With the Feed Icon Trademark debate, I’ve become fascinated by a number of Mitchell Baker‘s recent posts on open source leadership (or perhaps more appropriately community stewardship).
Just last night we held our second coworking meeting to discuss a number of topics (of which we were able to plow through very few)… Key among them was the question of how to best open up the space for non-anchors while not overly burdening the existing key-holders. And, in opening up the space, how to we set a fair pay-for-the-time-you-use rate that doesn’t burden the project with excessive overhead or rules.
After an exhausting discussion for over an hour and a half, we had to adjourn the meeting following Brad’s Snooze Button Guideline. We covered quite a number of possibilities, from hourly rates to hosting quarterly “supporters”, but ultimately ended up without a final resolution other than to submit proposals to the mailing list for continued debate.
Here’s what’s strange about it: throughout the meeting (I can’t be sure but…) I did feel like I was sitting in the role of facilitator — not exactly the leader, but close enough. I mean, that’s a pretty common role to play, right? Most meetings need a leader of sorts, right?
So now the question that I have is, or perhaps what I’m most confused about, is what kind of leadership does the coworking project need? What kind can it stand? I agree with Mitchell that relying on the “community to decide” will moreoften than not result in disappointment or frustration for communities actually don’t decide anything, they only appear to make decisions. And yet, there is this apparent allergy in open source communities that forces the subversion of the ego and the consequent vilification of those who attempt to make a decision on behalf of the group.
Ian responds to Mitchell:
Good leaders do not make decisions – they simply help the community to make better decisions. To do this they listen well, and they think long and hard. Then, when they see the prevailing wisdom surface, they communicate those decisions more fruitfully.
…which sounds pretty good and egalitarian on the surface. In fact, not a bit unlike what they call representative government. And yet, I think that that only captures a fraction of what a leader, in the community context, really does.
It is my belief that good, reflective and responsive leadership is needed for any project to find success. But that leadership need not be hierarchical. Or dominant. Or, most of all, exclusively masculine. And it also can’t be cowardly or cow-tow to the imposing and voluminous voice of the community it serves. That’s why leadership is important; it’s not about power, it’s about clarity of purpose and of seeing things through to their desired conclusion, deterring that which threatens to scuttle the intentions of the group.
Case in point, the witch-hunt that O’Reilly recently survived suggests that communities can easily be turned into echo chambers for groupthink and channeled hostility. Without strong leadership, you’re liable to end up with a neverending succession of teapot tempests without accomplishing anything productive.
So, coming back to the meeting last night, we have goals in common, even if the path is not clear. Which is precisely the kind of opportunity in which leadership emerges — the kind that isn’t focused in any one individual but is shared among the individuals in the collective. In a very real sense, it is the BarCamp model of leadership, of self-determination, of personal responsibility and of realizing your own role in consciously creating circumstances for yourself.
The point is this: open source leadership is not a contradiction, it’s just deeply misunderstood. And it seems high time that, as we open up to serving wider markets and communities, that we learn what it really means to embrace a kind of leadership that does not rely on traditional concentrations of power or of exclusivity or malevolent competition, but instead works to helps us each reach beyond ourselves to reveal each our own potentials. I don’t know clearly what it looks like, but I do think that Mitchell is on to something and that somehow, this little coworking experiment of ours might bring us steps closer to discovering just how open, modern leadership will actually bring us forward.