A long time ago in my career I was at a different company that I was at now and linux was becoming the buzz. I had a boss tell me, with Linux we can pick a vendor for support, training, version, etc. vs. a single company. It was all about choice. And there became my introduction to open source.
Being who I am, I overthink everything. When I heard the stories about open source is better for security because more people have eyes on it, that anyone can improve it, that it’s not limited to one company. The thoughts came up like anyone can put something bad in, and who is going to make sure the system goes awry? But what I was not thinking about then and see now is about leadership, and some of the best open-source projects have leadership.
This should be part of my Team series, so I hope you all read that (see the top menu) but I did not think of it until a conversation with a good friend. What I learned from leadership comes down to a few key things, Empowerment, Flexibility, Communication, Recognition, Stealing and Drive to become what I sometimes call the friendly dictator.
Empowerment: Open source is driven fully by this; no developer is given a ‘task’ to do (in theory). A developer can decide if there is a need, find an ask, pick it up, and start coding. If they produce the best solution (hopefully) their code will make a release. Kanban process of Agile tried to do the same, that is allows developers to pick the ‘next thing’ on the list themselves. Even Scrum wants developers to pick up tasks and not be assigned tasks. Now of course in companies break this a lot but done correctly you have freedom inside the box. As a manager by delegating authority and trusting the team to deliver you have empowered them.
Flexibility: This is not being able to touch my toes without my knees bending, it is more about altering your ideas, schedule and even outcome. In open-source projects the leadership needs to often adjust on the fly but also allow ideas of features and functionality that they were not thinking or planning. Leadership does not always know what is right and understanding that, and with the power the team has needs your ability to be flexible is key.
Communication: If you think about an open-source project, there are people all over the world (possibly) working for different companies, in school or not even working somehow must work towards a common goal. Try getting one other department in a large company to work with another, it is almost impossible. How are they able to do this? They have found ways to communicate. It is often documented and information on how to do things, where to put them etc. These open-source leaders set out how to communicate and the team would follow. I talk about how I lay out my expectations for the year to the team, as well as the pillar of communications, and this is from these leaders.
Recognition: I did already state this in my Teams series but one of the best things you can do for someone on your team is ensure they are recognized, not just by you but by people outside your team for their work/effort. Open-source projects do this well, in fact early on there was this notion of credibility, where people were known for their input on Open-Source projects. Leaders should never take credit for individuals’ effort, and even more important team recognition is also key.
Stealing: If you read my early on posts or worked for me/with me you have heard me say ‘Beg, Borrow, Steal then Build.’ But Steal is what open-source leaders are more looking to do. They steal ideas and features from commercial projects and other open-source projects. I know, when a company like Google or others is driving it they do produce original things, but many open-source projects are just versions of commercial software that already exists.
Drive: How many times have you looked at an open-source project and the last update date was years ago? Or after a few years it slows down and dies? A post from the creator who says something like ‘I graduated school’ or ‘got a job’ so I am going to spend less time on this. For open-source projects to survive they need someone to drive it. None exists without the key person who keeps it going, even if it is just him during times when their projects are not as popular.
These attributes (and a few others) create this friendly dictator. Why do I use such an awful term? There needs to be single buck stops here. Although the leaders can be flexible, to deliver the next version, to fix bugs, to stay competitive with commercial and other open-source software there needs to be this Top person. The most successful employ these key leadership skills and do it in this ‘friendly’ way that others are willing to get on board. The Open-Source leader makes people feel empowered, heard, recognized and the freedom to step in to help.
Over the past few months, I saw this play out in a different area, in groups and communities. The most successful ones that I leverage (across a multitude of platforms) have these leaders who drive it. Some platforms call these moderators or admins. In groups that I am a part of you can see when the leadership works and does not. I of course get smart and either leave or ignore those groups. In groups that I retain the amount of knowledge I pick up is fantastic. I talk often about my Tesla groups, but other groups like finance, programming, writing, NJ Devils, pizza, wings, etc. all the best ones have leaders who have the same attributes.
Just like Open-Source Software, what you will find is that these groups are driven by a few and used by many. That posts and info are not Top down from a leader, but the community learns the communication rules and standards. The admins will delete posts that are not welcome, remove users who are not following the rules and drive the conversation. I am surprised I did not recognize the link between groups and open-source projects sooner. It does boil down to the single point of great leadership.
On a last point and going back to thinking about Bruce Lee and Jeet Kune Do, is to learn as much as you can from a variety of resources and take the best out of it. I try to keep my mind open as I see things around me and wonder what I can learn from it. I never thought I would be looking to learn leadership lessons from Open-Source software, but alas it was sitting there waiting for me to digest it.
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This Blog is a labor of love, and was originally going to be a book. With the advent of being able to publish yourself on the web I chose this path. I will write many of these and not worry too much about grammar or spelling (I will try to come back later and fix it) but focus on content. I apologize in advance for my ADD as often topics may flip. I hope one day to turn this into a book and or a podcast, but for now it will remain a blog. AI is not used in this writing other than using the web to find information.Images without notes are created using and AI tool that allows me to reuse them.