This week’s microcast is about information environments, the difference between technical and ‘people’ skills, and sharing your experience.
The talented Abby Cabunoc Mayes, who I worked with when I was at the Mozilla Foundation (and who I caught up with briefly at MozFest), was interviewed recently by TechRepublic. I like the way she frames the Open Source movement:
I like to think the movement really came together with The Cathedral and the Bazaar, an essay by Eric Raymond. And he compared the two ideas. There’s the cathedral, or free software, where a small group of people are putting together a big cathedral that anyone can come to, and attend a service or whatever. He compared that to a bazaar, where everyone is co-creating. There’s no real structure, you can set up a table wherever you want. You can haggle with other people. So open source, he really compared that to the Linux foundation at the time, where he was seeing so much delegation, so many people taking on tasks that would have been closed, in the cathedral model. So that idea that anyone can get involved, and anyone can participate, is really that key. Rather than just giving away something for free.
If you do an image search for Eric Raymond, you’ll find some of him holding guns, as he’s an enthusiast. I don’t like guns, nor do many people, but I’d like to think we can separate someone’s ideas about organising from their thoughts in a different area. I know some would beg to differ.
The interviewer goes on to ask Abby what the advantages of working openly are:
There’s a lot more buy-in from people. And having this distributed model, where anyone can take a part of this, and anyone can be involved in running the project, really helps keep the power not centralized, but really distributed. And so, you can see what’s happening to your data. So there’s a lot of advantages that way, and a lot more trust with the population. And I think this is where innovation happens. When everyone can be a part of something, and where everyone can submit the best ideas. And I think we saw that in the scientific revolution, when the academic journals started. And people were publishing their research, and then letting other people use that and build upon that and discover more things. We saw the same thing happen with open source. Where you can really take this and use and do whatever you want with it.
I think it’s important to keep linking and talking about this kind of stuff. Unfortunately, I feel like our cultural default is to try and take all the credit and work in silos.
I confess to not have heard of Abby Wambach, a recently-retired US soccer player, until Laura Hilliger brought her to my attention in the form of Wambach’s commencement speech to the graduates of Barnard College.
The whole thing is a fantastic call to action, particularly for women, but I wanted to call out a couple of bits in particular:
If you’re not a leader on the bench, don’t call yourself a leader on the field. You’re either a leader everywhere or nowhere.
People either look to you for guidance, or they don’t. You’re either the kind of person that steps up when required, or you don’t. Fortunately, I had a great role model in this regard in the shape of my father. He perhaps encouraged me a little too much to be a leader, but his actions, particularly when I was younger, spoke louder than his words.
You can’t be a leader at work without being a leader at home. And by ‘leader’ I don’t think Wambach is talking about ‘bossing’ everyone, but about stepping up, being counted, and supporting/representing others.
She also writes:
As you leave here today and everyday going forward: Don’t just ask yourself, “What do I want to do?” Ask yourself: “WHO do I want to be?” Because the most important thing I’ve learned is that what you do will never define you. Who you are always will.
Absolutely! Decide on your values and live them. I find reading Aristotle useful in this regard, particularly his views on Eudaimonia. Choose what you stand for, and articulate the way you’d like to be. Then seek out opportunities that chime with that.
Leadership is a funny thing. There’s lots written about it, but, at the end of the day, it’s all about relationships.
I’ve worked for some great leaders, and some shitty managers. This Harvard Business Review article describes the usual three ways those in positions of power get things wrong:
The key derailment characteristics of bad managers are well documented and fall into three broad behavioral categories: (1) “moving away behaviors,” which create distance from others through hyper-emotionality, diminished communication, and skepticism that erodes trust; (2) “moving against behaviors,” which overpower and manipulate people while aggrandizing the self; and (3) “moving toward behaviors,” which include being ingratiating, overly conforming, and reluctant to take chances or stand up for one’s team.
But there’s another, potentially even worse, category:
Absentee leaders are people in leadership roles who are psychologically absent from them. They were promoted into management, and enjoy the privileges and rewards of a leadership role, but avoid meaningful involvement with their teams. Absentee leadership resembles the concept of rent-seeking in economics — taking value out of an organization without putting value in. As such, they represent a special case of laissez-faire leadership, but one that is distinguished by its destructiveness.
