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Leadership interview: Crystal Dionysopoulos

April-Crystal

At the moment of writing (mid April 2023), Crystal Dionysopoulos has survived her first few weeks as President of the Board of Directors of Open Source Matters (the organisation that powers Joomla). We at the JCM are very curious about our new president: what is she like, what will she bring and how can we all help her move Joomla forward?

Congratulations on the election results Crystal! We’re really excited to have you as the brand new President of our Board.

Thank you! I am really excited for the opportunity, and honored to serve the community.

One word was key in your manifesto: proactive. Why?

In my experience, any organization is run one of three ways:

Passive: you don’t really react to changing circumstances and do the bare minimum to keep things as they are. Reactive: When something happens, you react to it and adjust as necessary. Proactive: You anticipate when circumstances may change or problems may arise, and when possible, adjust before it happens.

I like to think of it like standing in the sea, or a wave pool.

If you’re facing away from the waves and don’t react to them when they hit you, you’ll probably fall down pretty quickly. That would be passive leadership.

If you’re facing away from the waves but do your best to move with them when they hit, you’ll do a little better, but it’s stressful and exhausting because you’re just fighting to keep up. Plus, if there’s a calm pattern for a while, you may have a false sense of security, and get caught off guard when a bigger wave hits. That’s reactive leadership.

But! If you turn around and face the waves, you can see them coming and move with them, even if there’s no pattern. It won’t always be easy… but you’ll be more prepared. That’s proactive leadership.

Up until now, a lot of our leadership has been facing away from the waves because there hasn’t been a chance to do anything but react. This isn’t a criticism; there has been too much going on, and not enough people to handle it. Thanks to the hard work of past board members and a little bit of luck, we are now in a good place to turn around, and become a more proactive, well-prepared organization.

You break this proactiveness into 5 areas. The first is proactive inclusion. What does that mean? 

Inclusion is the act of welcoming people into a community, organization, or process. Historically, we have often assumed people would get involved if they want to. However, this just means that only people who have the time and energy to push past any barriers would join the community. As a result, we may have been unintentionally excluding people from getting involved with Joomla. 

I’d like to ensure that any barriers to contribution are reduced as much as possible. These barriers could be accessibility, language barriers, or even systemic barriers that exist within Joomla or within the society of an individual’s location. While we can’t eliminate barriers completely, we can do our best to make our community more welcoming and inclusive.

You probably guessed it by now: we’re going to cover each of those 5 areas. Your second is proactive transparency. Aren’t we super transparent already?

Public doesn’t mean transparent; likewise, private doesn’t mean secret. We have a lot of information that is public. It’s available, it’s out there…but you have to know where to look, because it’s scattered around a few different places like the OSM and Joomla websites, different Github repositories, Mattermost, etc. For some, that’s transparent; but for me, that’s not good enough. 

We need to make relevant information both public and easy to find. After all, as a board, we have a responsibility to keep Joomlers informed on administrative, financial, and governance matters. Ultimately, we serve the community, not the other way around.

Also, we need a clear process which is easy to understand, follow, and get involved in when we are making decisions that affect the Joomla community. Some people shy away from set processes like that, because there’s a perception that it’s restrictive—and aren’t we all about freedom in open source?

I believe that it’s the opposite: consistent processes allow people to be more confident in the results of a decision because they know what to expect and how something came about. Plus, it helps with leadership transitions. When there is a documented (and easy to find!) process, you can iterate it over time and build on past experiences; otherwise, you end up starting over every time someone takes a new position, which stunts the growth of the organization.

Third on your list, and a pretty important one: proactive fundraising. There has been a call for a restart of the Capital Team. In your opinion, is that the way to go? And if so, how should we make that happen?

We definitely need to have a team responsible for funding, though I’m not sure the Capital Team in its current state covers all the angles. I think we can rework the team to include both existing sponsorship efforts, as well as coordinating fundraising campaigns and brainstorming other funding opportunities for Joomla. Additional funding would allow us to reduce our reliance on ads, and open the door to more support for local communities and events.

