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3 Leadership Lessons from the Mozilla CEO Mess

The firestorm that led to the departure of Brendan Eich raises key issues about executive hiring.
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In one of the more fascinating fails in leadership history, Brendan Eich stepped down as CEO of Mozilla just 10 days after taking the position, after controversy surrounding his donation to an anti-gay marriage campaign surfaced. In looking back at the appointment of Brendan to the CEO position, one might say it was doomed from the start.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and while it may appear that the impending disaster was obvious, I think there are some key leadership messages hidden in this mess.

When selecting a CEO for an organization, it's important to remember these important lessons:

1. Technical knowledge alone does not a CEO make.

Brendan Eich is clearly a brilliant software engineer. The former CTO of Mozilla is considered the inventor of Javascript, spearheading its ongoing standardization and evolution. But to be an effective CEO, it's not just about being a brilliant inventor. A CEO must be able to communicate and weather storms with authority. Brendan made several attempts to try and tame the growing backlash against his $1000 contribution to Prop 8, including a blog post entitled "Inclusiveness at Mozilla." But it wasn't enough to sway support his way, and the public's fury only grew.

2. CEO must embody core values of the company.

Mozilla's mission is to make the web more open--so that humanity is stronger, more inclusive, and more just. When a company's core values include openness and being inclusive, it becomes much harder to justify a CEO who takes a political position that is not seen as "open or inclusive". Days after Brendan was appointed CEO, Mozilla posted its official position on LGBT issues and marriage equality, tying it back to their overall mission and manifesto. Had Mozilla thought more carefully about the embodiment of core values prior to selecting Eich, they would never need to post this type of statement as an organization.

3. A CEO's private life is public.

Mozilla has worked hard to take part in building a more open internet--and it's that very product that has changed the way CEOs are perceived by the public. Every action taken by a CEO--either past or present, is one tweet away from hitting the mainstream media. A $1000 contribution to a political campaign is not something that normally would have given a CEO just a 10 day shelf life--but the public's reaction was fast and fierce. It was that public pressure that took Eich down, and warranted or not, CEOs need to know that their past, present, and future are all possible tweets, instagrams, or viral videos. In today's day an age, this is true of anyone, but CEOs in particular are subject to speculation from their employees, their shareholders, and their consumers.

What lessons did you learn from Brendan Eich's departure?

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Apr 7, 2014




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