In a Google+ post last week, Aaron Seigo rightfully ripped into “community managers” — quotes intentional, because it doesn’t really apply to all who are in charge of keeping a community functioning (more on this later) — generally who lead from above or by “star power” rather than leading by the consensus of the community. I wrote about it briefly in my weekly wrap-up on FOSS Force on Friday, but it started me to think about what makes good project leadership.
As I said in my FOSS Force item, I think overall Aaron is right in his tome on G+, yet part of the problem is the term “community manager” itself, which might lend itself to the boss/worker dynamic, and whether this makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy in many communities. It very well might, and that aspect needs changing.
I would rather see the interpretation of those who are given the responsibility of communities — hopefully an earned responsibility granted by the consent of the wider community — to be titled something differently: community gardener, community facilitator, community cat herder, whatever. Those in leadership positions are neither bosses giving orders nor “rock stars” to be adored. Those in charge, regardless of what they’re called, are the ones who facilitate the project through inspiring a committed and focused community.
Reading Aaron’s latest salvo and the myriad of interesting comments that followed, it made me think about what makes a good leader and who might serve a project community well as a facilitator.
One name kept coming up.
Larry Cafiero, Sr. — known as Larry the Elder to my Larry the Younger, or Senior to my Junior (prepare for some pain if you call me that to my face) like the Griffeys — was really more “Happy Warrior” than “Grammar Hammer” as a newsman, but one of the traits that made him exceptional in the field was that no job was too small for him — nothing too insignificant, nothing beneath him — either as a city desk editor at The Miami Herald or as the Herald’s longtime Special Publications Editor, the position at which he worked for the last decade of his journalism career.
It was really no accident that I followed my father into the field, and I always looked to him for guidance. It always impressed me that his staff, never more than one or two, always seemed to go the extra mile, and always went above-and-beyond, for the department. One time, I asked one of his assistants why, and I was told — and I’m paraphrasing — that my father “was one of them.”
I didn’t know what he meant by that until Dad and I talked about leadership when I had been given the keys to a weekly newspaper in Dade County and I had to lead a group of reporters and photographers.
“Did you ever read ‘Henry V’?” He asked me. I hadn’t. He said I should read it, paying special attention to the preparation for, and the fighting of, the Battle of Agincourt.
So I did. And I got it.
It also made something else he said several months before a little less obtuse. We were at Johnny Raffa’s Lobo Lounge — one of Miami’s press bars in the late ’70s — and we talked over identical bourbons about what makes a great newsman. Dad’s answer was simple: You had to be like Captain Kirk.
Actually, I found it odd that my father was referring to a show I knew he didn’t really watch.
“You mean, I have to kiss all the green alien women on the planet?” I asked.
I got the look, then the eyeroll, followed by the admonishment, “Oh, fawgawdsake,” in the New York accent borne of his rearing in the Maspeth section of Queens, New York.
I can still hear him explaining it this way: Kirk had the ability to do everything on the Enterprise by himself, if necessary. The entire crew could drop dead and he’d still be able to fly the ship, at least in theory if not in practice. So a great newsman knows everything about producing the news — he can report, edit, lay out pages, crop photos, set type (what we did back then), make plates, put the plates on the press, and run the press.
So what it comes down to is this: Creating software, or even hardware, as a community in the open-source realm means encountering many rhetorical Battles of Agincourt, and it takes special kind of leader to marshal a team of developers to perform this task, day in and day out, like clockwork. Also, it takes a special leader to be able to “fly the Enterprise” by himself or herself if necessary, having both the knowledge and the desire to pick up where parts of the team may be lagging to bring the project up to speed.
You don’t get that with so-called leaders following traditional management tenets in a traditional manager/worker role. You certainly don’t get that with “rock stars,” as if that needs saying.
But you get that with leadership modeled after Henry V. And Captain Kirk. And Larry Sr., fawgawdsake.
This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang Guy, Fosstafarian, Larry the Korora Guy, and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.