Matthew Garrett ([personal profile] mjg59) wrote2014-04-03 03:18 pm
Entry tags:

Mozilla and leadership

A post I wrote back in 2012 got linked from a couple of the discussions relating to Brendan Eich being appointed Mozilla CEO. The tldr version is "If members of your community doesn't trust their leader socially, the leader's technical competence is irrelevant". That seems to have played out here.

In terms of background[1]: in 2008, Brendan donated money to the campaign for Proposition 8, a Californian constitutional amendment that expressly defined marriage as being between one man and one woman[2]. Both before and after that he had donated money to a variety of politicians who shared many political positions, including the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman[3].

Mozilla is an interesting organisation. It consists of the for-profit Mozilla Corporation, which is wholly owned by the non-profit Mozilla Foundation. The Corporation's bylaws require it to work to further the Foundation's goals, and any profit is reinvested in Mozilla. Mozilla developers are employed by the Corporation rather than the Foundation, and as such the CEO is responsible for ensuring that those developers are able to achieve those goals.

The Mozilla Manifesto discusses individual liberty in the context of use of the internet, not in a wider social context. Brendan's appointment was very much in line with the explicit aims of both the Foundation and the Corporation - whatever his views on marriage equality, nobody has seriously argued about his commitment to improving internet freedom. So, from that perspective, he should have been a fine choice.

But that ignores the effect on the wider community. People don't attach themselves to communities merely because of explicitly stated goals - they do so because they feel that the community is aligned with their overall aims. The Mozilla community is one of the most diverse in free software, at least in part because Mozilla's stated goals and behaviour are fairly inspirational. People who identify themselves with other movements backing individual liberties are likely to identify with Mozilla. So, unsurprisingly, there's a large number of socially progressive individuals (LGBT or otherwise) in the Mozilla community, both inside and outside the Corporation.

A CEO who's donated money to strip rights[4] from a set of humans will not be trusted by many who believe that all humans should have those rights. It's not just limited to individuals directly affected by his actions - if someone's shown that they're willing to strip rights from another minority for political or religious reasons, what's to stop them attempting to do the same to you? Even if you personally feel safe, do you trust someone who's willing to do that to your friends? In a community that's made up of many who are either LGBT or identify themselves as allies, that loss of trust is inevitably going to cause community discomfort.

The first role of a leader should be to manage that. Instead, in the first few days of Brendan's leadership, we heard nothing of substance - at best, an apology for pain being caused rather than an apology for the act that caused the pain. And then there was an interview which demonstrated remarkable tone deafness. He made no attempt to alleviate the concerns of the community. There were repeated non-sequiturs about Indonesia. It sounded like he had no idea at all why the community that he was now leading was unhappy.

And, today, he resigned. It's easy to get into hypotheticals - could he have compromised his principles for the sake of Mozilla? Would an initial discussion of the distinction between the goals of members of the Mozilla community and the goals of Mozilla itself have made this more palatable? If the board had known this would happen, would they have made the same choice - and if they didn't know, why not?

But that's not the real point. The point is that the community didn't trust Brendan, and Brendan chose to leave rather than do further harm to the community. Trustworthy leadership is important. Communities should reflect on whether their leadership reflects not only their beliefs, but the beliefs of those that they would like to join the community. Fail to do so and you'll drive them away instead.

[1] For people who've been living under a rock
[2] Proposition 8 itself was a response to an ongoing court case that, at the point of Proposition 8 being proposed, appeared likely to support the overturning of Proposition 22, an earlier Californian ballot measure that legally (rather than constitutionally) defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. Proposition 22 was overturned, and for a few months before Proposition 8 passed, gay marriage was legal in California.
[4] Brendan made a donation on October 25th, 2008. This postdates the overturning of Proposition 22, and as such gay marriage was legal in California at the time of this donation. Donating to Proposition 8 at that point was not about supporting the status quo, it was about changing the constitution to forbid something that courts had found was protected by the state constitution.
rone: (stare)

[personal profile] rone 2014-04-03 10:50 pm (UTC)(link)
I wonder where his friends and advisers were, or perhaps they were there and he ignored them.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)

[personal profile] tim 2014-04-03 10:52 pm (UTC)(link)
Based on my experience working there, I believe they're a bit afraid to discuss politics with him.

