5 resolutions to become a more open leader in 2017

Let's resolve to make our organizations more open this year.
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I'm always looking for ways to help people understand the power of open. And this year, I'm even more committed to showing others how a culture of openness can reinvigorate an organization and generate new opportunities for innovation, whether in the area of software development or beyond.

Here are five resolutions we can all make if we want to become more open leaders in 2017.

1. Commit to setting context

Leading an open organization means doing one thing ahead of anything else: Creating context for others to do their best work. In order to do this, leaders must promote transparency, collaboration, and sharing.

Leaders need to give their teammates and associates the resources they need to accomplish their goals, of course, but the context for why those goals exist is equally important. Leaders need to be transparent about both the strategy and the data influencing the direction they're setting for the organization.

More specifically, leaders need to impart a sense of history, share helpful stories, and relay critical experiences that really "flesh out" the organization and help their teams grasp the values that drive their work. When people understand why they're doing the work they're doing, they're much more likely to want to do it—and to help one another do it more creatively. Leaders who can effectively align their teams' passions with the organization's core mission will see success this coming year.

But additionally, leaders need to be open to feedback from people on the front lines. So often, those closest to the organization's biggest challenges can add perspective that can help everyone better shape that all-important context—that is, if leaders invite them to.

2. Assume positive intent

People who contribute to open source projects are often spread across the globe. In some cases, the only thing that connects them is their love of the joint work they're doing. They typically never meet face-to-face, and don't have any history together outside that work.

So finding ways to trust each other is important. And one way to do that is to assume positive intent.

Assuming positive intent means assuming that the people working with you are acting in the best interest of the project—that they're doing the very best they can, with the data and resources they have, to make the strategic and creative decisions they feel will most benefit the project and everyone involved with it. It means assuming others are working with you, not against you—even if their actions don't seem to make sense to you at first blush.

This year, I'd encourage leaders to find ways to help their teams make this a kind of "default" approach to interaction. Leaders can help their teams develop trust born from an attitude of positivity and compassion. They can also help them check the assumptions they're making about other people and their motives.

3. Launch a forum for healthy debate

At Red Hat, we use "memo-list" to foster company-wide dialogue. It's an email list that any Red Hat associate can use to send a message to the entire company. No restrictions. No gatekeepers.

Red Hat leaders value memo-list as a tool for gauging Red Hatters' unfiltered reactions to new company initiatives, or, more frequently, for floating what I like to call "half-baked ideas" in search of critical feedback from knowledgeable and passionate employees.

Various regions of the world with multiple Red Hat offices have their own similar mailing lists. Individual offices have their own lists too. Even small teams have their own lists. The culture at Red Hat dictates that anyone should, at any time, feel free to reach out to leaders (directly or on a mailing list) in search of honest dialogue.

I'd like to see more organizations resolve to launch their own mechanisms for fostering healthy debate this year. Not everyone feels comfortable with the kinds of email lists we use at Red Hat, but everyone can implement something (an internal chat channel, a public bulletin board or forum) that gives people an outlet for asking frank questions.

4. Default to 30-minute meetings

Why is the default meeting length in every calendaring application I've ever used set to one full hour?

Anyone who knows me knows that my default is different. I'm a big fan of 30-minute meetings. Next year, consider cutting your standard meeting time in half.

When meetings are shorter, people tend to arrive more focused and ready to engage one another—because they know they'll need to speak succinctly and pointedly to keep the meeting on schedule. Circulate meeting materials for review before meeting about them. Give team members an opportunity to examine them and reflect on them, then use your 30 minutes of "meeting time" for productive discussion and debate, not for silently sifting through proposals people have just seen for the first time.

(By the way, here's another useful resolution: Work with the calendar projects, apps, and vendors you rely on to get the default meeting time changed to 30 minutes in new releases!)

5. Calibrate your values and behaviors

In 2017, organizational culture will become a focal point of leadership discussions and initiatives. So we should resolve to give the concept additional attention next year.

Organizational culture is the combination of two forces: the actions of people in an organization and the values that permeate that organization. Leaders need to watch these forces closely. Do people in your organization seem to act in ways that reinforce the organization's core values? Or are action and value disjointed?

If the latter is true, then leaders can make a clear resolution: Bring them into alignment. And be alert as your organization grows; the systems and processes you implement will also need to be aligned with your values and the ways you want people to act.

Organizational culture is a significant differentiator today; it's not only a source of innovation but also something that can ensure an organization moves in a productive direction when no central hierarchy is exclusively guiding it. Next year, let's try harder to create positive synergies between practice and belief—between action and value.

Even if everyone sticks to just one of these resolutions, we're bound to see some major changes in 2017. It could very well be the year your team, organization, or project realizes the full power of openness.

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Jim Whitehurst is President and Chief Executive Officer of Red Hat, the world’s leading provider of open source enterprise IT products and services. With a background in business development, finance, and global operations, Whitehurst has proven expertise in helping companies flourish—even in the most challenging economic and business environments.


Love the idea of shorter meetings. Just set my own calendar default to 30 minutes. Google calendar even has an option to make it shorter to allow for travel time between meetings (or break times for those with packed schedules).

Now I'm even happier that I use Owncloud. The default meeting length in Owncloud is 30 minutes. :-)

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