Leadership in an open source community; what does it mean and how can you check and balance within a fluid ever changing passionate volunteer environment?
Recently at the Joomla World Conference I had the privilege to listen to a presentation from Matt Mullenweg, a co-founder and leader in the WordPress movement, on their journey in building their open source community. Their success and story is quite similar and inspiring. Interacting with so many folks over the three days of the conference (http://conference.joomla.org) and seeing the similarities within these two diverse communities made me ask many questions around what is and should encompass leadership within volunteer driven communities.
The Four Freedoms
Several of the points made in Matt's presentation were around "The Four Freedoms" and it is important for new comers and veterans to remind ourselves that we need to keep them as the backdrop and guidance on our journey interacting within the communities that we chose to associate ourselves with or become involved in.
A program is free software if the program's users have the four essential freedoms:
· The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
· The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
· The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
· The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
The Art of Community
For guidance I am enjoying a great book right now called "The Art of community". There is even a conference held every year for leaders in like-minded communities to share ideas and gather insights.
So far I have noticed one of the things that comes to the forefront in every community as it evolves, especially volunteer driven communities, is the power struggles and personality conflicts. This can have a profound impact on moral and pace or process in which things can get accomplished. It can also divide your community into rival factions as was in part the case when Joomla broke off of the Mambo project. I think there are three key factors that need to be in place to maneuver around this gracefully.
1. Be able to stay focused on the mission and when things get out of hand bring everyone back on target and with enthusiasm (sometimes easier said than done). This means everyone at every level needs to dedicate themselves to bringing the focus back to a clear mission and purpose.
2. Leadership has to be aggressive in a way parallel to a pastor with a parish. Where they continue to nurture the spiritual health of the congregation. Whether it is an individual or teams or teams of teams every level of the leadership has to always be thinking of mending the conflicts and encouraging more participation around the central principles and mission. They need to go out of their way to be selfless and to thank the contributors regardless of how small the contribution.
3. I think a key element for maintaining "spark" in any community is to first attract the right talent in the right areas and then inspire them to participate. From there if the community is to grow you need to keep them inspired and challenged with the potential of even greater possibilities. Directing talent and enthusiasm into the areas of the project where individuals can get the greatest satisfaction and experience can bolster participation and a stronger healthier organization over a longer period of time.
Be Your Best and Always Try to do Better
At the end of the day when you take part in a community there is give and take and you have to be willing to always "be" or do your best, strive to get better, learn from your mistakes and to show the greatest level of respect and compassion for others.
It is ok to disagree because there is often sometimes an over democratic process. One has to try to not let the inner struggles of problem solving in this type of environment overwhelm you with frustration or even at times anger. This can often be the case when you have passionate opinionated people with different skills and approaches or backgrounds collaborating.
In an ever personal and high passion volunteer environment we are all bound to step on someone's toes or bum someone out at some point. There is an old saying. "The only way to have a friend is to be one." Sometimes we need to be uplifted by others and sometimes we need to give pep talks to encourage those around us when they become discouraged. That is how we can achieve great things as a community, by being there for each other. In a community we are all fiends trying to achieve common goals, be it for personal or business reasons. Let us never lose our excitement for these goals. I think this care and compassion for each other and passion for a common purpose is at the core of how any community thrives. On top of that we should have a good time doing so. We should never take the fun out of sharing in these experiences while making the world a better place.
I am passionate about Joomla and the open source movement in general. So to my original question, it would be my hope that leadership responsibility comes from all of us and from this place it should trickle from the "core across" as well as the bottom up or top down. "Know your place, know your stuff and be a mentor to those around you."