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Deconstructing the Leadership Circle

Wow. Within a week of launching OpenCouchSurfing, we’ve seen an immediate upgrade to the CS DB (resulting in the site being down for 18 hours). They (*) have announced upgrading the webservers as well (to reduce the current security risks). The “Leadership Team” has finally been made official. Now, some of these things have been announced before (the DB upgrade and Leadership circle), but it seems like to much of a coïncidence that all this happens in one week. So, this effort seems to have good and positive effects which strengthens us to continue to improve things.

What I wanted to talk about is the Leadership Team. At first view, it seems like it is indeed a step in the right directon. At second view it actually makes matters worse and formalizes the closed culture of CS. Let’s have a look, shall we? The most important sections to pay attention to:

  1. To become a new member of the leadership team (after May 2007), a volunteer must have been an ambassador in good standing for at least one year.
  2. To become a new member of the leadership team (after May 2007), a volunteer must be approved by consensus (unanimously) by existing leaders.
  3. [For a leader to remain active, he/she must] produce a biannual departmental progress report and goals for the coming semester.
  4. Ambassadors may officially censure any one or more leaders. Censure requires:
    - a petition of specific grievances endorsed by a simple majority of ambassadors
    - the leaders to immediately make a public statement regarding the planned course of action to correct the grievances.

What does this mean in practice? A boys club. You are not allowed in unless you are in good standing with the Leadership group, because they hold each and every means to allow or disallow you. Dissenting ambassadors are explicitely discouraged from even trying to apply (“in good standing”), not that they could get in anyway. Oh, wait. There is no application process defined. Never mind. But there’s no official end to a Leadership position anyway, so we don’t actually need candidates. But hey! Ambassadors can censure a leader, right? Uhm. No. Leaders are only required to make a public statement regarding the “planned action” to address this. Case closed. There is no way in and no way to get anyone out. A proper way to do it would have been to let the ambassadors actually vote for their “leaders” every year or so, but I guess that is too threatening for the existing power structure. The current state of affairs is just outrageous.

Transparancy by biannual reports? This is not transparancy, this is PR. We need insight into the decision making process and there need to be tools in place to ensure accountability, not just promises of “focussing on the mission”. We don’t need binannual PR reports.

Funny intermezzo: Look at the Leadership Qualities page. Now have a look at the self-evaluation form for level B registered nurses. E.g. “Teamwork: Interacts effectively and builds respectful relationships among individuals and in teams” (leader) versus “Teamwork: Interacts effectively and builds respectful relationships within and between units and among individuals.” (nurse). Some requirements are copied almost verbatim. So, are we getting leaders or nurses? On a more serious note, this is indicative of the increasing use of marketing speak coming from the Leadership Circle. They’re not talking, they’re making announcements/press releases. This is no way to treat a community run by volunteers. And it doesn’t speak well for the effort put into this document that parts are just copied of the net, it definitely makes it seem like a rushed PR job.

What is all of this lacking?

  1. Real transparancy. Where is the agenda/meeting notes section for the Leadership Circle? Where is any serious timeframe for anything? Biannual? When? In 6 months? Tomorrow? These people have consistently shown an unwillingness to commit to any kind of deadline, which is plain bad leadership. Slipping deadlines? Fine, worst case for that is a bunch of angry people and a bit of stress. No deadline? Not acceptable.
  2. Real representation. Not another boys club system please.
  3. Where the hell is the new NDA? It was announced half a year before the Leadership Circle was even mentioned. It shows you where the priorities are. (Hint: Power, not your average volunteering developer)

Say no to the circle of level B nurses**. Write to them and demand direct representation, transparancy and accountability. Help us make CS more Open and Free.
*: There has been a lot of complaining about using “us vs. them” language, which is just annoying. Raise your hand if you don’t know who “they” are. You’ll know when you’re not part of “them”.
**: It’s called humor people.

21 Responses to “Deconstructing the Leadership Circle”

  • re: “a simple majority of ambassadors”

    It is almost inconceivable that this could ever happen. There are around 600 ambassadors, and they do not form a coherent, informed, voting body by any stretch of the imagination. If someone started such a petition, it is likely that only about 100 ambassadors would ever even read about it. If they did, it is doubtful they would have any opinion about a particular “leader” given the paucity of information available to them.

    Everything taken into account, I agree with you Thomas. This is not any kind of real accountability or transparency. It is a sham.


  • anonymouspleaseitismyright

    Thomas, please forward these questions to walter. I hope these are food for thought for his meeting with aldo.

    1) why not just assume that it is a boy´s club after all and stop wasting people´s time in creating these openCS things?