I respectfully disagree

(Anonymous) 2014-04-04 03:42 am (UTC)(link)
I'm going to push back on this.

I cannot imagine in the slightest that Brendan would retaliate against someone for a political belief they expressed. I also think to a fair extent politics simply don't come up at Mozilla in the course of working on Mozilla-related tasks and goals. At least, not politics of the horribly divided sort as here. (Net neutrality is sort of divisive, but nobody is going to get particularly upset talking to someone who disagrees with them there.) I have vague ideas about what many people think, but I simply don't know for most folks.

Regarding "advisors" talking to him, assuming this means counseling him not to take the CEO position given it might be divisive. I don't know. For all you or I know, people did. I would be rather surprised if it didn't come up at least briefly. It seems a reasonably obvious thing to have raised. But I think it's not horribly obviously wrong to have predicted that people would largely work through this, accepting his actions in Mozilla as being distinct from his actions outside of Mozilla. (If you can point to a single action in Mozilla of his that would betray these beliefs, I would love to hear it. I know of none at all, and I have never heard a single person mention any in conversation.) It's what I certainly hoped would happen, when I raised questions directly to him about this at one of the early Mozilla discussions, to learn what the planned response would be. But it seems not to be the case.

A sad mess in any case. No one at all is helped by his complete absence from the project, not even the people calling for his ouster. The Web lost today, and gay rights/same-sex marriage/what-have-you did not gain.

Jeff Walden

Re: I respectfully disagree

[personal profile] tim - 2014-04-04 03:47 (UTC) - Expand

Re: I respectfully disagree

(Anonymous) - 2014-04-04 05:25 (UTC) - Expand
rone: (stare)

[personal profile] rone 2014-04-04 06:27 am (UTC)(link)
Yeah, but this wasn't politics. This was business.

(no subject)

[personal profile] tim - 2014-04-04 07:54 (UTC) - Expand


(Anonymous) 2014-04-04 04:36 pm (UTC)(link)
Great write up, especially on the about trust with the Mozilla leadership, where Brendan did not rise up as a CEO to alleviate concerns. However I must emphasize that diversity is one of the highest principles worth fighting for and consequently is a hard mistress.

Well said

(Anonymous) 2014-04-03 11:53 pm (UTC)(link)
A well written post. I agree completely. The only thing I would add is that, eh could have managed it a little better, maybe made a gesture to the community that he no longer feels that way or that he understood what he did was wrong and basically show leadership.

He didn't do any of those things and I don't know if that means that he cannot bring himself to support gay marriage or what? A lot of people have been saying that people who protested should have turned off javascript or something. Please. He represents an organization not a technology and that organization has products that are identifiable and easily avoided. Javascript is too technical for people to really understand. Mozilla is the symbol.

Re: Well said

(Anonymous) 2014-04-04 01:06 am (UTC)(link)
> He didn't do any of those things and I don't know if that means that he cannot bring himself to support gay marriage or what?

It means that he doesn't want to make public statements on his personal views.
I suspect that he didn't want his personal views to be associated with Mozilla.

At the end of the day, this was blown way out of proportions, by what appears to be a few individuals with a grudge.
Followed by a crazy fraction of the internet.

And don't tell me his views, whatever they are, because he haven't declared them, are unreasonable (for an American). Right to marriage ought to be a very small issue in the US, after all you have kids starving... You murder people without trial...You lock up more than 1% of the population under cruel and inhumane conditions.
- Get some perspective :)
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)

Re: Well said

[personal profile] tim 2014-04-04 01:18 am (UTC)(link)
You seem to have sadly low expectations for your quality of life.

Re: Well said

(Anonymous) 2014-04-04 10:24 pm (UTC)(link)
An important misconception: the question is not the 'right to marriage'. As regards the state, there is no such right. No court has held that people have an inalienable right to have the state of 'marriage' recognized by the government.

The right at issue is the right *not to be discriminated against by the law*. It's not incumbent upon US governments (federal, state, whatever) to recognize a state called 'marriage' at all. They could simply choose not to do so, and that would not violate anyone's rights.

