Twitter's distracted leader

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Twitter’s distracted leader

October 5, 2015 -

Twitter is now sharing a CEO with another company. Jack Dorsey, the newly minted CEO as of Monday, is also the CEO of Square, a company that pioneered mobile payments for small businesses. Dorsey will reportedly split his time between the two companies, even though Square is set to launch an IPO in the near future and Twitter faces substantial financial problems as it continues to struggle in the war for advertising dollars.

The move surprised few, because Dorsey has been involved with Twitter since he helped co-found it in 2008. While this is his second stint as CEO, this one comes with much higher stakes, as the company faces financial pressure due to its stagnant user-base and lack of traction with generating significant advertising revenue.

Proponents of the move point to Steve Jobs and Elon Musk as proof that CEOs can effectively run two companies at the same time, but most are skeptical that Dorsey will be able to vault Twitter back to social media prominence.

The move is fascinating from a leadership perspective because of what it reveals about our culture: our unrelenting hubris and blind belief that multitasking is a good thing.

Cognitive research has repeatedly shown that our attention spans are getting shorter the more we progress in the digital age. This research has also shown how difficult it is to be productive in a holistic, overarching sense, when you constantly switch between tasks. You might get through a small molehill known as your “task list”, but you’re not actually making any progress on the mountain that is the bigger picture.

Yet we are presented with an overwhelmingly positive perspective on multitasking from our culture. In the saddest of ironies, car companies and cellular companies are campaigning against texting-while-driving while at the same time making their products more complicated to use while driving.

This blind belief in the power of multitasking is one of the key tenets of the “why not?” generation. If Jack Dorsey says he can run both companies, why not let him try? Herein lies the hubris that comes along with such a belief. We actually believe that one human can be stretched to limitless managerial capacity because we believe that we can do anything that we set our minds to.

One of the most important questions that we never ask is not “can I do this?”, but “should I do this?”. Maybe Jack Dorsey really is an incredibly productive and efficient manager, but at what price to his friends, family, and himself?

Paul talks about this idea in terms of “overextending” ourselves. In 2 Corinthians 10, Paul defends his ministry to the Corinthians, refusing to succumb to comparing himself to other ministers of the Gospel who were better speakers or more physically charismatic in appearance. He is content to stay in the sphere that God has called him to.

In Acts 6, we see the apostles recognize their inability to handle all of the demands of leadership that came with ministering to others. Instead of continuing on in frustration, they appointed faithful ministers who could handle daily tasks of ministry so that the apostles could return to full-time focus on prayer and preaching.

Biblical leadership embraces limitation because it understands that we ultimately want to point people to God’s greatness, not our own human greatness. Biblical leaders know that limitation isn’t restrictive, but actually frees us up to fully devote ourselves to the task we are called to.

A garden flourishes when its parameters are fixed and its perimeters are secure. Similarly, our leadership will only flourish when our lives are marked by such boundaries.  In our hubris, sometimes we believe we can really take on more and more responsibility without it affecting our overall health. In certain seasons, sometimes we have to shoulder an extra load as an act of sacrifice and service, but when we exhibit a pattern of constantly seeking out more opportunities to add things to our plate, that’s when hubris has begun to settle into the crevices of our hearts.

We must learn to ask ourselves not “can I do this?” but “should I do this?” Over-extension obfuscates the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, while focus brings them to greater clarity. Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher and devout Christian, said it well: “purity of mind is to will one thing.”

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