    2) Is PR the only way to run a company, or to keep a company´s image? Isnt´s PR basically lies?

    3) Did you know that the same people that are behind the OpenCS are the people behind the supposed HC coup a couple years back? has that being brought up in discussion of why that happened. How is the past HC “coup” related to this openCS thing? or is it at all?

    4) Is it possible that the organization could run better decentralized? Is there a way to test that?

    5) are they playing dirty tricks in your oppinion? Is it fair to fight dirty tricks with other dirty tricks? What consist an unfair advantage? Isn´t a closed group unfair advantage? is Openpublic discussion unfair in your oppinion or demoralizing in a way?

    6) Why do you believe there must be a clsoed group to lead things?

    7) what is your proposed solution to this? Do you believe that so far the leader´s team have behaved correctly?


  • In my opinion it is not so important, how open a leaders group is for joining as a leader, but wether it establishs an open and transparent way of management.

    For a leaders group it is (in my opinion) crucial to be able to achieve consensus in its decisions. It therefore should only contain people, witch are highly dedicated to themselves. In this sense, a “consensus oriented leader group” is quite closed but can be the ground for a very open community process, if

    - every member of the leaders group is reachable personally and feels personally responsible for every desision of the team

    - the team tries to have as few as possible hidden communication / unpublished data

    - the team tries to make the exit costs (someone wants to leave the community) as low as possible, enabling community members to vote by their feets. This implies a commitment to support of concurrent communities with similar goals.

  • Dear anonymous,

    It is not quite clear to whom you’re adressing. But my view on your questions.

    1) I don’t *believe* CS should be a management/boys club run organisation. It is not the reason why I joined the tech team (personally) and not the way it’s presented to CS users.

    2) PR isn’t necessarily lies (although of course it can be), it’s just not a dialogue.

    3) As far as I know, the people that started OCS have nothing to do with HC (I personally never even had a profile there). Those guys started BeWelcome and we *have* been approached by them, but they are definitely a different group of people.

    4) We’re not suggesting decentralizing CS. If you look at the Wiki, you’ll see we’re “merely” proposing a representative management. In essence: have some sort of fair election system.

    5) Dirty tricks? I don’t believe in that. We’re trying to use a very open mode of communication and of course we’re trying to be smart about it. Also, note that creating tension is exactly the point (again, see the Wiki). It is the only way to really get things going.

    6) Absolutely not. Isn’t that obvious from this site? I’m confused.

    7.a) There are plenty of proposals on the Wiki.
    7.b) I think they have behaved as they have always done. So while a lot of people are angry about that style, it is at least pretty consistent.

  • 4) We’re not suggesting decentralizing CS. If you look at the Wiki, you’ll see we’re “merely” proposing a representative management. In essence: have some sort of fair election system.

    decentralization and open structure are two completely different things.

    open structure is the completely unrestristcted availability of all information on how decisions are made and specific procedures for revue, accountability and appeal: habeaus corpus, even in a dictatorship is the right to know what the crime is and what the veidence is. The right to question. Thge right to know, public not secret.

    Rule of law is another issue.

    Today all decisons are made by indiviuals based on individual personal authority.

    Rule of law means there are well defined legal rpcedures and precedures of review out side of the control of the decision makers: courts of law, where the law is enforced regardless of who thew person is.

    Transparency and rule of law are prerequisite of all successful organization.

    That is history. Even where the organization itself is secret.

    The single most important cause of failure of all the 20th century dictatorships is lack of rule of law, and lack of transparency leading to incompetence on the part of leadership.

  • ScotchScotchScotch

    Excellent post, TGoorden. You said almost verbatim, some of the same things I and others were essentially silenced for saying over a year ago. Looks like not a thing has changed to date, and if anything, Casey and his clique have only dug their heels in deeper, and thrown out more chaff for confusion and distraction. It’s all a charade, and the whole thing exists to benefit Casey personally.

    His ego, is the tumor in the entire organization, and will be the death of it. Or, it’ll go completely corporate. But in the meantime, Casey knows all he has to do is stall, and keep snowing people to contribute volunteer effort, his user base will continue to grow, and he can then really start raking it in, if he isn’t already.

    Didja hear the story about how he installed some auto-linking code to Amazon, for people’s favorites (books, CDs) section, and then claimed he didn’t realize it was still in place, and wasn’t sure how to disengage it? He’s nothing but a lying, scheming weasel, IMO.

  • Just to make it chrystal clear: OpenCouchSurfing is not about attacking Casey or anyone directly like the comment made by “ScotchScotchScotch”.

