We all saw the headlines rolling in, broadcasting that Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, was poised to purchase the social media giant Twitter. I’m sure many of us asked the same questions; would he actually go through with it, and if so, what does that mean for Twitter, social media, and the larger landscape of business? On April 25th, 2022, it was confirmed. Musk had reached a deal to buy Twitter for a whopping $44 billion.
Such an unprecedented and public acquisition by one of the world’s most powerful and controversial figures lends itself to acknowledging the responsibility of power and influence, and the duty of those in positions of power to make lives better.
It begs the question of what we owe to those who look to us for leadership; the short answer is everything.
Concerns from Twitter’s Existing Workforce
Musk’s first priority, if he takes control of Twitter, should be protecting and supporting its current workforce. Twitter employees have been very vocal about their feelings on the acquisition, with many of them expressing disbelief, distrust, and above all else, fear.
The Washington Post reports that employees fear widespread demoralization and layoffs, with many employees already looking for the exit. Parag Agrawal, the CEO of Twitter, and the board chair, Bret Taylor, held an internal town hall meeting after the announcement of the acquisition to get a pulse on employees’ feelings. In an audio recording obtained by the Post, employees’ concerns centered around how the company would handle an exodus of employees, as well as changes to the products and culture. Primarily, that Musk would attempt to break down safeguards to protect everyday users that staff had built over many years.
Containing a potential mass exodus and soothing fears will be critical for a smooth transition, or else it could create chaos for Twitter users and ultimately lead to the downfall of the platform to one of its numerous competitors.
In instances like these, where leaders are placed in unfamiliar territory like Musk is, having never run a content-based platform, the expertise of Twitter employees and other industry leaders is invaluable. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Lester Crown professor in the practice of management at the Yale School of Management and senior associate dean for leadership studies, argues that “Twitter’s best asset was the badge of honor that they carried by working at Twitter, and a mass exodus would exacerbate the perishable nature of that asset...There was once MySpace, and there was once AOL. These companies can die off if people run out the door. There’s nothing at Twitter but the people.”
New Leadership Placebo Effect
There is a significant cultural impact when a new leader takes the helm of an established business. Think Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, following in the footsteps of Steve Jobs was no minor feat and raised serious concerns about the future of the company. Or Andy Jassy, who will be stepping in as CEO of Amazon succeeding Jeff Bezos. Such major organizational shifts, particularly when the leaders are also well-known public figures, can cause serious shock waves across the business world.
For Elon Musk, the reaction is no different. Even without having officially stepped into leadership, the internal landscape and overall perception of Twitter have already begun to change. This acquisition serves as a turning point for Twitter, even if nothing much changes at all.
This is identified as the New Leadership Placebo Effect, where the installation of a new leader shifts both internal and external opinion. It is a critical period for the new leader, and their long-term reputation will often hinge on how they choose to lead during the transition. Will they be receptive and collaborative, or heavy-handed and authoritarian?
Every leader is different, but there are several key attributes that influence a leader's effectiveness and longevity.
Keys to Being a Successful Leader
“In all leadership roles, there is an informal dependence on other people that is in many ways much more important and more powerful than the power or the authority that is implied by an organization chart that puts your job at the top.”
-Robert L Joss, former Dean at Standford University
At the root of any successful leader is a service mindset. Coined by the late Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership goes against the beliefs that leadership is defined as hierarchical, patriarchal, and related to wealth or status. Instead, it is focused on serving others to help them grow, often without the title or recognition that comes with many leadership roles. The primary characteristics of Servant Leadership are listening, empathy, stewardship, and empowerment, all traits that establish trust, transparency, and openness between leaders and employees.
Anyone in a position of power and influence, Musk included, must lead with confidence, understanding, and empathy. He has an opportunity to be a shining example of how a leader should conduct themselves, not only to employees but to other leaders. His influence is great, and only growing stronger; it’s his responsibility to wield that power justly.
It is the sacred call of leaders to make lives better. It’s what drives both business and reputation and should be the keystone of any leadership strategy. Because without employees and consumers, there is no business. There is no Tesla without production workers, there is no PayPal without software developers, and there is no Twitter without users. There are no leaders without followers, no CEOs without employees, and preserving the integrity of those relationships is essential.
To learn more about leadership philosophy and building a strong workforce, check out “The Birth of a New Workforce”, available digitally, as well as on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.