To make it happen, we need volunteers for the team. If you have experience in any kind of sales, business development, nonprofit fundraising, or similar, you can join the team and help us grow! Please reach out to me directly if you are interested in helping to shape the new team.

So now we move to proactive leadership. You state we have a responsibility to our volunteers. But we also have the responsibility to get the job done. How can we combine those things: product and people?

In open source, I don’t think that we could possibly separate them! Without people, we have no product. We owe it to our community to support our team leads as much as possible, including with leadership development, so that we can all grow and be successful together. Strong leadership helps our community grow stronger too, which helps our product get even better over time. 

It’s like a rowboat: we’ll go faster if we make sure we’re all rowing in the same direction. Otherwise, it’s a lot of effort without as much progress.

And last, but certainly not least: proactive compliance. You’re a strong advocate of reviewing the dry legal matter and creating plain language summaries. Why? How would all that help Joomla?

Legal documents are a necessary but dreaded part of having a large community and organization. Things like privacy policies, terms of use, non-disclosure agreements, and more are required in order to protect our community…but very few people read these documents in full, and fewer still really understand the implications because of the complex language and legal terms. 

I don’t think that’s fair at all.

Plain language summaries would help everyone understand what they agree to, especially when English is a second (or third, or fifth) language for much of our community. Ensuring that people understand fully means that people also understand the expectations that go along with these documents. It’s just the right thing to do.

In your opinion, what would the ideal Board for OSM look like?

There’s no one “ideal board”. It depends on so many things, especially on the context of the community the Board is currently serving! 

Generally, the ideal Board is an enthusiastic, diverse group of people who are committed to working together to support the Joomla community. That could look a lot of different ways.

Where would you say Joomla stands at the moment?

At the pinnacle of opportunity!

Sorry, that might be a little too cheesy, but I think it’s true. Joomla is in a really great place to grow our community and user base. With Joomla 4 being such a leap forward in features, and Joomla 5 coming around the corner, I think we have a wonderful opportunity for the community to thrive again - if we can come together and take advantage of it.

What would you like to see happen for Joomla in the coming years?

So many things! I’d like to see our community growing again and reconnecting with all the local communities and users from around the world. This would help us become more vibrant, full of energy and ideas and collaboration.

I’d also like to see our amazing volunteers be able to step back a little and focus on one role at a time. So many of us are participating in multiple teams, but that quickly leads to burnout and frustration. That’s not the kind of culture we should have as a community; health, mental health, and family needs come first. I want to support our volunteers in making choices that are best for them as individuals. 

Ultimately, Joomla gets better from everyone’s success, not from everyone’s self-sacrifice.

How can we all help to make that happen?

First - approach new ideas with curiosity and gratitude. It can be hard if someone new joins the community with ideas that clash with the norm, but that doesn’t mean those ideas are bad. This doesn’t mean that we have to implement every idea or suggestion…it just means that we should consider it, and seek to understand the problem the ideas are trying to solve.

Second - when you see a new name join a team channel in Mattermost, welcome them and say hi. Maybe they’re there to contribute, maybe to ask questions, or maybe just to watch and learn. All of those things are valid!

Third - please understand that contributing is a privilege. Not everyone has the financial means or free time to spend volunteering for Joomla. Their needs, ideas, or thoughts are valid, too.

Finally - for those who do have the time, consider joining a team and contributing. We do need more volunteers, and many positions have nothing to do with development at all. Or, if you have the means but not the time, consider participating as a community sponsor if you’d like. Every contribution helps, no matter how small.

Thanks to each and every one of you for the energy you have given to the community. I’m excited for what the future will bring and can’t wait to build it with you!

French translation of this interview: https://www.joomla.fr/actualites/entretien-de-leadership-crystal-dionysopoulos-presidente-d-osm

 

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