Back in time, at the end of the last Millennia, the Soca Boys had everyone dancing to the rhythm of Follow the leader -- very fun music BTW. For some reason in the last few weeks this song has been stuck in my head, not because I party too much, but because that has been one of the topics among the Drupal Community lately, Leadership.
I don't really know when everything started but I know that Larry's talk Managing Complexity kind of stirred the subject; and Oh boy! what a very complex subject it is; this presentation has had many follow ups, directly or indirectly, like Dries' post "The job of Drupal initiative lead" and some others that I can’t recall off the top of my mind.
Interesting subject, it really is. I am a Martial Arts Instructor and as part of our training both given and received is leadership training. How to guide and take little kids, not so little kids, adults, and anyone in this Martial Arts wonder. Challenging task that requires strong leadership and motivational skills. We train weekly on these skills; we train our junior instructors on these skills for almost an hour every week and constantly improving during classes. In summary, leadership is a big part of Martial Arts.
So, anyway, this interested me. Let me give you a little background for what is in my head. I lead a class with 15-20 overexcited, hyperactive 4-6 years old kids, my Karate Kubs. (Had to show them to everyone.) For this class I get a lot of help from my junior instructors, but even though they are there because they have many of the characteristics of a leader, and are learning constantly how to be a leader, we do have to remind the students from time to time that they need to follow their directions.
Leadership is something that you earn, it’s true, but is something that also needs support from the higher ranks. I write this as I am at BADCamp, and just before coming here I sat down all my students (not just the little ones) and told them who was in charge and that they needed to behave for them as they do for the senior instructors. Why? Because no matter how good of a leader you are, no matter if your leadership skills are over the top, when it comes to make decisions or guide a group through a difficult task (staying focus for 30 minutes is a real challenge for my kids) it is always good to have that little push from the higher rank to remind everyone that you are not the only leader.
Back to Drupal! Drupal has grown a lot and for Drupal 8 some initiatives were created and some leads have been "appointed" for each one of them, and the question is: What did they need, as leaders, to get this initiatives to fruition? What are they, or any future leader, going to need to succeed in their task? I am not going to go over the so many skills of a leader, Dries and the others have done that extensively, and it's all right and well explained.
Being a leader is not just an appointment, is a set of skills that allows this initiative leads to get the task to the desired goal. But are those skills enough? or are they just necessary? In my experience, is the later. Those "soft skills" are vital for a leader, but not sufficient, not always. If these leaders are to take something in the right direction, they also need to be given some level of authority.
Larry's position is that they don't have it, and if you see the story of many situations in the Drupal's issue queue, well, you can find one too many cases where issues have been forced by way of the louder voice, trolling ideas or the fastest patch style; sometimes ignoring the recommendations of the named lead for any given initiative. But we also know that these leaders are not lacking on those "soft skills" and for sure not on those "hard skills" needed to identify the right path for given initiative. And they are not the only ones! The community is filled with a number of really well qualified people.
Dries' post is also right, the initiative leads should surround themselves with a good team, and lead by example, good practices, great heart and above all great listening skills. But there will always be that point in time where a decision needs to be made, an executive decision for the sake of the initiative and the long term goal. Problem is, our community sometimes behave like my little kids: they mean well, they are lovely, they are the sweetest things but they don't know when to stop or when to pick their battles. And so do we at times, especially when we truly believe our idea is the best.
In those moments where the discussions are moving fast and loud, when the path is clear but the solutions are multiple or simply when there is need to make an executive decision, leadership skills are not sufficient. You need to add (and I underline add) Authority to the mix. There is a reason why the Lead is the lead, there is a reason why the team is the team; we are supposed to trust them. Otherwise choose a new lead, don't you think?
This authority comes from the higher ranks by supporting and backing up whatever decisions are made, ensuring they go along with the bigger picture of course. Giving explicit authority and support to the initiative leads to make some level of decisions, on top of making sure all the leadership skills and traits remain true, is what will complete the circle and it will be easier to take our beloved Drupal to the next step with less stress and more speed.
When this authority is only implicit and you find -- and surely you will in this huge community -- those who disagree no matter how hard you try and how many strong reasons you may have, you get those horrible cases where the solution is given by bullying its way through the Issue Queue. Lets face it, sometimes an executive decision is needed, period. Is at those times that the explicit recognition of the authority of the leadership is necessary.
I think that this discussion needs to be taken away from absolutes. Leadership is earned but it is also given. All the descriptions, definitions, and details given in the different posts about soft leadership are true, but not all by themselves are sufficient for a successful leadership. In fact a leader without the “Soft Skills” and a great team will be doomed to fail and therefore the initiative he/she is leading will fail as well; but a leader without the authority to make the hard calls when the time comes and help get things flowing is also more likely to to fail.
“Soft Skills”, "Hard Skills”, creating a team, having the given authority and backup of top leadership are all necessary skills and tools than a leader needs to succeed, but none of them by themselves are sufficient. That is what we all need to understand and trust: we have great initiative leads in the community, they have dedicated huge amounts of time to the project and have proven themselves over time. But they need what they are missing, the possibility of making the hard decisions when they have to. As a recognized leader can make.