Congratulations! You’ve been elected to a key leadership role in one of the world’s most successful open source projects. This is going to be a fun ride, I promise. Okay, it might not always be “fun”, but I can promise you that it will be one of the most memorable jobs you’ll ever take. And yes, I did label it a “job”.
As you get started, I thought I’d share some lessons I’ve learned from my two years as President, and five years as an OSM board member. Take the advice as you see fit. Ignore some of it, absorb some of it. Heck, many times, I didn’t follow my own advice, and I can assure you that it often lead to less-than-successful conclusions. Don’t be me. Be better than me by learning from my challenges.
Just know that each of these morsels of advice has an hour-long background story to it, so if you’re looking for more details, grab me a drink and we can chat. I’ll take a Pacifico, if you’re asking.
- This leads me to my first point, and a critical one at that for any OSM President: be prepared to drink quite a bit. As you know, the Joomla community likes to have a good time, and when they’re having a good time, they’d like to sit down and share ideas with you. This is awesome. I remember going to the first J and Beyond and running a marathon of meetings. Of course, this also means they’ll likely want to grab a drink with you. This will continue many times during each Joomla event you attend, so start training now.
- While it’s not appropriate to sleep during a presentation at an event, it’s perfectly reasonable to sleep between sessions, outside on lawns, in taxis, and anywhere else you can get some shut-eye between chats. I’ve found using empty plastic water bottles can make exceptional pillows. Feel free to ask me for more travel advice as needed.
- After taking in all the information you think is appropriate to make a decision, do what you believe is right and move forward. You’ve been selected for this position by your peers to lead them, and more often than not, you’ll be walking into new or unknown territory. It’s okay if not everyone is happy with your decision, but making a decision is more important than making everyone happy.
- Support the continued internationalization of the project, in every way possible.
- Delegate as much as possible by empowering those around you, but when you do, make sure to ask the delegates if they have time for the role. Nothing is worse than the fun of reading an email from someone you just volunteered for a position they didn’t want.
- The clearer the role, the more likely its outputs will meet your goals and lead to higher levels of satisfaction by volunteers. More satisfied volunteers mean a more productive project. A more productive project means you’ve accomplished a slice of your job. Quickly smile to yourself, and move on to your hundred other things to tackle.
- Setting measurements and metrics before assigning responsibilities and tasks are critical components to volunteers’ success. Remembering that everyone supporting Joomla is doing so voluntarily will help you in setting appropriate measures of success.
- There’s only so far we’re going to be able to take OSM and Joomla leadership without hiring staff. I think we’re actually already beyond a point of volunteer comfort for some roles office roles within OSM. Push forward a discussion on deciding the best route forward for OSM and Joomla that recognizes the limits of a purely volunteer team and balancing that against a focus on effectiveness. I believe Joomla’s leadership can be more effective if certain office roles have paid-staff to support them.
- Remember that all of this is supposed to be fun. If you’re not having fun, find ways to make it fun. Start by realizing your predecessor took the stage at every Joomla event with a three-foot tall inflatable penguin. The bar has been set very low, so I suspect you’ll have no problem bringing your own sense of fun to keep everyone on their toes.
- Within your first few weeks, have a one-on-one voice conversation with every member of the Leadership Team. Spend the time listening to their ideas and opinions, and open a line of communication. Their views on the project’s next steps should help you craft your own direction for OSM. Plus, they all have great personal stories that will give you insight on the pure awesome opportunity we have to bring all these talents together to better the community.
- The President serves the community. This role is different than other volunteer opportunities within the project. You’re both a leader and a servant of the greatest open source community. Be vigilant of the needs of the community, while recognizing you serve at the pleasure of the COC.
- Spend the majority of your communication time listening. Go out of your way at Joomla events to have as many one-on-one discussions as possible, and while there, ask as many questions as possible. Not only will this enable you to make more informed leadership decisions, but it will also save your voice.
- During OSM board meetings, lead by getting out of the way. Consider your opinion to be the least important during discussions. Start discussions by encouraging others to share their thoughts before sharing yours.
- Set the level of decorum you wish to maintain in meetings early. It will serve you well when times are tough, especially during passionate and difficult conversations.