    I have a lot of respect for Casey (even if I disagree with him sometimes) and while the language I use is pretty direct, it’s aimed at very concrete issues and we *do* offer solutions along side of our complaints. And I definitely don’t buy into the conspiracy theories that are floating around.

    Our Modus Operandi has been stated very clearly on the OCS Wiki:

    So, while we will leave the comment up for the sake of openness, please keep in mind that it is not the OCS way of improving things.

  • A long time ago when i entered cs i asked the country ambassador how can one become an amb. He didn’t seem to like my question , so he started being humorous about it. After some time he dubed one of his best friends ambassador and after a while he made a secret meeting in Athens and he dubed another three people ambassadors (close friends of his) without asking anybody (we found out through couchsearch about the new greek ambassadors).
    Most of those people had hosted a minimum number of csers at their homes (one had only hosted 3 when he became an amb!!!) and gathered friend-links through cs parties and internet communication! They were not even long time in cs -at least not longer than i am, and i have hosted at least 20 people so far, maybe more- . Now, from the existing ambs in Greece only 2 can host people! The others leave the “dirty” work to the rest of cs community -the “sheeps”- and they get in touch with the guests at the cs meetings -organised at the “sheeps’ houses”- where they go to have fun, and expand their cyrcle of “cs- friends” without making any efford whatsoever…
    Totally PR, totally “licking the ambassador’s ass” attitude.
    And their answer when i complained about the situation was that it’s not enough to host many people in order to be able to become an ambassador!!!Of course not! You have to be double- faced, great PR guy, and adopt the “corrupt politician’s” manners!
    And who the fuck is my country’s amb ( a 27 year old kid) to get the right and judge who is competend enough to become a leader and who’s not???

  • Lets just vote for our amb in every country!
    If not, lets stop having amb and “leaders”!

  • Hi there all…

    First of all I would like to express my hapiness regarding this movement… it is true that I became a member because I like cross cultural exchange. Nevertheless I soon had to come to face the so called “CS politics”. There were several things somebody had to do in order to be “liked” by the heads of the project (note the fact I use the word project, not community). I don’t mean the core principle of course, like not using CS as a dating, commercial or advertisemnt site, I mean several simple things somebody had to do to lick the ambassadors’ boots.

    My girlfriend and I have hosted more than fifty people.
    SO WHAT?

    We were nice to our guests, we promoted the spirit of hospitality and we made them friends.
    SO WHAT?

    We even translated pages into greek and helped the project.
    SO WHAT?

    We brought a lot of new members to the CS family.
    SO WHAT?

    We have been deliberately excluded by specific cirlces (here the * applies very well).

    She has writen about the procedures set by THEM and then disregarded and ignored by THEM. An ambassador must have hosted at least 5 people… according to THEM. :) (ironic smile)… Hahaha… lol…

    In small consiracy meeting, with a predefined guest list (by who???) people become ambassadors in one night and nobody knows… the community just sees the flag the day after.

    OK, we do not want to be ambassadors. But we cannot accept people coming to our place taking that matcho style role and telling us, “no worries the ambassador is here”. They are hillarious.

    There are no procedures. The silly texts which took ages for them to write are already canceled by the same people.

    On the other hand there is a healthy community growing and although patronised, trying to find its democratic id. Even though THEY decide anyway (example… a voting on whether the “Athens Community” group should be open of closed – the majority said open… it remained closed for “security reasons” as a rusult of the decision of one single person).

    Concluding, I feel that this site will let US, the silly opposers talk freely… and gain “community strength” in order to change thing WITHIN.

    Thanx for reading me…

  • Maria and Paris!

    Usually people in the openCS have at least the guts to connect their name in the threads, with their profiles… Regardless my major disagreements with them, I have to at least honour them for that!

    Although I have a good sense about whom I am talking to – I would rather appreciate you bringing your ID on the surface before I am considering any reply.


  • Konstantine,

    Paris has already linked to their profile (maria and him share a profile).
    Will you now honour us by considering some reply to the issues raised and maybe some apology to paris/maria?


    p.s. thanks for introducing me to cs :)

  • Hi Charisi,
    I am already aware about Paris having his profile linked but I just want to make clear here that two people are sharing the same profile and just posting more messages to make more noise…

    Apology … I won’t reply to that implication simply because it’s not made by Paris and Maria. Mud throwing can have some limits among civilized people…

    I don’t think I am able to reply to the stream of consiusness or unconsiusness of Maria’s post. Will just try to help the situation a bit:

    1. Maria has indeed asked of how she could become an Ambassador – That was back in the begining of 2006 when my reply to her was that i simply don’t know. Myself i have just received an email from Casey asking me to become one. No process that i was aware of.

