The Open Source CEO: How Red Hat’s CEO Inspires His Employees

by Inc.

Inspiring employees isn’t about getting them to do what you want them to do, or even getting them to think how you’d like them to think. It’s about getting them believing in what you’re doing as a leader and what they’re doing as part of the company.

That’s the lesson that Red Hat President and CEO Jim Whitehurst recently shared with writer Jeff Haden in an interview for Inc. “The most basic thing you do as a leader is get people to do what you want them to do,” Whitehurst says. “That’s an extremely limited view of leadership, though; if that’s all you accomplish, you’ll spend all your time supervising and directing. Now if you can get people to think the way you think, then you can turn them loose. Certainly that’s better. But when employees believe in what you’re doing, as a leader and as a business, they’ll walk through walls because now it’s no longer about you — it’s about them.”

For Whitehurst, it all comes down to fostering an open culture that “adds real value for customers and makes [your company] a great place to work.” That brand of thinking goes beyond general leadership style and can have a major impact the way an organization is run. Take change management, for example. “Change management is what you do to employees; when employees participate, change is what they do for the company and for themselves,” argues Whitehurst. “If you do your change management while you’re making the decision, by letting employees help create that decision, then you don’t need change management. You don’t need to convince people.”