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BDS: a focus on leadership

Published Aug 1 2011 via RSS


You may have noticed in my last blog entry on Plasma content at the Berlin Desktop Summit (BDS) that I'm not giving a Plasma-related presentation. I'm helping with the BoFs, yes, but no Plasma related presentation in sight from me. What gives?

Well, the presentation schedule was highly oversubscribed this year, which is a good thing: it shows there is a high degree of interest in BDS and allowed the program committee to pick high quality presentations for the program. Knowing this was the case, and since we already have several others who will be presenting great talks on Plasma and related technology, I decided to submit a presentation on a different topic ... one that I felt needed attention but which gets far too little.

That topic is leadership. There is a lot of mythology and misinformation around the idea of leadership in Free software. (I would assert: in the broader world as well.)

For instance, leadership is not the same as community management, which is a related topic that probably recieves more than its useful share of coverage these days, driven by the number of community managers we have in Free software circles and that their job is communication focused to begin with.

Leadership is not something one is either born with or without. It is a set of skills that nearly anyone can learn. In fact, they can be learned to the point where they can be usefully applied without dedicating one's life to the topic of leadership. This means that every Free software project can end up with effective leadership.

Leadership is also not relegated to the two most popular archetypes in Free software: the (benevolent) dictator and the charismatic individual. These styles of leadership can and do work (with their own challenges, of course), but are more difficult to achieve for many and are also often liabilities in the wrong circumstances.

So it is that many of our communities and teams drift without clear leadership. For small projects, either in terms of team size or project scope, this is not a big issue and even without identifiable leadership such teams can and do thrive. However, more and more of our projects have crossed over that critical threshhold where leadership becomes a necessity, and without it they end up losing direction, underachieving, becoming contentious and even failing.

Given that leadership is learnable and can be easily put into practice, this is a shame. This was my motivation for submitting a talk on leadership. I will be presenting on one style of leadership, which I call "Navigators and Explorers", which I feel anyone in our community can easily pick up and have great success with. My goal is to bring down some of the misconceptions around leadership and hopefully describe an achievable, positive path that those who attend may choose to travel down with the goal of becoming effective leaders themselves.

If you are in a Free software project that could use leadership but lacks it, if you are in a project that does have leadership but which is increasingly disfunctional, if you are just interested in the idea of leadership in general, I invite you to join me for half an hour on Day 1 in the Audimax at 14:40 for an exploration of the topic.

I hope to see you there :)

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