    2. I am wondering who has that best friend of mine who became an Ambassador by me… Maria seems to think that I was responsible for Ambassadorial issues in the CS for ever. The truth is that I am responsible for them from the end of December 2006. Another Admin – not anymore among the Admins or the Leader’s circle was doing the Ambassadors Management before me…
    Maria doesn’t seem to know also that Admins have a very clear responsibility area and mine has been related with the safety issues and the CS stats.

    3. Interesting to know that Maria considers as a “dirty” job to host people… Sorry to hear that my house is sooo dirty after… I have hosted about 80 people from the CS and the HC in the last nearly 4 years…
    Sorry that Maria had also to get her house “dirty” with those filthy guests… Very profound Ambassadorial quality.

    4. Also it seems that people who are organizing CS meetings at their homes are “sheeps”. Excellent Maria. Thanks for that. At least i am happy for you not being a “sheep” since you have never organized a such meeeting. I remember you participating in many of them and being friendly with everybody back then… They weren’t “sheeps” then…

    5. I have no idea what where the qualifications of somebody to become an Ambassador before December 2006. In fact i have found myself disagreeing with several choices that were made by then. Since then however qualifications have been posted and are here:
    This link was included in own of the NZ newsletters so ALL members have received it!

    6. Not to mention Maria’s language “who the fuck…” – everybody speaks how they can… – I am not aware of any Country Ambassador of Greece being 27 years old. Maria who is interested in the role seems to know… I see only “Mariovic” who is 29 and “Manny” who is 31. Is Maria talking for them?

    7. None of them (Country Ambassadors) is deciding about the leadership team…

    Dazed and confused… mud throwing…


    PS: more issues and help provided in the next post.

  • Hi Pari,
    Thanks for your post – it is at least much more sober than Maria’s… Not lacking in lies though.
    It’s nice to know that you have been doing all of these wonderful things for the CS and your guests. As I have said to Maria I don’t know what the Ambs qualifications have been before December 2006. Simply because I was not appointing Ambassadorss then…

    After December the qualifications are here:

    By the way. I can understand from your and Maria’s posts that you have both been interested in becoming Ambassadors… that’s really nice. Have you ever tried applying for that?? Did u ever follow an application process? Are you aware that there are 60-70 new Ambassadors joining the CS every month? Did you ever think about applying? Do u expect somebody to invite you or what?? Interesting approach to just go bitching around instead of simply applying as a first step…

    I can’t remember any vote counting about the group you are refering to. Was there a poll? Was the majority deciding for opening? Enough of lies i think…

    Being hungry for power is OK – at least try to gain it by following the formal process* as everybody else and not by bitching around in forums.


    *apply, be evaluated by the Ambs Management Team, admitted or rejected.

  • Sorry for not mentioning before!

    I am not following the discussions in the OpenCS due to excessive workload both in the CS and my daytime job.

    If more issues that concern me occur, please somebody of the active people here let me know or (much better) please bring the discussion in a CS group.


  • hi there,

    interesting find with the nurse form, but i don’t see why it’s a bad thing to include these lines, because i believe – and you can quote me on this one – if leaders would be more like nurses, we would live in a better world.

    after reading about the issues brought up on ocs, i for myself as a potential developer for couchsurfing don’t think i have a future in this organisation as it is at the moment. thanks for the enlightenment and for suggesting solutions!

    meinhard aka planetcruiser.

  • Dear Promitheus….

    not to mention your language “bitching around”. Just because you made a comment.

    We DO NOT want to be ambs, at least not the way you and your friends became. You seem to deliberately ignore the “secret dinner” you had with the three newest greeks ambs. Plus you also seem to ignore that these three became ambs after Dec 2006!!! Good! We received a very spontaneous reply which manifests who the liar is.

    There is no need for Maria to hide, she just didnt know how to connect her post to our profile. I did it! OK????

    We still receive this “ignorance statement” from many members of the Leadership Team… so you have no idea… you only know that we are liars!


