit in with us in where we want to be going, or how do we adjust and shift ourselves to just go through that with ease? The less we resist, the easier the flow is.

Sometimes it could be that that resistance is a key that this change is not right for you, and maybe there is another path for you to take, either in that organization or elsewhere, or for another project, I don't know. In organizations, a lot of the things that happen, and I'm having conversations with some testers recently in some agile teams around the space that this change is happening in our organization, and we are scared. We don't know if this means that we are going to have jobs still. We are expected to go through all these changes, but what happens to me? We just put the brakes on even going with this change which actually makes the fears probably more valid, unfortunately. Because of our fear, we are resisting the change.

If you look at moving through fear, it's the space of recognizing, "Hey, I'm afraid of something." Is this a life or death fear? If so, then that fear, thing that's coming up that is built into us as human beings is probably valid. I should listen, because the tiger's going to jump out and kill me, or is this a fear that's trying to protect me from some unknown uncertainty which his just, that is our mind creating something. It could be something that is, could compete with your basic needs for survival to have income. It could be very real, valid things, or it could just be it's a change in process, a change in how we do our jobs. Something like that which is not going to kill us or harm us in any way, but it's unknown, so it's scary.

We have to recognize that fear is driving our resistance to change often and recognize that this fear can actually be very good for us if we can just recognize it and embrace, and say, "Thank you for coming up." Now, how do I move through this to get to the other side? I know for myself the more I resist fear, the more I say, "This sucks. This is awful. I don't want to do this. I'm really scared." The more I try to avoid looking at it, the worse it gets.

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah.

Selena Delesie: If I just acknowledge it and say, you know what, "I'm really scared about this." I can give a great example. Many years ago when I had a new manager come in, and the manager that I had before, I just adored her. She was great. We worked well together, and she gave me space to do and create in the organization. The new manager came in, and I was really scared, because he had no knowledge of testing whatsoever, and that really concerned me because we had built this beautiful department. I had to stop and say, "Okay, this is not life or death here. This is just fear coming up. Now how do I move through this?" It turned out for me, the right approach for me was to tune into what really made me excited about my job and to focus on that and to just ride the waves of the changes as they happened around me until which point it wasn't the right space anymore, but I don't know.

We have to find ways to move through fears. I know for me personally, I tackle physical fears to help me to work through my mindset fears. Everyone has a different process, but we have to, otherwise we will just get stuck, and we will fall behind, and our fears will become real.

Josiah Renaudin: Before, you were mentioning that you have had conversations with testers and, in a sense, this keynote will be a conversation with hundreds of testers in person and a whole bunch more online. Just to give them a preview, how can testers embody the principles you teach to become more successful and then to go off of that, what steps can testers take right now based on what you are going to say that you feel you could give them a competitive edge?

Selena Delesie: The first thing is, what are you scared of? Seriously. Really, what are you scared of right now? Almost everyone I talk to they are scared of something right now. What are you scared of? How can that affect you? What is the worst thing that could happen? What is the best thing that could happen out of that? Is there a way to tie that into something that you are really, that brings you joy, and that could be your guiding light that pulls you through that fear and through that change that will happen as you face this fear. From there, when you can connect into that joyful space as a tester, maybe it's that you love to find bugs. You love to create things. Maybe you love to collaborate and pair up on things. Dive in and pair test or pair code test with developers.

Maybe it's about producing phenomenal report structures or collaborating with customers. Find a way to bring that into your experience so fear is not your driver, joy is your driver. That allows you to be happy and excited at work. That will pull people into you. That will pull people into you within their testing things, but also outside of that. People outside, well across your project they are going to recognize you as somebody who is kind of fun to be around. You clearly love what you do, and you are therefore going to have influence as you work on next developing relationships with people. Expanding your skill set.

Tap into your joy and discover what are you excited to learn about next to grow yourself and to be a better service. When I say a service, it's not being a doormat as some people tend to be. I used to be one of those. It's to say like, "How can I help you today?" I've done this with people of all sorts in organizations from fellow customers to administrative staff to my CEO to just developers and product managers. I just ask, "How are you today and how can I help you?" When you build a relationship with people and show up that way, especially as a tester, you are seen as someone who is cooperative now who really wants to be a part of something and help it succeed rather than someone who is just seen as an impediment finding problems.

A lot of people are still complaining about this to me. Testers are saying, "People just don't like us. We are always in the way. We can't do all the testing they want to do." You are there to be of a service. Your job is to help to find the important problems so that they can make the right decisions about releasing a product or not. If you framed it as I am here to be of service to help to make those right decisions rather than just do everything that I want to do, you are going to build credibility in your organization, and you are going to build something for yourself where you are seen as more credible, more successful, and someone that people want to pair with in other projects.

Outside of that, outside of your organization, take it a step further. How can you show up in your industry in that way? How can you pair with people and talk about things and expand things and share stories and help other people to do better work. It's all about how do you show up every single day at work and in your industry.

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah. I mean, if you are a tester and you feel underappreciated, or not appreciated at all, or like an impediment, it's going to be hard to want to put the energy, the correct amount of energy into your job. It's ...

Selena Delesie: Yeah.

Josiah Renaudin: It's like, "No one appreciates what I'm doing."

Selena Delesie: If you feel like you are not valued ... I've been in that space before frustrated that people are just not getting what it is that we are doing or what I'm sharing. Honestly, the turnaround point comes from inside of you.

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah.

Selena Delesie: You have to value what you are doing, and you have to value it in a way that makes sense to other people. No amount of speak to people outside of testing about testing terms is going to get people to love what you do. You love what you do as a tester because it's awesome for you. Product managers or agile ... Product owners or developers, they love what they do, and that's why they do what they do, so you need to change your language and change how you show up with them to find a common meeting point that makes sense for everybody when you are talking about these things.

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah, I absolutely agree.

Selena Delesie: It's a reframe inside of ourselves that is really ... When I talk about these principles, it's all about you and how you become the best version of you so that you can really become competitive in the work that you are doing.

Josiah Renaudin: Selena, I really do appreciate you stopping and talking with me today. Before you go, I have one more question for you about your keynote. More than anything, to summarize this in a certain sense, what central message do you want to leave with your keynote audience? What do you want them to remember when they stand up and start walking out? Of course they are walking out at the very end, they are not walking out in the middle.

Selena Delesie: Yeah.

Josiah Renaudin: Yeah.

Selena Delesie: I think I touched on that already. How do you want to be as a tester or a person in the world? If you could stop and say, "This is my ideal best, or how my day looks like, or how my year looks like, and that's who I want to be," show up and be that person now today. If you can't, identify what your blocks are and start doing the work to remove them.

Josiah Renaudin: Absolutely. I think that's great advice. Selena, again, thank you so much. I'm looking forward. I will actually be at STARWEST, so looking forward to seeing your keynote, meeting you, and hearing more from you maybe in one of these interviews in the future.

Selena Delesie: Wonderful. Thank you so much for this conversation. It was a pleasure.

Selena DelesieSelena Delesie is a visionary speaker, coach, and trainer who inspires people to get “lit up” from within, radiate positive energy, and empower everyone around them to step into their greatness. A successful corporate manager, consultant, and coach, Selena brings fourteen years of experience across the technology, financial, agile, software development, and testing sectors. She bridges this experience with her training in several outside-the-box modalities to support people through lasting personal transformation. Selena's clients rave about her ability to help leaders break free from traditional business practices to engage the strengths and passions of their team, and produce a highly creative, productive, and vibrant workforce. Contact Selena at

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