Saturday Jan 30, 2010

Leadership via Action

So many people claim they lead. Maybe they have a big hairy title or powerful position or know someone special, or maybe they just have lots of cash and feel we should all follow along quietly. There`s even a whole industry of "leadership" with books and seminars and all sorts of guys spinning up what it means to lead. I used to think all that was pretty cool (or interesting to study, anyway), but not any longer. Spotting leadership is simple. Look around the room, look for who`s talking and for who`s doing. Follow the ones doing. Chances are those people won`t bark orders to you, but instead they`ll encourage you to work right along with them and you`ll want to. You see, real leaders don`t duck when things get hot. They don`t get hard to find when things get confusing or uncertain. They don`t tell others what to do, either. They just step up and act because things need to get done. Leadership is demonstrated via action, and anyone can lead because anyone can act. Everything else is chit-chat.

Sunday Oct 25, 2009

Conducting Leadership

Here`s a interesting way to spend 20 minutes -- TED Talk: Itay Talgam: Lead like the great conductors. Great presentation. Lots of fun. There are so many ways to lead. And you can see both obvious and subtle differences expressed in some of the great conductors Talgam profiles. Some control forcefully and dramatically. Others relax and have fun and enthusiastically guide people along effortlessly. While others are more quiet and gently create an environment where musicians can express their talent so it`s difficult to tell who leads who. Fascinating stuff because you see it all unfold as a performance. Personally, I think the best conductors (or the best anything) just blend into the music so the focus is on the music and not on them.

That last bit is important. Many leaders miss it entirely and it undermines them completely. For me, the word "leadership" has very little meaning now. Actually, I view the word largely in the pejorative. The very concept has been so thoroughly abused these days (read a newspaper lately?) I am hard pressed to find leaders I can look up to and learn from. In fact, I have pretty much given up on the exercise as a waste of time. Don`t lead. Instead, do. Just do. And if you must lead or, gasp, call yourself a leader, then lead with doing in mind. That is the only way you will ever earn any credibility among those you think you lead. It`s also the only way you will ever attract naturally those like-minded individuals who want to grow with you -- not as a result of you.

Sunday Sep 20, 2009

Building by Contributing

I was meditating earlier and I got a great idea. It`s an obvious idea for me, but for some reason it clicked this time when it bubbled up. Maybe because I have an enormous amount of material now, I don`t know. I have some interesting stories to tell and piles of photographs to play with as source material, and I keep generated new stuff all the time. The more I look the more I find.

Anyway. I am going to put together a new presentation about all the people I look up to as great community builders. Most of them I have met and/or work with every day in the multiple communities in which I participate, but some are just acquaintances who I observe from afar and study in detail. And some I have never met but would love to because they are changing the world in important ways that oftentimes go unrecognized. They teach me. They are international and multi lingual. They are young and old. They cut across many industries and disciplines. Some think big and build globally, but even more think small and organize locally -- and many times that`s even more difficult and more important. Some are famous but most are not. And the common thread tying them together in my mind? They all build communities by contributing to communities. They do. They don`t just talk. That`s the bit they get right, and that`s why they teach so naturally by simply doing what they love. This is personal. That`s why it`s powerful. And that`s why I have to tell these stories. Just looking up to people who build community is not enough. We have to learn from these people and distribute community building opportunities among everyone. That`s the only way a community becomes sustainable.

Monday May 04, 2009

The Return of the OpenSolaris Facilitators

Just when you thought they died, the Facilitators have made quite a  comeback on OpenSolaris. Go figure. In fact, there is a new Facilitation Project on the site to implement the Facilitator role, which is actually pretty well specified in the OpenSolaris Constitution. I've talked a lot about this role over the years because I've always seen it as an opportunity to implement global community building operations at multiple levels -- engineering, marketing, project management, governance, whatever. I think I've been alone with that thought in the past, though. I guess my timing was off. In fact, just last year I actually argued pretty strongly to cut the damn thing due to lack of interest. And I did. I cut the role from all the drafts of proposed new Constitution. No one argued to save it. No one even blinked.

There has always been confusion about where the Facilitators would come from. In reality, according to the Constitution, the OGB should have simply appointed the Facilitators all along. But that didn't happen. So Facilitators came along naturally based on the genuine needs of some of the more active Community Groups themselves. That's fine, of course, but that organic growth wasn't a comprehensive solution initially or even recently, and that led to communication problems between the OGB and the Community Groups -- most recently and most importantly with the low voter turn out this election and the failure to get enough votes to pass the new Constitution we spent most of last year drafting. Although the proposed new Constitution got a majority of votes from the people who voted, it didn't get a majority of the total votes among the OpenSolaris Membership. That means too many people simply didn't vote. And that's a communications problem that Facilitators can help solve.

