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Too many visions hurt Twitter CEO

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

The traits that served Dick Costolo well during Twitter’s early years did not help him once it became a public company. His background did not prepare him to run a huge global business with investors clamoring for stable growth.

Costolo worked as an improvisational comedian after graduating college. He performed at festivals and joined a Chicago theatre group.

Now 53, Costolo served as Twitter’s CEO from 2010 to 2015. Former employees recall him as a reactive thinker who hopped from idea to idea.

Shifting direction quickly worked well during Twitter’s startup phase. But as the company grew, it needed a steadier CEO who could communicate a consistent vision.

Instead, Costolo kept grasping at straws. As Twitter’s stock sunk to new lows in May 2014, he convened his executive team to unveil his latest vision for the company’s future.

In a series of meetings, Costolo drew three circles on a whiteboard. He insisted that “this is how the company should be described going forward,” referring to the “geometrically eccentric circles” representing different types of users.

Costolo had sent mixed messages about Twitter’s strategy in earlier presentations, so his executives were surprised by this new approach. It seemed like yet another stab at setting forth a coherent business model after he had abandoned earlier attempts.

In 2012, for instance, Costolo characterized Twitter as a “global town square.” A year later, he described it as a real-time communication platform.

In addition to ever-changing visions, Costolo replaced or lost five key managers in the first year after the company went public in 2013. It also weathered five product managers in as many years, leaving product development in disarray.

When he resigned in 2015, Twitter’s stock jumped.

— Adapted from “Twitter CEO Costolo Struggles to Define Vision,” Yoree Koh and Kirsten Grind

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