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What everyone can learn from Twitter

4 min read


The naming of Jack Dorsey this week as Twitter’s permanent CEO brings closure to the last quarter of leadership limbo. It allows the organization to begin moving forward, reinventing itself and its platform (perhaps even allowing us all more than 140 characters to express our deepest thoughts). It also offers several important and enduring lessons for organizations and leaders alike.

Source: Twitter

Lesson 1: Be careful what you wish for.

What organization doesn’t want highly engaged customers? What executive doesn’t secretly fantasize about a committed fan base? Who doesn’t wish they could get into their customers heads and get their feedback at the drop of a hat? But as we know from any number of fairy tales, when wishes are granted, they generally come with some baggage and at least a few surprises.

Twitter’s customers (and probably yours too) enjoy nearly effortless access to information and the ability to broadcast their reactions, experiences, opinions and advice — all day, every day, in an exponential fashion. This democratization of the business landscape is exciting and daunting. This kind of open, transparent, ongoing conversation with customers can transform organizations, keeping them on the leading edge; but it must be actively managed toward productive rather than problematic outcomes.

Doing this requires that leaders:

  • Listen hard. This means taking the voice of the customer seriously, rigorously reviewing their messages for themes and trends, and combating natural defensiveness and the tendency to want to discount a contrary point of view.
  • Talk back. Communication goes both ways. Customers want to see your investment in the relationship. They want to be engaged with questions, challenges, clarification and information that interest them.
  • Take action. If you’ve established a platform for engaging with customers, you’d better be ready to do something with what they share, otherwise hostility (or perhaps worse, apathy) sets in.

Lesson 2: Organizations need leaders.

The numbers say it all. Twitter’s share price dropped 30% during the leadership vacuum. To thrive, organizations need leaders, and so do employees. Bottom line.

Lesson 3: Eat your own dog food.

The announcement that Dorsey would assume the CEO role permanently was made on Twitter. While it was an obvious choice in terms of communication strategy, it’s a good reminder to leaders everywhere. Are you using your own organization’s products and services to run the business? If not, it’s a missed opportunity to learn more and to improve by stepping into the shoes of the customer. It’s also a missed opportunity to communicate both internally and externally the value you place on the work of your employees.

Lesson 4: It’s a small world.

The workplace is dynamic and unpredictable; and although we operate globally, it’s always amazing just how small the world really is. It’s wise to treat everyone with respect and dignity. Maintaining strong relationships — even under difficult conditions — is good business. The employee you terminate today could turn out to be your manager tomorrow. Or, in the case of Twitter, the fired founder from seven years ago could turn out to be the ideal CEO in 2015.

So, in closing, let’s all thank @Twitter 4 these #leadership lessons & put them into practice in our #organizations 2day!

Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog at

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