However, they do choose to do so - and in so choosing, they assume a responsibility to do so in a non-discriminatory way. The law defines a *legal* state called 'marriage', it has nothing to do with the religious conception of marriage and very little to do with any social or philosophical conception of it. The *legal* state of marriage grants various privileges to those the law considers to be married: tax breaks, power over each other's affairs in certain cases of incapacity, the right not to testify against each other in court, hospital visitation rights and various others (someone came up with a very exhaustive catalog of hundreds of privileges granted by the law to people it considers to be 'married', somewhere). That's all it does. It doesn't compel anyone's religious or social convictions: it's a legal transaction between two individuals and the state.

Granting this state to those whose stable relationships are with people of the opposite sex, but not to those whose relationships are with people of the same sex, seems pretty clearly discriminatory to me. And that's what all the court decisions so far have found: not that gay people or *anyone at all* has an inherent 'right to marriage', but that if a government decides to be in the business of recognizing a state called 'marriage' and granting things to those it considers to be in that state, it must do so in a non-discriminatory way.

The pernicious thing about Prop 8 and its supporters is that it was precisely not about "personal" opinions or beliefs or whatever. It was about enshrining those beliefs in law - forcing them on others. You don't have to believe it's right for two people of the same sex to be married in order to support legal marriage equality, you just have to recognize that it's not the law's job to encode beliefs like that.


Does it matter?

(Anonymous) 2014-04-04 03:11 am (UTC)(link)
Why does it matter what he does with his money to support anything other than free-sotware?

Mozilla corp wants a CEO on technical merits.
If you sniff everyone's arses you are sure to find something disgusting.

I am not particularly against gay marriage either, but you are going to find something wrong with everybody in this world. Trying to politicize this by the media is unpleasant.

Since this thing has gone way out of hands, I dont understand why he continues to be the CEO with so much opposition on these grounds?
Ideally he should step down.
mindstalk: (Default)

Re: Does it matter?

[personal profile] mindstalk 2014-04-04 04:21 am (UTC)(link)
I'd think you'd want a CTO -- which he'd been -- on technical merits. CEO is inherently more of a political and PR-sensitive position.

Re: Does it matter?

(Anonymous) 2014-04-04 05:48 am (UTC)(link)
Looks like Eich has resigned.

Re: Does it matter?

(Anonymous) 2014-04-04 07:15 am (UTC)(link)
I agree with you. What's the point? How are Mozilla products related to gay marriage?
We have thousands of companies doing business with dictatorships, or exploiting workers in foreign countries like slaves for years now, and things don't change.
So much pressure for this seems totally unreasonable in comparison

Re: Does it matter?

(Anonymous) 2014-04-04 07:38 pm (UTC)(link)
"What's the point"? The original post addressed exactly that question. Did you read it?

(Anonymous) 2014-04-04 10:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Quite sad affair tbh. First because some people failed to keep golden rule of keep politics and tech/business separated.
Second because it's kinda abuse of Mozilla Foundation mission to support one particular point of view. For a life of me, I can't find out how same sex marriage relates to webbrowsers and mobile OS. For me it simply don't belong there.

And finally iI find this situation harmful to the Mozzilla community. It might be taken as subtle hint that anyone not supporting same sex marriage won't 1st class citizen up there.

Beauty of open source is that it can be common ground for people of quite different beliefs. For each stance there is it's one absolutely opposite. And in my understanding tolerance is about mutual respect for right to have/express/support different opinion by other parties.
Sadly it doesn't seem to be that case. :(

(Anonymous) 2014-04-04 10:27 pm (UTC)(link)
"First because some people failed to keep golden rule of keep politics and tech/business separated."

When and where has this *ever* been a golden rule?

People of all nations have a long history of considering political/ethical/whatever beliefs in business transactions. Would you be fine if the CEO of a company you were involved with donated money to a campaign to legalize slavery, because that was just a personal opinion? If they donated money to the KKK or something? Would you just shrug and say 'well, we're just doing business'? Maybe some people would, but a lot of people sure wouldn't.

