Leadership vs. Coordination

June 11th, 2006

Last week I wrote a bit about leadership and there was a brief discussion of the degree to which a leader helps the community decide and how much a leader actually make decisions.

The coordination function in the Mozilla project is huge. We are a large group of people with many different perspectives. Just developing good communication channels is a challenge. Coordinating the responses, repercussions and interactions of our activities is an even bigger task. This involves constant communication, gathering input, making sure relevant ideas are heard and understood, and juggling some set of activities to get to an answer. At heart, coordination is a process. It’s a critical process, particularly in an open source world where so many people can easily go elsewhere if they don’t like the results.

But coordination is not leadership; leadership is much more. Leadership involves taking all that one knows and setting direction. Open source projects are different from many other organizations in how one achieves a leadership role and how the scope of that role is determined. But the fundamental need for some person or group to make decisions, articulate a direction and lead forward motion remains.

One classic form of leadership in the Mozilla project is the module owner system. A good module owner listens to peers and contributors and in most cases makes decisions that set the direction for the code under his or her stewardship. And yet a module owner’s authority is ultimately determined by the expertise and contributions of the people s/he leads and the degree of confidence of other project leaders. Another classic form of leadership in our world is the person who decides it’s necessary to do something and does it. New projects, new ideas; new technology. Often people lead by doing, and seeing what happens.

Coordination is critical. Good listening is critical. Good leadership is more.

3 comments for “Leadership vs. Coordination”

  1. 1

    Kev Morrell said on November 11th, 2007 at 4:34 pm:

    This is an exciting project – have you guys considered whether traditional models of leadership (great man, charisma, setting the vision from on high etc.) still apply here, or would you think that something altogether new is required to describe what is going on in the project?

  2. 2

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