The problem with absentee leaders, as the article explains, is that they rarely get weeded out. There’s always more pressing problems to deal with. So the people who report to them exist in a professional feedback vacuum.
The chances are good, however, that your organization is unaware of its absentee leaders, because they specialize in flying under the radar by not doing anything that attracts attention. Nonetheless, the adhesiveness of their negative impact may be slowly harming the company.
If leadership is about relationships, then the worst leaders are those who show poor emotional intelligence, don’t invest in building trust, and provide little constructive feedback. If you’re in a position of leadership, it’s worth thinking about this from the point of view of others who interact with you on a regular basis…
Source: Harvard Business Review
As this article points out, organisational culture is a delicate balance between many things, including accountability and anonymity:
Though some assurance of anonymity is necessary in a few sensitive and exceptional scenarios, dependence on anonymous feedback channels within an organization may stunt the normalization of a culture that encourages diversity and community.
Anonymity can be helpful and positive:
For example, an anonymous suggestion program to garner ideas from members or employees in an organization may strengthen inclusivity and enhance the diversity of suggestions the organization receives. It would also make for a more meritocratic decision-making process, as anonymity would ensure that the quality of the articulated idea, rather than the rank and reputation of the articulator, is what’s under evaluation. Allowing members to anonymously vote for anonymously-submitted ideas would help curb the influence of office politics in decisions affecting the organization’s growth.
…but also problematic:
Reliance on anonymous speech for serious organizational decision-making may also contribute to complacency in an organizational culture that falls short of openness. Outlets for anonymous speech may be as similar to open as crowdsourcing is—or rather, is not. Like efforts to crowdsource creative ideas, anonymous suggestion programs may create an organizational environment in which diverse perspectives are only valued when an organization’s leaders find it convenient to take advantage of members’ ideas.
The author gives some advice to leaders under five sub-headings:
- Availability of additional communication mechanisms
- Failure of other communication avenues
- Consequences of anonymity
- Designing the anonymous communication channel
- Long-term considerations
There’s some great advice in here, and I’ll certainly be reflecting on it with the organisations of which I’m part.
Paul Ford is venerated in Silicon Valley and, based on what I’ve read of his, for good reason. He describes himself as a ‘reluctant capitalist’.
In this post from last year, he discusses building a positive organisational culture:
A lot of businesses, especially agencies, are sick systems. They make a cult of their “visionary” founders. And they keep going but never seem to thrive — they always need just one more lucky break before things improve. Payments are late. Projects are late. The phone rings all weekend. That’s not what we wanted to build. We wanted to thrive.
He sets out characteristics of a ‘well system’:
- Hire people who like to work hard and who have something to prove.
- Encourage people to own and manage large blocks of their own time, and give people time to think and make thinking part of the job—not extra.
- Let people rest. Encourage them to go home at sensible times. If they work late give them time off to make up for it.
- Aim for consistency. Set emotional boundaries and expectations, be clear about rewards, and protect people where possible from crises so they can plan their time.
- Make their success their own and credit them for it.
- Don’t promise happiness. Promise fair pay and good work.
Ford makes the important point that leaders need to be seen to do and say the right things:
I’m not a robot by any means. But I’ve learned to watch what I say. If there’s one rule that applies everywhere, it’s that Irony Doesn’t Scale. Jokes and asides can be taken out of context; witty complaints can be read as lack of enthusiasm. People are watching closely for clues to their future. Your dry little bon mot can be read as “He’s joking but maybe we are doomed!” You are always just one hilarious joke away from a sick system.
It’s a useful post, particuarly for anyone in a leadership position.
The Mozilla Foundation may have shut down pretty much all of its learning programmes, but it’s still doing interesting stuff around Open Leadership. Chad Sansing writes:
We think of Open Leadership as a set of principles, practices, and skills people can use to mobilize their communities to solve shared problems and achieve shared goals. For example, Mozilla’s web browser, Firefox, was developed with an open code base with community contribution and support.
They’re using the Web Literacy Map (work I led during my time with Mozilla) as a reference point. It’s early days, but here’s what they’ve got so far:
There’s also a white paper which they say will be updated in February 2018. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes. Along with great work being done at opensource.com’s community around The Open Organization it’s a great time to be a open leader!
Source: Read, Write, Participate