Eich Should Never Have Been Hired

Mozilla Foundation CEO Brendan Eich has stood down or been stood down by the foundation in the face of outrage at his former donations to a campaign in opposition to the rights of gay people to marry in California. The Australian is covering it because while it is not an Australian issue per se, the issues dealt with are relevant in every country where gay people exist, that includes Australia and indeed every country in the world.  Eich should never have been hired, because he is not suitable to lead Mozilla.  In order to examine this we need to do a bit of management of business theory 101.

To understand what CEOs do and why ones who oppose the rights of any particular section of any particular community are wholly unsuitable, we need to examine the difference between individual contributors such as the Mozilla community who produce its products and work in its offices, the managers of Mozilla who either there or in any organisation are responsible for the arrangement of effort to achieve goals, and the leaders such as the CEO who set the direction and vision for the company.  It's easy to see the world as individual contributors and managers / leaders, but these management and leadership functions are entirely different.

All this can sound like weekend retreat for middle managers waffle, and to an extent it is, but it's still directly relevant to the issue at hand and bares understanding.  What is the difference between what a manager and leader does, and why is Eich a bad CEO for the Mozilla Foundation?

Imagine you are part of a team which is cutting a path through the jungle from one village to another so that people can get between them.  There will be people cutting through the jungle with machetes to clear the path, these are individual contributors.  There will be people sharpening the machetes as they get blunt and tending the wounds of any people who get hacked by a fellow individual contributor (managers), then there'll be a guy climbing through the jungle and up a tree a few hundred meters ahead, crying out "THIS WAY!" and pointing towards the second village.  That's the leader.

Some businesses have no leaders but do have managers, and those businesses tend to be good at organising resources towards an undefined goal, but therefore never get anything of value done.  There's skilled people arranged into groups, administration executed, timesheets, profit and loss (or more likely just loss) statements, performance evaluations, but because there isn't any plan for the future or end goals, nothing of value gets accomplished - only administrivia and wheel-spinning.

Some businesses have leaders but no managers; vision, creative flare, passion, a plan - but no ability to apply business resources toward that plan because there is no arrangement of the appropriate people and things to move towards the second village. After the first furtive cracks towards where everyone knows the second village is, half the jungle choppers are dead from their wounds and the other half are standing around with blunt machetes or foam bats with no ability to progress despite the crystal clear understand of what needs to be done.

Businesses typically have both leadership and management to some degree, sometimes management and leadership functions are performed by the same people, and management and leadership can have company-wide or team-wide or function-wide scope, but the non-negotiable thing is they are two separate functions and skill sets. 

Now to Eich.

The CEO of a business is the primary person who is responsible for the vision and direction of a company.  The entire Mozilla Foundation looks to the CEO of Mozilla and the direction he's pointing, and trusting that he is using his every ability and skill as a visionary, a decision-maker, a creative force and a visualiser of a where the foundation will be in the future.  He is the one climbing the tree hundreds of meters ahead yelling "This way!" and he's accountable for the fact that when everyone stops chopping, they need to be in village B.  

Eich's $1000 donation to a campaign supporting the overturn of the right of gay people to marry in California isn't an example of bigotry that would really preclude you from being a good individual contributor or manager, provided you weren't' so bigoted that you couldn't effectively perform tasks and duties alongside a gay person or had trouble managing them because you had an irrational dislike of who they innately are. Leadership is different though, and is much more seriously damaged by a leader's unethical position that some people have no right to get married to who they want to.

Vision for the future, a creative mental image of what a business or foundation's future looks like, is completely flawed if it comes from a person who doesn't value people equally.  Studies and surveys vary wildly for obvious reasons but most reportage puts 10-20% of the United States population as the type of person that Brendan Eich didn't want to have the basic right to love who they want and make a public commitment to them in front of friends and family - and not want them to so much he gave a lot of money to people who successfully stopped them.  A vision of a commercial company has to include how its products will make everyone's lives better.  Everyone's life better.  Not just straight people, or white people, or men, or people who speak English... everyone.  If this is ever a mutable concept it's not mutable at Mozilla, a non-profit organisation which exists to support the open source Mozilla project.  Open source was and is always about making everyone's life better through the application of information technology, setting aside the usual lucrative benefits of closed source, guarded intellectual property and commercial secrets.

Leadership skills preclude people who support inequality.  You can lead by personality or values, but a bigot as a leader is awful and defective, and bigotry as a value is not one that should lead. Bigots are bad leaders. Let's hope Mozilla's next CEO has a vision of where to lead Mozilla for all of its users, and lets hope the backlash shows other companies whose mission is to make everyone's life better, that a leader with a record of distaste for some people, isn't fit to lead.

Image: Pargon