Three leadership qualities that Elon Musk’s replacement as Twitter’s CEO will need to have

In a strong response to a recent Twitter poll posted by Elon Musk, users of the platform called on him to step down as CEO. Musk responded that he would resign when he “find someone stupid enoughto take over as CEO, saying he will lead the software and server teams instead. But any replacement will need to be able to bring Twitter back to calmer waters, with Musk remaining the majority owner.

It’s been a tumultuous year for Twitter and Musk. He began building shares in the company in January 2022 and his US$44bn (£36bn) bid to buy the platform was accepted in April. He then tried to walk away from the deal in July, before finally taking ownership in October. Since then, he’s made — and sometimes rolled back — many changes to the popular social media platform.

Indeed, Musk’s reaction to finally getting his hands on Twitter is reminiscent of Christmas morning, when kids tear up presents, display initial enthusiasm and then quickly lose interest. Musk may have imagined that owning the website would be fun and make him feel powerful.

But the reality was quite different. He was criticized and abused, both online and in real life and now 57.5% of more than 17.5 million Twitter users have voted for him to step down as CEO.

Musk posted the poll himself and has since responded “interestingly” to a suggestion that fake accounts may have skewed the results. He also agreed that only paying subscribers should be able to vote on future Twitter policy changes.

There have been some speculation that Musk has come under pressure from other Twitter shareholders and lenders to move on. Additionally, Musk has sold billions of Tesla shares and his stock price is down more than 60% this year. The car company’s shareholders would likely like their hitherto successful CEO to return full-time.

So if Twitter wants to find a new CEO, what kind of person should the struggling social media platform be looking for? As a leadership student, I can see three key requirements for anyone considering – or being considered for – this role right now:

1. Trust and independence

A new Twitter CEO will want assurances that he will be free to make decisions about the direction of the company without being guessed at by Musk as the majority owner. The new CEO will therefore have to be confident, perhaps even arrogant, and ready to hold on.

2. The ability to face the facts

The new leader will have to “confront the brutal facts” of the situation – according to management expert Jim Collins, this is how productive change will begin. Twitter is in financial trouble.

Musk paid $44 billion to buy it, possibly double its value. He borrowed huge sums and sold large slices of Tesla stock to help fund the acquisition. But it could now face interest payments to lenders of up to $1 billion a year unless Twitter’s financial health can be turned around. These are the brutal facts that a new leader must face.

3. An imaginative approach to management

The current position of the social media platform leads to a third requirement for the new leader: imagination. Twitter is a resounding practical success. He is influential and powerful. It certainly sped up the flow of information (it is true of inaccurate information as well as useful information).

And it can be a force for good – for example in providing data and advice during the COVID-19 pandemic or helping to highlight the failures of politicians or the media – even with the inconveniences and abuses that seem be an inevitable part of the tweet.

But is it really a business proposition? It is not a platform like Facebook or Instagram that can provide billions of users to potential advertisers. Indeed, many high-profile advertisers have apparently left the site in response to Musk’s chaotic decision-making.

Perhaps the imaginative leap the new CEO needs to take will be to transform Twitter into a viable non-profit organization, one that has enormous utility and value, if not the ability to make easy money for its owners and for advertisers. In this case, a key task for the new CEO will be to recognize the type of Twitter business and decide if it is truly a conventional, for-profit business.

Stick to the plan

And that brings us to a major task for any future Twitter CEO – and perhaps the heart of the problem with Twitter. Musk changes his mind frequently — sometimes within hours, as we saw recently when he appeared to backtrack on a policy change regarding users’ ability to log into other social media accounts. He may rethink resigning, or even appointing someone only to fire them.

This brings us to a very valuable leadership lesson that maverick Musk has been teaching everyone over the past few months: We should hesitate to call energetic people great leaders in any setting until we have seen what their long-term impact has been.