Leaders should set direction, inspire, and get out of the way

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We've spent the week talking about catalyzing direction and what leaders in open organizations do differently. A lively Twitter chat with Thomas Cameron, Charlene Li, Marten Mickos, Marco Bill Peter, and many others provided outstanding takeaways. Let's look at a few of them to see if we can derive any best practices or new ideas.

What do catalysts do for an organization?

We had numerous reactions starting with the first question, "What is a catalyst, and what does it mean for a leader to function as a catalyst?"

Thomas Cameron said, "A person or organization who, keeping with core values, pushes people or communities to improve faster." Marten Mickos added, "Catalysts help and enable others to do good things. Those others get the credit." He further went on to explain that best practices means that you have to trust them and let them make small mistakes.

Sandra McCann told us, "Catalyst triggers change. Leader as catalyst means starting that direction but not fully controlling result." And Marco Bill Peter put it simply as, "A catalyst brings people together to move forward in a positive, collaborative way forward, without depending on hierarchy."

One of the most interesting responses was from Charlene Li as she advised leaders to set direction, inspire, and get out of the way:

Make all meetings optional

One of the most interesting discussions occurred after Jeff Mackanic tweeted the following in response to our third question, "In what ways might your org renovate its hierarchies to increase speed and flexibility?"

Others chimed in and added their thoughts:

Yes, we talked about the F-word: failure

Later on in the conversation, the topic of failing early to succeed quicker came up. Our question was, "How can org leaders better equip associates with the knowledge and context they need to make faster, more effective decisions?" And here are some the best responses:

Hierarchy versus no hierarchy—or somewhere in the middle?

A really interesting tweet came from @orgnet talking about hybrid hierarchies in organizations.

And I think this is a fascinating topic. Most people talk about the extreme spectrum of having a hierarchical structure or no hierarchy, referred to commonly as holacracy. But one of the things that makes Red Hat successful as an open organization is that we are a hybrid. Marco Bill Peter said during the chat that communication needs to happen in all directions, not just up and down, but left and right:

Spotify seems to have an interesting approach and has implemented a hybrid model:

Why aren't more people talking about the success of hybrid models commonly found in open organizations? That's something we should change. Send us your stories.

Jason Hibbets
Jason Hibbets is a Principal Program Manager at Red Hat with the Digital Communities team. He works with the Enable Architect, Enable Sysadmin, Enterprisers Project, and Opensource.com community publications. He is the author of The foundation for an open source city and has been with Red Hat since 2003.


One of the things I've been thinking about in terms of the extreme hierarchy vs no hierarchy is how to influence a cultural shift within a starkly traditional hierarchy. I think shades of grey come in when people "at the bottom" start using agile structures and open leadership where and when they can. They become catalysts where ever they are in the organization. Then, as those people "move up", they tend to attribute their professional advancement to the fact that they implemented techniques that weren't widely used inside the hierarchy. Those leaders then bring these insights up and up and up until at some point, open and agile is the way an organization functions. Cultural shifts for the win!

Not only should leaders get out of the way, they should shield developers from administrivia and other distractions.

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