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The Keeper of Secrets: The Dance of Community Leadership


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This talk was delivered as the closing keynote at the FOSDEM 2013 Conference.

Video is available at

This content is licensed CC-By-3.0, so please use, remix and share widely!

Leaders in communities that value openness and transparency are faced with a difficult challenge: people confide in you constantly, but your role as a leader is to promote positive change in your project; change only proceeds where information flows. How does one negotiate the need to maintain trust and harmony in the human sides of our interactions in development communities, while still ensuring that the social problems that may inhibit community progress are mitigated? How does one manage to do all this while keeping one’s commitments to one’s friends and to project values like transparency and openness?

In this talk, Leslie Hawthorn will explore the role of secrets and disclosure in our open development communities. Specifically, she will explore how good leaders know when to discuss secrets, when to remain mum and, in particular, how to tell secrets "the right way". Drawing on six years of experience working with 100s of FOSS communities, she will discuss some of the most contentious and hilarious social problems she’s encountered and how they were addressed, with names and details omitted sufficiently well to keep her own commitments to confidentiality.

Published in: Technology

The Keeper of Secrets: The Dance of Community Leadership

  1. 1. The Keeper of SecretsLeslie Hawthorn — @lhawthorn FOSDEM 2013
  2. 2. How to be an effective leader when everyone talks to you …but expects you not to talk to anybody else
  3. 3. These are my opinions only.Your mileage may vary. Greatly.
  4. 4.
  5. 5. There is No Cabal
  6. 6. …but there area lot of people having one to one ~ or ~ small group discussions
  7. 7. Isn’t that a Cabal?
  8. 8. one to one ~ or ~ one to few conversationsare not always harmful
  9. 9. When is something a secret?
  10. 10. We are social creatures, so it’s in our nature to talk about things that matter to us. We talk about them a lot.
  11. 11. While we all understand that we’re not supposed to discuss certain topics, we do so anyway because we fundamentally require the input of our peers.
  12. 12. Some ‘Secrets’ are Really Great Consider a donation to the OSUOSL Beer Fund [URL REDACTED]Use your favorite search engine to find OSUOSL beer fund Full disclosure: is my former employer. I do not benefit from the beer fund for many reasons, including my preference for whiskey.
  13. 13. Some secrets are relatively innocuous…
  14. 14. If we accept that discussing the things that matter to us is human nature, how can we tell if something ought not be shared?
  15. 15. What about the things people don’t say…but are still blindingly apparent?
  16. 16. Ostensibly, if someone comesto you with information aboutsomething that bothers them, chances are they want you to do something with that information.
  17. 17. Capable leaders...
  18. 18. Creating empathy and inclusion requires understanding — not just what to share, but how to share it the right way.
  19. 19. Case Study:When You Have to Share, but You Ought Not
  20. 20. Contributorin critical pathis havinga bad time, …but doesn’t want to discuss it widely
  21. 21. Simple cases of difficultcircumstances start to feellike deliberate discourtesy
  22. 22. Despite their irritations, fewfolks are willing to be directabout their concerns....
  23. 23. “ Why Your Community Leaders Deserve Combat Pay” …will be the topic of a later presentation
  24. 24. How to ... 1) Encourage disclosure 2) Ask for permission to disclose in such a way as to keep all parties comfortable 3) Encourage community to be direct but kind with their concerns
  25. 25. Case Study:The Person Who Just Doesn’t Get It
  26. 26. Some folks arequite good–hearted …but their actions harm the flow of the project
  27. 27. Project members understandablyget cranky and waste cycles ifthey feel like they have to spendmuch of their time herding errantfellow volunteers
  28. 28. We have excellent and well documented processes for sharing code.
  29. 29. There is no manual to teach us how to shareour emotions, frustrations and concerns. ( This is not entirely true, see the Resources section at the end of this presentation. )
  30. 30. Despite their irritations,few are willing to be directabout theirconcerns…
  31. 31. This technique isineffective at best
  32. 32. Handling these situations quickly and effectively is messy, uncomfortableand incredibly necessary.
  33. 33. How to ... 1) Correct education issues 2) Suggest other ways contributor can be effective 3) Be willing to ask people to move along
  34. 34. In Brief:Negotiation Theory for Geeks
  35. 35. Negotiation Theory for Geeks ~ or ~How to avoid project bankruptcy from community leader combat payments (a.k.a. leader burnout)
  36. 36. Having conversations with your friends is easySee
  37. 37. We needlessly assume other conversations must be painfulSee
  38. 38. Be Willing to Ask for What You Need
  39. 39. ● Ask the other party what they need to be successful● Find common ground● Reach agreement● If you cannot reach agreement, find the most optimal solution for both parties● It is OK to not reach agreement
  40. 40. Practice Radical Honesty Radical honesty != being a tactless jerk
  41. 41. Behaving Diplomatically …is not the fine art of being disingenuous.
  42. 42. Do you wantto be right? ~ or ~ Do you want to win?
  43. 43. A few bits of radical transparency from LH● I learned how to use vi and ● I’m up to about 1,000 lines of Unix at the age of 3. Python now and I still don’t I remember precisely squat relish coding. I’d rather talk about how either works, to the other humans so you except ls and ls -a. don’t have to take the context switch hit.● Being an active listener, effective leader, and ● This is my second FOSDEM confidant is exhausting closing keynote where and sometimes painful. someone else prepped my slides. Thanks to● Having difficult Garrett LeSage & conversations with people Pawel Solyga! scares the every loving fsck out of me, too.
  44. 44. The OnlySecretYou Need
  45. 45. The secret to being an effective community leader isgenuinely caring about the health and well being of your project, your community members, and your fellow human beings.
  46. 46. …even especially when they annoy the crap out of you.
  47. 47. Thank you! Questions?Leslie Hawthorn — @lhawthorn
  48. 48. The Legal Bits This presentation is licensed CC-BY-3.0 Please reuse, remix and share widely.
  49. 49. Resources● Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture:● David Eaves’ Blog:● The Center for Non-Violent Communication:● The Harvard Negotation Project: harvard-negotiation-project/● Gabriella Coleman, Coding Freedom