Topic "Leadership"

Without leadership also Open Source projects cannot exist, much like any traditional software development. But the style of leadership can be very different, due to the different origin of the projects and the open possibilities for the future development. Examples for leadership styles are the "Benevolent Dictators" Torvalds and van Rossum or the democratic process of the Apache project. This seminar is aimed to shed some light onto the possiblities and realities of leadership in OSS.

As a second seperate topic we want to look at failed leadership, namely with leadership problems in X11 as a prime example and leadership changes as with the GIMP community.

These two topics don't have enough references yet, but since the topics overlap, I estimate that there will be enough content to work on, once you have had a look yourselves.

Key Questions

  • How can OS-development be characterized? Is it dictatorship or democracy?
  • How are decisions being made, propagated, communicated?
  • Who are the leaders of the OSS-community? How did they come to gain this position?
  • Case Study GIMP. Sebastian mentioned that the complete leadership was exchanged at some point. What happened? Why? And what are the results and lessons learned?
  • Case Study X11. How did the leadership of the X11 project fail?
  • Case Studies: Linux, Python, Perl. How does the term "Benevolent dictator work?"


  • Roy T. Fielding. Shared Leadership in the Apache Project. Communications of the ACM, 42(4), April 1999, pp. 42-43. (PDF)

References from Peer

  • Gianluca Bosco, Implicit theories of “good leadership” in the open-source community (PDF)
  • Book: Open Source Software: Implementation and Management by Paul Kavanagh