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Running a business is demanding. To be successful requires leadership be equipped with a broad range of skills from financial astuteness to empathy for staff. Whilst developers have ample resources from which to draw reference on best practice, for managers and business leaders knowledge gained is often be deemed competitive advantage and so kept secret or is accessed only through expensive training or courses.

Working in open source brings many benefits including the fostering of knowledge transfer that transcends merely code. It is to the benefit of all that business leaders in Drupal share this openness and are willing to reveal lessons learnt or formulae of success, that in other industries would remain behind closed doors. A fine example of this mindset is DrupalCamp London CXO, this years incarnation was no exception.

Prof. Costas Andriopoulos, Cass Business School, spoke about leadership and innovation in scaling enterprises. He explained that it’s far wiser to sort out your business early, when you are small and well ahead of scaling because what kills businesses is success, age and size.

 
Prof. Costas Andriopoulos

 

Success: breeds complacency, overstretching, even arrogance. All of these can be the downfall of your business.

Age: of leadership and team leads to them becoming slower, more stuck in your ways. Andriopoulos stated that curiosity drops with age — a child asks over 400 questions per day. By adulthood and towards later life this drops dramatically.

Size: brings bureaucracy, slowing the pace at which information disseminates. Layers of management become more risk averse. Humans are natural hoarders, it’s normal he says for people add but we hold on to things too long. This slows businesses down.

To maintain momentum in decision making he recommended all meetings and team sizes should be manageable — 4 or five, the best team is 2. There’s nowhere to hide here. You have to participate. In large meetings people repeat one another often or may say nothing at all.

Andriopoulos recommended when facing challenging projects do a pre-mortem. Split the team in two, half of them imagine the plans has been put in motion and failed terribly. Then write a story of what happened. The other half imagine that it succeeded and write their story of how that happened. Doing so equips you with a variety of scenarios to consider before the work beings.

 
Rasmus Lerdorf founder of the programming language PHP

 

Rasmus Lerdorf, founder of the programming language PHP, gave a potted history of how the language came to be and prospered. What struck me was how innovation and breaking free of the norm were key drivers. In the early days where hardware and networks were far slower than we know today, Rasmus questioned the merit of querying databases without the ability to reduce verbosity of responses. He introduced the “LIMIT” clause, something we all take for granted now, to introduce efficiency gains in early internet applications.

Upgrading to PHP 7 across the web would remove 7.5 BN Kg carbon dioxide emissions

Rasmus Lerdorf

 

This ethos remains today. Lerdorf stressed the importance of upgrading to PHP 7 or above as the dramatic performance improvements significantly reduce the physical hardware required to support PHP applications. Since PHP powers >70% internet sites, our efforts combined will contribute to he estimates a 15B KWH energy savings and 7.5 BN Kg less carbon dioxide emissions.

 
 

Michel Van Velde, founder of One Shoe agency

 

Michel Van Velde, founder of One Shoe agency, spoke openly of the challenges his business faced in 2017 and how a combination of reading and hiring a personal coach helped him evolve his approach to leadership, behaviour and in doing so the actions of his staff.

His presentation was a shining example of how business leaders in open source act differently. Whilst on the face of it counterintuitive, by sharing how he overcame adversity in his life with his potential competitors, what Michel was actually doing was helping his peers to avoid these pains meaning we all rise. Doing so he is contributing to a virtuous circle.

Van Velde put his success in 2018 down to a combination of three factors, rooted in knowledge of three leadership models and an appreciation of how to apply them to his circumstances.

The Drama Triangle: defines any conflictual situation to have victim, rescuer, persecutor. An oversimplification is to say a victim typically takes the “poor me!” stance, Rescuers are those who might choose to say “Let me help you!”, Persecutor adopts the “It’s all your fault!” stance.

Radical Candor: is the ability to Challenge Directly and show you Care Personally at the same time. “Radical Candor really just means saying what you think while also giving a damn about the person you’re saying it to

Transactional Analysis: considers that we each have internal models of parents, children and also adults, and we play these roles with one another in our relationships. If we grow an appreciation in our daily conversations, meetings and conflicts what state we and others are in (parents, children, adults) we can begin to realise how to avoid or deal with conflict.

Van Velde explained that by rewiring how he dealt with his staff not meeting expectation, dealing with situations in such a way to offer his team the opportunity to realise their shortcomings themselves, providing opportunities to address their behaviour he was creating a positive environment in which his staff could grow.

 

Melissa Van Der Hecht’s presenting on “Why we need to be more open about diversity in tech”

 

Melissa Van Der Hecht’s presentation on “Why we need to be more open about diversity in tech” was a breath of fresh. I can never hear enough on this topic. I found her angle refreshing.

Rather than specifying diversity through gender, race, religion she saw diversity as that which makes us stand out, what makes us special. She talked about the fact that as a female in tech you have to work harder, a lot harder, to convince men you are worthy of respect and have your ideas recognised as having merit. Van Der Hecht said this is unrelenting. At best exhausting and worst leads to burnout, reporting those from minority groups suffer double burnout rates over those in the majority.

Van Der Hecht went on to explain that unconscious bias really hard to adjust. She spoke of the “Surgeon’s dilemma”, a test for unconscious bias and admitted she fell for this riddle. I compel you to take the test, how did you fare?

Watch this short video, as a further example used in the presentation illustrating the point. For me, rather than despair, it actually gave hope that generations soon entering the workplace could bring a tidal wave of impressive minds.

 

Van Der Hecht highlighted that diverse teams are more productive, more innovative and creative. There is a strong correlation between diversity and increased innovation.

According to Forbes.com companies with more diverse teams reported 19% higher revenue due to innovation

 

I always remember Erynn Petersen, Executive Director of Outercurve an OSS foundation, speaking at DrupalCon Austin. She cited data showing that diversity leads to better performance in business. It’s hard to ignore these facts, unwise not to act upon the evidence.

I couldn’t help but notice while Melissa was speaking to an audience of ~100 people, only 3 were female, few of mixed race. True they were from across Europe, but the male dominance alone was striking. The Drupal is committed to diversity, during the weekend event it was striking to me how more diverse the attendee mix was. There is clearly a way to go in terms of fostering diversity in management, agency leadership. We should all consider how in our businesses we create cultures which foster diversity. We all have a lot to benefit from that.

I’ve strived in our business to create a culture which embraces all. It takes time and we are constantly learning, listening and evolving. These things don’t happen overnight and take commitment and a willingness to change.

We are fortunate in Drupal to have a vast community with many inspiring contributors from diverse backgrounds. Next time you are on Slack, at a meetup, DrupalCamp or Con why not take time out to open a conversation with someone quite different to you. It’s quite possible you’ll begin to realise being different is what makes them special. Thanks Melissa!

 

About the author

Paul Johnson
Paul Johnson
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As a company director, Paul is responsible for leading our strategy in relation to culture and people. This work has strongly contributed to our enviable staff retention levels. His pragmatic approach, combined with a development career spanning two decades, is a valuable asset to clients approaching challenging and large scale digital projects. These include SONY Pictures Entertainment, King's College London, Travelodge, Great Ormond Street Hospital.

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