Leadership, fawgawdsake!

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.

My Dad.

Larry Cafiero, Sr., more "happy warrior" than "grammar hammer," would have made a good FOSS project facilitator.

Larry Cafiero, Sr., more “happy warrior” than “grammar hammer,” would have made a good FOSS project facilitator.

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.

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Fosstafarian by and other works by Larry Cafiero are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Resisting temptation

When I found out on Friday afternoon that the lead developer for Bodhi Linux was stepping down, I went into breaking-news mode and contacted Christine Hall at FOSS Force to let her know that I was sending her a story. As an aside, FOSS Force normally “publishes” Monday-Friday and takes the weekend off, but in this case, this is a story that is too important to wait until Monday.

I called up LibreOffice Writer and went to work.

“Lead developer Jeff Hoogland had an out-of-Bodhi experience on Friday, when he decided to step down . . . .”

No. I didn’t go there.

Instead I wrote this. Also, Jeff spoke volumes in his own blog item on why he’s leaving, and I understand completely. To see what Jeff achieved with Bodhi Linux over the last four years — all while in school, grad school, family life and now with a child — is simply remarkable and I salute him for it. He leaves for someone, or to the Bodhi community stepping up, a very viable Linux distro.

My hope is that someone, or several folks who are already involved with Bodhi Linux, picks up the reins and continue what is one of the better Linux distributions, especially for older machines. I have said in these pages in the past that Bodhi is a viable distro — my only qualm, and it’s a minor one, is that it doesn’t come with enough programs by default and that you have to go get them after installing it. That’s by design — I get that — but it’s not my proverbial cup of tea.

Also — and this is a very important point — it’s not necessarily a flaw because it’s a design of which I’m not fond. It’s called “different strokes for different folks,” and the distro has gained many users with the formula Hoogland developed.

In other words, it may not be for me, but that doesn’t make it bad or lacking in some way.

Which leads us to a broader issue, that of whether a distro like Bodhi should continue to have the opportunity to prosper and thrive. The answer clearly to this is a resounding “yes.”

Some might think that there should be only $ONE_TRUE_DISTRO, and usually that distro is the one they are using. Nothing could be further from the truth, to say nothing of the fact that nothing could be more hilariously arrogant and world-class myopic than holding such a position. Clearly and unequivocally, one of the many strengths of FOSS — perhaps its biggest strength — lies in the variety of 200-something Linux and BSD distros out there. Choice is clearly good, and the competition between having more than one choice raises everyone up — the rising tide making all the vessels rise with the waters.

Bodhi Linux captured a niche and, with continued perserverence, the community taking the reins will have the opportunity to continue to excel.

That’s only fair, and that’s what FOSS is all about.

Creative Commons License
Fosstafarian by and other works by Larry Cafiero are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.