Why Twitter’s C.E.O. Demoted Himself

by Bates, Suzanne Saturday, November 13, 2010
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It was a headline you couldn’t ignore. ”Why Twitter’s C.E.O. Demoted Himself.” Evan Williams, the founder of the exploding social messaging site recently handed over the reins of the company to Dick Costolo, the company’s chief operating officer. But why? The famously shy (although certainly not accidental) chief executive is a creative guy, not a leader.

Twitter’s astonishing growth is far less a product of good business management than simply a cool technology for which an exploding number of fans find a purpose. The founders originally thought of it as a fun thing, ice cream; a way to tell your buddies what you were up to; today it launches political careers, drives commerce, is the currency of sports stars, celebrities and news analysts, and is breaking down communication barriers worldwide. They have 175 million users across the globe, and are adding 370,000 a day. Insiders in the NYT article described as holding onto a rocket ship by your fingernails.

That Williams is naturally shy is only part of it. Twitter employees say he is slow to make decisions. He openly admits managing people is not his thing. ”It is no small irony, of course,” opined the reporter, Claire Caine Miller,”that a man so ill at ease on the big stage is a pivotal force in a communications revolution, one that has made it easier for people to chat, disseminate information and mobilize locally and globally with almost anyone who has a cellphone or an Internet connection.”

So William’s decision looks now like a no-brainer for Twitter. He didn’t belong in the big job and after enough mistakes, he realized this was what his company needed now. Just because you run a commumications company doesn’t mean you want to become a superb leader or communicator. While the start-up technology world is replete with these stories, it also has relevance to all. The smartest, most business or tech savvy people in the world can only take you so far. If they can’t communicate with employees and customers, they don’t belong in the top jobs. The longer you leave them there, the more you put your company at risk.