Facilitators are basically project managers or community organizers or community managers -- pick your term of preference because they are all the pretty much the same thing. OpenSolaris does not have a single community manager or any single leader, for that matter, so it seems to me that the management-oriented functions are best distributed among the Facilitators because the leadership structure of the community is distributed as well. Facilitators can do more or less for their groups based on interest and need, of course, and they can be engineers or non-engineers. It doesn't matter. But there is a minimum level of governance-oriented communications required so the community can function, and that's specified right in the Constitution. It's all very basic stuff. But it's not enough. Let's think bigger than just implementing one Constitutional role. Let's think about how we are building a global community of communities -- not just one community on To me, this is a big opportunity for Facilitators -- to help manage the operations on and then to help connect those operations to other communities around the world. There is no reason why this can't happen because the people on are already distributed globally, but we don't really view them as global community builders doing local work. Some do it, sure, and those guys are well known. But I'm talking about building a global community development operation with people whose primary role is to build community. Community Organizers, basically. Or Community Managers, if you like that term better. I've always viewed the Facilitators as the foundation of that idea, and I thought that it was convenient that the seed of the idea was actually specified in the Constitution. Otherwise, the perception is that community building operations just rests with Sun exclusively, and I think that's too narrow a focus if we want to grow more rapidly. The community is already too international for it to be centralized around Sun, and that's pretty easy to see living from where I live. I've talked about this on list many times, but strangely, the idea is generally met with silence. Inside, too. That's why I eventually gave up.

Now, personally, I hate the term "facilitator" almost as much as I hate the term "evangelist" so I hope we rename the role to something more substantive in future versions of the Constitution. The word is weak. And that's part of the problem. People were never really interested in it and didn't see it of value, whereas in reality it has always been a needed role in this community. The truth is that we've always had communications issues in the community around governance -- quite literally from day one -- and those problems have not improved much over the years. Granted, the community doesn't experience its previous level of flame warfare these days, but that doesn't mean that communication has improved. It hasn't. What has improved is that some of the core projects have a much more clear focus now, and those guys are generating real results in their projects at their respective local levels. But overall, communication about governance issues and how the community is organized and where it's going as a community is still a missed opportunity. And if I'm being too critical, fine, then let me put it this way: the awareness of this issue is well below where I feel we should be in 2009. Regardless, I can't find anyone who'd disagree we could improve in this area. The Facilitators project is an excellent first step. We've had difficulty implementing or own community processes, so let's get that down and then grow from there.

Sunday Apr 26, 2009

The Distinction Between Power and Leadership

Interesting talk from Marshall Ganz about building community and distributing leadership. At the 13:10 minute mark of the video he talks about the distinction between power and leadership and how in voluntary associations you can`t rely on political or economic coercion to get people to something. You can`t substitute power for leadership. Leaders of volunteers elicit cooperation by tapping into the shared values of the community, and that`s a much more challenging exercising than dictating orders with threats of force to back you up.

This quote at the 14:15 minute mark sums it nicely: "It`s very easy, if you are in a place where you can fire people if they don`t do what you want, to kid yourself about why people are collaborating and cooperating with you. It`s very easy if you are in a place where you can put people in jail if they don`t do what you want. When you are operating in a voluntary setting you don`t have those options so the burden of leadership is much greater because you have to elicit voluntary collaboration, cooperation, engagement, motivation, commitment, etc. So, in a sense, it`s sort of leadership on its own without the props that are often available to us to exercise authority in organizations."

Wednesday Apr 01, 2009

Looking for Leaders in all the Wrong Places

Really good article about leadership from David Rothkopf in the Washington Post the other day -- Where Are the Leaders? My favorite quote is this one right here: "Everywhere you look, it seems that the men and women in positions of power are receding. The closer you look, the smaller they get. Once there were titans running the financial and business worlds, lions of the legislature, great statesmen astride the global stage, individuals who weren't just victims of history but who bent it to their wills. Or maybe it's just that people in the rearview mirror appear larger than they really were."

Yes, I do think the rearview mirror distorts our view, but I also think the current crop of leads out there is poor at best. And I disagree with the presupposition in the article (and in most of these articles) that leadership is only for leaders. That`s what keeps us always looking up to the special people for answers. Leadership is not just for leaders. Leadership is for all of us. And just because our so-called leaders turned out to be obviously so small, that doesn`t let all of us off the hook for our own laziness to take responsibility for our own lives. I mean after all, we believed those guys, right?  That part is our problem, not theirs. Don`t look up for leadership. Look in the mirror. Weave that notion into the article as you read it. I think it works.

