Failure in Social Leadership: a case study for Mozilla

When Brendan Eich, newly installed boss at Mozilla resigned this week after only a month in role, it was largely because of a failure by that organisation to recognise the realities of the Social Age and the importance of Social Leadership.

In 2008, Eich had made a donation of around $1,000 in support of Proposition 8, the Californian anti-gay marriage law. It was the memory of this that led to his ousting this week.

Formal and Social reputation

As Brendan Eich say his formal authority rise, his social reputation fell, leading to a crisis: in the Social Age, authenticity is important

Trouble brewed the moment he was appointed, with a series of blog posts and comments around his suitability, not least of which were from Christie Koehler, Mozilla’s own head of eduction, herself gay, who wrote on her blog, “It’s hard for me to think of a scenario where someone could donate to that campaign without feeling that queer folks are less deserving of basic rights“.

To view this in Social Leadership terms: Christie, writing in her personal, social space, outside of her formal capacity, builds reputation through an authentic tone of voice and clear communication. The amplification of that message was high.

Further trouble followed when OKCupid, a dating site, started displaying a message to Firefox users stating, “Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OKCupid“.

Here we have a CEO, Eich, being moved from a formal position of authority as head of the company, to a social position as opponent of gay rights. OKCupid are, again, speaking with a clear tone of voice and high authenticity.

Both Koehler and OKCupid are engaging in the social spaces, but forcing the organisation to recognise their high reputation and authority, gained through authenticity.

For their part, Mozilla were unable to respond with equal authenticity, indeed were unable to respond initially at all, until today, after Eich has resigned, when they write “We failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community“.

They also said, “We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves“.

Fascinating how the language used by both sides is both social and emotive, personal and (now) authentic. And a salutatory lesson in the power of social media.

Social Leadership is a form of leadership suited to the unique challenges of the Social Age, where reputation is forged within communities and authority is consensual, not positional. It co-exists alongside formal hierarchies and authorities that increasingly cannot exist without it: no matter how strong Eich’s formal, hierarchical authority, the failure of his reputation as a Social Leader finished him off.

Of course, we have a responsibility to respect people’s views: it may be that he was acting on personal conscience outside of his formal role. But in the Social Age, the gap between formal and social spaces is blurred, and highly transparent, so what we do in all contexts counts. As CEO’s become more social, #WorkingOutLoud and building personal reputation, powered by social technology, they also become more accountable in all spaces, which can only be a good thing for the socially responsible business and high authenticity.

About Julian Stodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Equality, Failure, Leadership and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Failure in Social Leadership: a case study for Mozilla

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