    1 & 2. I didn’t only ask back then in 2006 about the ambs issue (after a while my frend klo-klo became an amb by YOU and by Manny), i keep asking “how” until now. It says that in order to become one, you have to have at least 5 cs successful experiences PLUS a vouch by you country ambs (that makes YOU or MANNY). Looks like you are in charge to judge, after all, right? We have your “links” on our profile but not your vouch or Manny’s! When we asked him to vouch for us, he said that “it’s not time, yet”. Vouching stands for “i consider this person trustworthy”, right? 22 people in cs think that we are!! Obviously not you and Manny. It seems we are not the only ones who don’t want us to become ambs!!!
    3 & 4. Save that “political misinterpretation” of my words for those who buy it! I hosted people and i offered my house and my friendship and i still do it. I never thought of anybody as filthy or whatever you mentioned. And as i recall, back then, i also helped you out with one of your guests who had to go to a hospital and i arranged everything for her. And as i recall, back then, you have been at my house in Athens, we had a small cs meeting there and a lady from HC who was with you stayed over for the night. So, just save it! When i use the expression “sheeps” (you know this one already in greek because it’s a greek one), i mean the way you and the leadership group like to treat the rest of us, like people who don’t and won’t ask any questions. Quess what? We do!
    About the meetings: i can’t recall a cs meeting organised at your house, though…

    6) I guess that YOU are the 27 year old! :)
    Lots of love and kisses

    (there i said it again ;p)

  • some people get angry when their flattery just don’t work…
    You’ve tried hard but that’s not how things work in the CS…

    Strange to see that you have vouched for me when it seems that I am a such bad person.

    I am sorry for not returning the vouch you have so easily offered me.

    I never thought you deserved it!


  • Thanx for the (non) reply. None of the issues raised was answered. You also show your quality with your reply. No more. Our guests seem to know whether we deserve it or not. It seems you are the one who didn’t deserve it despite your position (and we know why you did not vouch for us… it’s obvious. Haha, little Kostas).


  • I will not answer on behalf of someone else but I have to make the following remarks on Paris’ and Maria’s comments in this thread so as not to shy away from any personal accusations that were directed to me and also to help elucidate the issue for all those lucky enough not to be Greek.

    I believe that there is much confusion in their effort to connect the wider issue of the opencouchsurfing campaign and the developments it has created (or helped to speed up) and their personal grievance for not having become ambassadors despite their self professed worth.

    The two issues are loosely related on that they both include a feeling of discontent. The first is indeed wide and deep (and real) and has to do with something everyone is interested, while the second is personal/partial and completely uninteresting (and surreal).

    The confusion stems from their identifying the Greek ambassadors with “the leadership circle”. Because they found one day that other people (that they clearly believe as unworthy compared to themselves) have become ambs they have started their own campaign (that they put it under the flag of opencouchsurfing coopting it) against the “secretive leaders” who have conspired to keep them away from their much deserved (according to them) ambassadorial status.

    The two leaders (who are much insinuated and finally named) are myself and Kostantinos (Promitheus) who on the “famous secret meeting” (that they insist on knowing what happened better than those who were present) decided the fate of Greek ambassadors choosing others and not themselves…

    The truth is much mundane and, unfortunately for them, not in their favour – but not for the reasons they believe.

    In that meeting Kostantinos and myself were discussing on how to strengthen the Greek CS community that had already picked up quite well in Athens in the previous months through regular meetings and counteless emails. The solution we agreed was to assign some responsibilities to people who were showing promise (willingness and reliability) and thus ask Casey to appoint them as Ambs. At that time there was no established procedure for Ambs. Interestingly enough Paris’ and Maria’s names did not even cross our minds.

    I cannot know about Promitheus’ mind (maybe not even my own). On hindsight, the reservation I had then that prevented me even from thinking about them (they are not one person indeed) was that I did not find them as reliable because in more than one occasion in the past they were not trying to be constructive but on the contrary they were making things worse with their complaints, suspicions and conspiracy theories.

    I believe that their messages above (especially taking into account the confusion about the leadership circle) are great proof of their unreliability. On the one hand they write on CAPITALS that they never wanted to become Ambs and on the other they keep complaining that they never became, while others, not as worthy as themselves, always according to them, did become.

    Besides inconsistency their unreliability is also exhibited by the fact that they never made any complaint or even a direct message to either myself or Konstantinos or in person, though they had several occasions to do so (nor did they follow the procedure with the relevant application) but only now that they found a forum full of complaints they decided to start their campaign “against the secretive leadership circle”.

    I had forgotten about not vouching them (individually or collectively) but under the light of the way they have pursued their grievance and unless they apologise for creating all this noise in this (and other threads) my earlier answer “that its not yet the time” still stands.

    As I wrote elsewhere, I believe that couchsurfing is an idea much taller than those who administer it and much more important than those who try to discredit it. I apologize for the space.

    keep on couchsurfing :) (and keep on asking for an open CS)

    Manolis “manny” Polychronides
    CS country ambassador (GREECE)

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