Thursday Mar 05, 2009

The Stories of Community

Why Stories Matter: The art and craft of social change -- "Learning skills and practices is not like learning a formula; it’s more like learning how to ride a bicycle. You can read 10 books about it or listen to someone lecture about it all day, but how do you really start learning to ride a bicycle? You get on. And you fall. That’s how you learn practices. That’s how you learn organizing." -- Marshall Ganz

Nice article from Marshall Ganz on using the power of story (four specific levels of stories, actually) to engage people and build communities that drive change. Story telling is as old as it gets and remains probably the most effective way to deliver information that resonates. Here`s a little Ganz video, too. Good stuff.

Sunday Feb 15, 2009

Transparent Leadership Obvious to Everyone

Japan Airline Boss Sets Exec Example (CBS Evening News). Here`s another great report about Haruka Nishimatsu`s leadership at Japan Airlines. There`s nothing complicated here. This should be recognizable to everyone who works for a living -- those who earn their way every day. It`s leadership. Many leaders brand themselves special and leadership itself as some special art that only a few can master. I think that`s propaganda. The best leaders grow from the bottom up, they continually earn their support serving the community from which they came, and they don`t distance themselves from everyone once they attain their status. Simple. Nishimatsu is rare. So is leadership.

JAL tag here on this blog. JAL tag on delicious.

Saturday Jan 03, 2009

Asserting Responsibility

Sink or swim: Haruka Nishimatsu, chief executive Japan Airlines: "Nishimatsu says that in the big picture, JAL's change process has to be much more than just talk - Asia's biggest airline needs to genuinely be overhauled. While some say his plan does not go far enough, particularly in terms of job cuts, Nishimatsu says pragmatism must be adhered to. He also insists that if his targets are not met that he will take full responsibility. 'If you were to ask is this the perfect, completely realisable cost-cutting plan, then that is a very difficult thing to declare,' he says. 'But if we don't achieve our targets, I do not intend to stay on.' "

A leader asserting ... responsibility? I find that especially shocking. Usually leaders spin, deflect, duck, attack, point fingers, lie, and steal. And they usually get away with it, too. I don`t see very many people leading by example these days, do you? And I don`t see very many leaders emerging from real communities of people engaged in direct action, do you? I`m talking about people who actually work not just talk. These people are obvious on every project. They are the leaders even though they don`t have the title and most times never get the title. That`s unfortunate. It seems to me that the era of the experts and special people spinning us like sheep should be over. Humor me. I can dream, can`t I? But is that happening at JAL? Can it happen in government too?

Tuesday Dec 30, 2008

Real Leadership Starts with Real Action

I find most conversations about "leadership" little more than meaningless chit-chat. A waste of time. Talk is cheap. Just ignore it. Action speaks clearly. With that in mind, watch this CNN clip of Japan Airlines CEO Haruka Nishimatsu's attempt to manage his company through tough times -- Evolving Excellence: $20 Billion Company CEO ... Takes the Bus. (Video: here, here,)

What do you think? I've watched the darn thing a dozen times. I can't get enough. It's an inspiration. Yet, it's so stupidly simple. And it speaks quite clearly about this guy's priorities and those of his company. Can you imagine in your wildest dreams business, labor, and political leaders in modern America following this reality of leadership? Yah, I doubt it too.

Now, some of this is cultural in that the distribution of wealth in Japan is not nearly as insane as it is in the United States, and the so-called "talent" market in Japan is nothing like it is in the West as well. The Japanese think very differently about individual talent and its value in relation to an overall organization. It's difficult to explain, but I see it everywhere around here. And I can see both good and bad in it as well. So, I'm not saying that the Japanese know best in all cases. They don't. Neither do we, actually, but we tend to not recognize that. But I do find it remarkable that this story in Japan is really not a big deal at all. Should it be? Regardless of the obvious cultural differences, the United States may be forced to make some cultural changes like these in the near future. It will be fascinating to see how the country deals with it. Is all that "talent" worth all that cash? If it is, so be it. I'm all for paying for the best. But if not, can we finally recognize it, please? Can this be any more obvious now? So far the solution is simply to raid the pockets of us regular people to save all the experts and billionaires with a never ending series of bailouts. How long that will last who knows. I suspect not for very long before people get really pissed, but what do I know. I'm nobody. I have no power. I'm not special in that system, and don't think for a minute that that doesn't get me very down at times. I know, I know ... Obama is going to save us. Right. Got it.

