4 Leadership Lessons from Mitchell Baker

A few days ago I got really excited when I found out a few old (2006) posts from Mitchell Baker, the Chairman of Mozilla Corporation, on leadership challenges in open source projects. Leading the distributed effort to create Firefox, Baker definitely has a word to say about leadership in online communities. Here are some tips I extracted from her posts and one interview featured in The McKinsey Quarterly.

  1. Make sure you create, publicize, and live by mission, values and goals. Mozilla project was all about open Internet and safe browsing, and people that identified themselves with this mission became the most valuable contributors to the project.
  2. Give up control. Allow people to step up and contribute. Whether it’s a tiny task or an important design decision, if you allow the community to take the ownership for it, they will be emotionally committed to the project and guide it in the right direction.
  3. Build trust in the community. This is another key factor in retaining active community members. You need to be sensitive to criticism and desires, pay attention and open up by accepting their feedback. To build trust, you should not position yourself above it; you should be part of the community.
  4. Create the framework. As a leader, you are responsible for creating a system that will allow people to contribute and move forward with the project. In Mozilla project, Mitchell focused on designing a clear decision-making process, establishing roles in the project and “career paths” to develop community experts and leaders, managing the communication within the community with a focus on listening. An important element of the framework consisted of the extensions and customization mechanisms, which allowed new people to easily contribute from the outside of the project.

I want to investigate more both the inspiration and the management aspects of Mozilla project, so expect more to come on this topic.

Sources:

http://blog.lizardwrangler.com/2006/03/30/new-roles-in-open-source-projects/

http://blog.lizardwrangler.com/2006/06/06/the-community-and-decision-making/

http://blog.lizardwrangler.com/2006/06/11/leadership-vs-coordination/

Lenny T. Mendonca and Robert Sutton: Succeeding at open-source innovation: An interview with Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker, The McKinsey Quarterly, January 2008.

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