(Anonymous) 2014-04-04 10:53 pm (UTC)(link)
Well aside form fact it happens all the time in big business, it's a matter of ethics. Other side conducting unethical activities is a valid reason to not enter such endavors. adding politics/religion to the mix was always bad for business and even worse for technology/science

Really I don't wanna bring full blown argumen there. I'm just worried another part of our reality got stained by this 'holy wars' insanity.

/Best regards

interesting distinction

(Anonymous) - 2014-04-04 23:03 (UTC) - Expand

Re: interesting distinction

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Re: interesting distinction

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Re: interesting distinction

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(no subject)

[personal profile] reddragdiva - 2014-04-05 16:17 (UTC) - Expand

[personal profile] tangaroa 2014-04-05 12:53 am (UTC)(link)
With the way Eich was forced out, I certainly don't trust the leadership of Mozilla now. Eich never abused his authority. Those who forced him out did. That cuts more directly to the issue of leadership competence than whether someone once had an opinion that would become politically incorrect six years later.
ckd: small blue foam shark (Default)

[personal profile] ckd 2014-04-05 08:05 pm (UTC)(link)
He didn't abuse his authority, but he sure showed his inability to perform one of the key duties of a CEO: crisis management.

(Anonymous) 2014-04-05 12:57 am (UTC)(link)
"People don't attach themselves to communities merely because of explicitly stated goals - they do so because they feel that the community is aligned with their overall aims."

And that is a big problem, because then good causes will always be vulnerable to divide-and-conquer.


(Anonymous) 2014-04-05 09:14 am (UTC)(link)
I think your assumption that the typical demographic for the Mozilla community has a liberal, left wing tendency is probably correct. Therefore it is not surprising that many folks at Mozilla want to see their community engaging in political topics that are unrelated to open source or technology topics - e.g. to support the attempts to redefine the meaning of "marriage" or to serve the feminist agenda by setting up "outreach programs" that create privileged job opportunities for women only.
Of course people at Mozilla are free to do what they want. However they shouldn't label themselves as a "diverse" community then. I am a software developer and actually interested in the technologies Mozilla develops. On the other hand I am also member of a (german) anti-euro party that opposes same-sex marriages or any "gender mainstreaming" measures that the European Union tries to enforce. So as long as Mozilla sees themselves as a lobby group not only for a free web but also for a left-wing social agenda I will not participate and stop further donations.

Re: Diversity

(Anonymous) 2016-03-01 01:07 am (UTC)(link)
I find that sad. While I am often the opposite (I promote same-sex marriage, and I am an American liberal democrat), your own political views would not even come to mind if I were considering you as a developer. It's funny how the most "inclusive" people tend to throw people out for their own personal opinions.

I would even hire a pedophile nazi wife beater, if they were good at their job. I may be apprehensive to hire them to look after jewish children, but as a developer for a software project, or even a leader? Sure. A person's personal opinions, no matter how much you disagree with them, should not be any reason to fire someone (or refuse to hire them, for that matter). A conservative may disagree with a gay person's opinions, but they are not allowed to refuse to hire them because of that. Yet a group who is pro-gay marriage can refuse to hire (or keep) someone who is against that. I find that double standard extremely repulsive.

For the record, I promote freedom of speech (no matter how much someone may dislike it) without impact on your professional life.

"The community didn't trust Brendan"

[identity profile] 2014-04-05 03:12 pm (UTC)(link)
"The point is that the community didn't trust Brendan, and Brendan chose to leave rather than do further harm to the community."

Most people in Mozilla supported Brendan, even if after soul-searching. It was the relentless noise from outside which both prevented us from having the time and peace to work through the difficult questions raised, and prevented him from leading while we were doing it.

The second half of your sentence is right; but the harm was not due to his belief or donation, but the whipped-up Twitterstorm and news frenzy which was distracting us from getting work done. Now we have no CEO and no Brendan, and Mozilla is massively the poorer for it. Slow hand clap for everyone who contributed.
reddragdiva: (Default)

Re: "The community didn't trust Brendan"

[personal profile] reddragdiva 2014-04-05 04:18 pm (UTC)(link)
Is the view inside Mozilla that the opinions of the people outside shouldn't count?

Re: "The community didn't trust Brendan"

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Re: "The community didn't trust Brendan"

(Anonymous) - 2014-04-08 19:29 (UTC) - Expand