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Linux’s quiet leader courts success

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in Leaders & Managers

Linus Torvalds makes an unlikely leader. The inventor of Linux, the open-source operating system now used by more than 18 million people, is disorganized and absent-minded.

But he presides over what may be the largest collaborative project in history. He holds no ownership rights beyond the name, no royalties and no authority over the tens of thousands of programmers who have worked on Linux. He has only influence.

That idea of power based on respect lies at the core of what Harvard business professor Joseph Badaracco calls a “quiet leader.”

“They think of themselves modestly,” Badaracco told HBS Working Knowledge. “They often don’t even think of themselves as leaders. But they are acting quietly, effectively, with political astuteness, to basically make things somewhat better, sometimes much better than they would otherwise be.”

Here are the hallmarks of Torvalds’ “quiet leader” approach:

  • He surrounds hi...(register to read more)

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