You would not be reading this if open source software did not exist. Without open source standards, the Internet would not exist. This article would not exist. Those of you whose parents met on would not exist. All of you should be thankful for open source software. Now, as the world has changed, open source software’s principles of openness, transparency and meritocracy have become essential standards for leadership in general.

Mike Milinkovich of Eclipse, “a community for individuals and organizations who wish to collaborate on commercially-friendly open source software,” took me through his thoughts on those principles during a conversation at the HATCH experience.


Open source software design is open “to all comers”. Anyone can contribute. Everyone is invited to contribute. This is about the wisdom of crowds with each contributing in their own way.


Complete transparency. To every line of code. To every project parameter. To every decision. The objective is for anyone coming in to be able to see what has been done before and why. This way newcomers can get onboard and contribute faster.


Everyone has to earn his or her way in. Those most committed and most deserving are invited in once they have earned those invitations.

Milinkovich is convinced that the miracle of chance that the World Wide Web was originally conceived at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is the key to its rapid expansion. CERN had a requirement that all software developed there be made freely available. Without that open source start, WWW’s rapid growth would not have been possible. Instead, the web went “from a technical novelty to a basic human right in 20 years”.

Application to leadership

It seems to be just common sense that the principles of open source software development should apply to leadership. Who can argue against the advantages of openness, transparency and meritocracy?

Middle managers.

Open leadership points the way to self-regulating and self-directed teams. Teams like that don’t require managers who add no real value beyond span breaking. So middle managers like that argue against open leadership because it’s a threat to their positions. Of course that’s not the way they argue the point. They argue for risk management and the need for process and discipline. But they’re really just trying to justify their own existence.

Make them go away.

Not necessarily the managers themselves. Their roles as span breakers. Find them other things to do that actually add value. Don’t let the old ways get in the way of a new, better form of leadership that can enable web-like growth.


You don’t really have a choice about openness. Managers used to be able to control who had seats at the table, keeping out all but the few that had the knowledge and clout required to make meaningful contributions. But now information is everywhere. Skills are distributed. The “few” no longer have a monopoly on influence. Others can help. If you don’t open up and let them in, your competitors will. Success will go to the open.


The way Millennials gather information has made this a moot point. You’re already transparent. There are no secrets anymore. Anyone on your team can figure out the value of your home in under five minutes. Stop worrying about whether they might figure out your organizations deepest, darkest secret financial statements. They already have. The only choice you get is whether to pretend you have secrets and let others control the dialogue or adopt a policy of transparency so you can lead the conversations.


They know. They know who’s doing real work. They know who got their jobs because of “connections”. They know who has earned their way in and who has not. Your choice is either to ignore this and go on the way you have or to adopt meritocracy as a core principle. The #1 thing top performers want is for someone to get the poor performers out of their way. Do that or be prepared to lose those top performers.

This is why adopting open leadership is the only viable path to success in the new world.