Oh, and by the way, when I travel throughout Asia for Sun, Japan Airlines is always an option for obvious reasons. They fly there a lot. And I generally choose based on times and prices, etc -- just like everyone else (well, everyone else who flies 3rd class, I mean). So, do you think knowing that JAL's CEO is taking the freaking bus to work hanging on to the damn strap like I do and making less money than his pilots will affect my decision to choose an airline? You can absolutely count on it. Never mind that the service on JAL (and most Asian airlines) is vastly superior to every single American and European carrier in the air, I'm talking this guy's plane because he's talking the bus. Period. And Nishimatsu didn't initiate this no-frills style of management when the U.S. fell off the financial cliff a few months ago. Nope. He started a couple of years ago. Anyway, I gotta calm down. Here are some related links talking about this issue. Good stuff. All worth a read if you are just a regular working stiff trying to figure out how to retire and put your kid through college.

Ah, one more thing before I forget. And this is a big deal. If you want to build community in this new era -- one where the people have more of a voice than ever before -- do what Nishimatsu-san does. It's required. How else would you have any credibility whatsoever?

Sunday Oct 26, 2008

Leadership Today

Really good conversation about leadership from Charlie Rose at the Harvard Business School with John Doerr, Jeffrey Immelt, James Wolfensohn, Meg Whitman, Anand Mahindra. My favorite bits come around the 31 minute mark when they start focusing more about the economic shift to Asia and the keys to leadership. Some of the concepts they talked about include:

    \* Spend what you earn. That doesn`t sound so anymore, eh?
    \* Educate people for a global world. The U.S. is still focused on the West.
    \* Don`t forget the liberal arts. Think.
    \* Ask people to help. People want to gather together, be involved, volunteer, help. Ask them.
    \* Build the following: a sound financial system, an energy policy, a health care system.
    \* Be accountable for results.
    \* Balance right brain and left brain thinking.
    \* Encourage a culture of acknowledging mistakes.
    \* Knowing is not nearly as important as learning.
    \* Expect unpredictability.
    \* Be willing to make decisions and stand by them.
    \* Communication.
    \* Transparency.
    \* Ideas are good, but execution is absolutely everything.
    \* Teams win.
    \* Character. You know it when you see it.

I`m extremely suspect of so-called experts and big names predicting the future nowadays, but this panel was a nice mix of sobering realism and inspiration with very little preaching. Just some people talking. Well worth a listen.

Wednesday Feb 20, 2008

Blasting Ourselves

Martin blurted out a great quote the other day -- Let's look ahead, rather than blasting ourselves dead. Seems fitting for the OpenSolaris community right about now, don't you think? You know, over the last few months, I've been trying to look for new models of leadership in the community. Leadership is such a fuzzy issue and usually generates lots speculative conversation, but the bottom line is action. Who leads by doing rather than talking? Who just works without seeking the title of leader? That's the truest form of leadership I can imagine. Action. Anyway, I agree with Martin. Let's look ahead. But as we look ahead, we should not forget that there are a lot of people who have been working right along under all the noise the last six months. They are the leaders of the OpenSolaris community. That's becoming more obvious every day.

Thursday Nov 15, 2007

Community Facilitators

The OpenSolaris Constitution has a section outlining a role for Community Group (CG) Facilitators:
7.5. Facilitator. The OGB shall appoint for each Community Group a 
Facilitator. The Facilitator shall be responsible for ensuring that
Community Group records are properly maintained, communicating the
Community Group's status to the OGB, ensuring that communication from
the OGB to the Community Group is properly disseminated to participants,
and performing the duties of chair for meetings of the Community Group.
Nominations to the office of Facilitator shall be made by the Core
Contributors of the Community Group, but the OGB shall not be limited in
their appointment to those nominated. The Chair of the OGB shall serve
as the Facilitator for the at-large community.
To me this is yet another opportunity for leadership and contribution within the OpenSolaris Community.

Project managers from within Sun and also from outside Sun can help organize and run their CGs and all of the development projects within their CGs. That's a big deal. And the Sun-badged guys can help open their projects on to since, presumably, they are already supporting the projects inside. Facilitators can also provide a valuable -- and badly needed right now -- communication channel to the OpenSolaris Governing Board (OGB), which is basically a policy board, not an operational board with the ability to run the entire community. I've advocated that we (at the very least) create a mail list for the Facilitators, so they can be easily found among all 40 or so CGs, and also so they can share information and actually run the OpenSolaris Community from an operational perspective. In other words, the Facilitators can do more than just communicate with the OGB.

We have plenty of process in OpenSolaris, but we have very few people focused on implementing the process in the community. Instead, we just complain about all the process and lack of leadership, while the Constitution quietly articulates all the leadership opportunities. The OpenSolaris Community needs more project management support. That's painfully clear. But there seems to be very little interest in seeing the Facilitator role as serving this purpose even though it's burned right into the Constitution. It will be interesting to see how long we can go not actively running our own community.

There have been some threads about the Facilitators (here, here, here, here) as well.

Thursday Feb 15, 2007

Steve's Run

Stephen Lau jumped into the campaign for the next OpenSolaris Governing Board today. Excellent.


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