Ev Williams has stepped down as Twitter CEO to spend more time focused on product strategy.
I am most satisfied while pushing product direction. Building things is my passion, and I’ve never been more excited or optimistic about what we have to build.
This is why I have decided to ask our COO, Dick Costolo, to become Twitter’s CEO. Starting today, I’ll be completely focused on product strategy.
When I insisted on bringing Dick into the COO role a year ago, I got a lot of questions from my board. But I knew Dick would be a strong complement to me, and this has proven to be the case. During his year at Twitter, he has been a critical leader in devising and executing our revenue efforts, while simultaneously and effectively making the trains run on time in the office.
This reminds me of the recent interview with Paul Maritz conducted by Adam Bryant, where Maritz underscores how the job of a leader changes as groups grow in size:
As you manage bigger groups of people, you cannot be as closely connected to specific underlying issues and challenges. Your contribution has to become more of making sure that you’re getting the best out of others, that others are really thinking the issues through, and that you’re creating the broad framework in which they can get their jobs done and be as productive and focused as they can be. What makes it a challenge is that every time you cross one of those boundaries, you become less of a specialist, less knowledgeable about specific issues.
You have to realize that your contribution becomes more symbolic, in the sense that you’re trying to set a general direction. People want to see you as representing the general mission, not just yourself.
And, as the groups get bigger, the period over which you measure your own performance gets longer, and the way you get your feedback changes. The bigger the group, the easier it is to spend days wondering whether you had any impact at all. You really have to take a longer-term view. So you’re going to have to discipline yourself and take a step back to ask yourself the question, “Are we moving in the right fundamental direction?” And, if so, take satisfaction from that.
My hunch is that Ev was getting less enjoyment from that ‘symbolic’ sense of reward from work increasingly less connected to the product.
Also, in Costolo he has a manager with real experience ramping up large organizations. As Baritz points out in the same interview, there are four types in a great leadership team:
You need to have somebody who is a strategist or visionary, who sets the goals for where the organization needs to go.
You need to have somebody who is the classic manager — somebody who takes care of the organization, in terms of making sure that everybody knows what they need to do and making sure that tasks are broken up into manageable actions and how they’re going to be measured.
You need a champion for the customer, because you are trying to translate your product into something that customers are going to pay for. So it’s important to have somebody who empathizes and understands how customers will see it. I’ve seen many endeavors fail because people weren’t able to connect the strategy to the way the customers would see the issue.
Then, lastly, you need the enforcer. You need somebody who says: “We’ve stared at this issue long enough. We’re not going to stare at it anymore. We’re going to do something about it. We’re going to make a decision. We’re going to deal with whatever conflict we have.”
You very rarely find more than two of those personalities in one person. I’ve never seen it. And really great teams are where you have a group of people who provide those functions and who respect each other and, equally importantly, both know who they are and who they are not. Often, I’ve seen people get into trouble when they think they’re the strategist and they’re not, or they think they’re the decision maker and they’re not.
From this perspective it’s clear that Ev is a product visionary, while Costolo is the ‘classic manager’: a business man. But Ev might have opted to be a Jobs-type visionary, and built his team around him to match his skills.
I guess that there is a hidden deal in here: Costolo took the COO job under the condition that if he was able to settle things down at Twitter — to make the trains run on time — then he would get the CEO job, and Ev would step aside into a Chairman/Product Visionary role. Now that Twitter has started to become more focused on money, and less obsessed with building an ecosystem, this lines up.
I bet the investors will sleep better tonight.
- Dick Costolo, Twitter’s New CEO (sfist.com)
- Twitter Names Costolo CEO (paidcontent.org)
- Why Dick Costolo Is Now CEO Of Twitter: Because Now It’s Time For Twitter To Make A LOT Of Money (businessinsider.com)
- Costolo serious about Twitter business model as Evan Williams steps down (downloadsquad.com)
- Twitter Has A New Leader (fastcompany.com)