- We’ve spent the last two years saving money and building a strong reserve. Now it’s time to spend it wisely. Gain consensus and move forward building the next generation of leadership structures.
- Fill roles that are well-defined. Don’t create positions just so people can have titles. Aim to build task lists not teams. All the above will help avoid the politics that too often troubles open source projects.
- Push forward the discussion on the critical leadership changes needed for the project to reach its next level of success. See it through to either success or failure, but don’t let the discussion end without aiming for a decisive decision.
- Burritos. Eat lots of burritos. That’s obvious.
- Have the team start working on next year’s budget now (February). While you’re at it, start working on the following year’s budget now too. It’s going to take a while, trust me. Wait, you already know that.
- Support an increased of investment in Joomla events, especially in countries that have not already hosted a Joomla!Day.
- Aim to increase regional diversity on the OSM board by including a member of the board from South America. Aim to increase gender diversity on the OSM board and encourage more women to apply for board positions. Both efforts can help the board better reflect the needs of the community.
- Lead the effort to continue making it easier for the community to leverage our brand to spread the word about this terrific project.
- Keep legal costs as low as possible, but not at the determent of the project’s assets. We have terrific lawyers that provide great advice, but at the end of the day, OSM’s mandate is to make the appropriate legal decisions taking in a number of factors. A balanced approach is useful.
- Use legal tools as necessary, but aim to use diplomatic channels before legal routes. Every dollar spent on legal procedures is a dollar that could have otherwise be spent on a community event, evangelism, etc. Keep the opportunity cost in mind.
- The Joomla project has a few very valuable assets. One of those is the trademark. Protect it. Like legal advice, however, there is a realm of diminishing returns on investment and opportunity cost. Keep both in mind when deciding where to invest the project’s money.
- As tempting (and fun) as they might be, drop your other Joomla responsibilities. Being OSM President is going to take focus, and buckets of it. You won’t be able to achieve all that you want as President without giving it all your energy.
- Set your term’s vision and values early, and be as consistent as possible in communicating it to the community and the Leadership Team. Simpler the better. You get to lead in setting the tone for OSM, so do so wisely and clearly.
- Talking about communicating your values, I still think a focus on transparency, empowerment, and accountability are key items that can use improvement across OSM. It’s a never-ending job, so I’d appreciate it if you kept pushing that forward.
- If re-elected, serve only two years. Always keep your eyes opened for potential successors, and be inclusive in your decision making processes to help spread the knowledge for the next potential President.
- People outside the community will try to force you into taking opinions about how Joomla stacks up against other open source projects in an effort to have you say something derogatory about another project. Don’t fall for the trap. Take the high road.
- Attend as many Joomla events as possible, but don’t believe that you need to be a road warrior to make an impact.
- Don’t sacrifice your personal and work life for Joomla.
- Don’t try to fill anyone else’s shoes, especially mine. They’re size 12.5 narrow, they stink, and they’re likely not going to fit you anyway. Fill your own shoes and lead with your own style.
- Work to build stronger relationships with our Joomla communities in Africa and Asia. Amazing work is being done in these regions, and their involvement in our community is critical to our success moving forward.
- Take a lesson from tai chi: deflect negative energy, don’t fight it head on. The people sending you negative energy likely have more time on their hands than you, so you’ll never get ahead...and likely never please them. Take the morsels of lessons learned from the criticism and move on. Sending positive energy is what you’re all about now.
- That said, don’t ignore constructive criticism. Don't let it get personal. Every critical comment on your work is free focus group feedback. Consider it an opportunity for you to set the bar higher.
- Family, friends, and work all come before Joomla. Repeat that over and over in your head.
- When you’re having a tough day, remember this: you’re serving one the greatest open source projects ever created. You’re an integral part of the best success story for collaborative leadership in the software world...possibly the technology world as a whole. Your work is making Joomla a better community.
- I’m here to help whenever you need it. Put me on your speed-dial. Sometimes it might feel lonley, but you're not alone.
You’re going to do a great job. The community and your teammates are here to help you be successful. Blaze a new trail! I've got your back.
In Joomla! we rock,
OSM President, 2010-2012