Twitter’s 280-Character Count Remind Leaders That Character Counts

I recently read that Twitter is expanding its longstanding 140-character limitation to 280. At least for a small group of people selected for the test.

Here’s what co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey said about the decision.

“This is a small change, but a big move for us. 140 was an arbitrary choice based on the 160 character SMS limit. Proud of how thoughtful the team has been in solving a real problem people have when trying to tweet. And at the same time maintaining our brevity, speed, and essence!” – Jack Dorsey, CEO Twitter

When I read the quote a couple of initial thoughts ran through my head.

My cynical side thought, He’s proud that his team thoughtfully solved the problem? They took the existing number and multiplied it by two. That doesn’t sound worthy of praise.

My pragmatic side thought, Twitter is betting that the 280-character limit will drive more people to tweet. With 6,000 tweets per second in our world isn’t there enough virtual clutter? What other decisions are around the bend from Tech leaders that might add to our already busy days?

Then, I took a deep breath and hit pause.

I let the cynical and pragmatic voices take a back seat and I thought about a bit more about the situation.

  • What might I learn about others and what they want?
  • What might I learn about myself?
  • What might leaders take away from this situation?

True, there are many possible answers to this question.

For me, my mind moved to the idea that Twitter’s character count reminds us that as a leader, character counts.

Character Counts

Great leaders have a strong blend of both competence and character. We all know that competence matters, but character counts too – in fact, it arguably trumps competence.

Character include items like integrity, loyalty, and commitment. They play out in behaviors such as one’s ability to listen first, consider the needs of others, and put things into perspective.

As I listened, considered, and reflected, this thought appeared:

Deep down, we all want to be heard. Each of us yearns for our voice to count. We want to be active members of the process vice marginalized actors pushed to the side.

Harsh Reality

Let’s face it, many people feel that their voices aren’t heard, or even welcome. This phenomena is not limited to any particular country, industry, business, or social media platform – it’s ubiquitous.

Look around your office, classroom, neighborhood and you will see people who have something to say but they aren’t being heard. Perhaps they are limited to 140-character counts or, worse yet, not given even a fraction of that number.

This isn’t just a concern.

It is a tragedy.

The good news is that regardless of your role, you can be the key to helping the voices of others be heard. You can unleash the leader in you to help people to find and use their voices.

The Believe – Behave – Become framework is a great way to make this happen. I invite you to consider how well you understand and embrace the value of all voices.

Step 1: Believe

What you create in the physical world begins in your mind. In order to create, you must first imagine. I invite you to reflect on how you value the voices of others by answering these questions:

  • Do you believe that everyone’s voice matters?
  • Can you envision people that you work with who are marginalized, or left out of key conversations?
  • Is it possible that no matter your role in the organization, you could help to bring the less heard voices into the open?
  • Do you believe that some of those people might have something of value to add to the conversation?
  • If so, which conversations and which people (name them)?

Step 2: Behave

Although mindset matters, it is insufficient without a change in behavior. Take a moment to reflect on how you currently behave and what you would like to do differently in the future by answering these questions:

  • Do you listen with the intent of understanding? Or, do you fake listen, partially listen, or outright ignore?
  • Are you constantly asking the same people to be part of the conversation?
  • How good are you at asking one question at a time and waiting for an answer?
  • Have you established systems to encourage everyone’s voice to be heard? Or, do your systems limit input to that from only a select few?
  • What might you do differently tomorrow, to encourage and embrace the voices of others?

Step 3: Become

Shifting your beliefs and your behaviors will no doubt lead to changes in yourself, your team, and the broader organization. However, change can be difficult. Unless the benefits are worthwhile, you might chose to go back to old patterns. So, take a moment to think about what you, your employees, and the organization might achieve from bringing more voices into the conversation. Answer these questions:

  • If those who currently don’t have a voice begin to contribute more, how will it impact them? Will they be more engaged, committed, or driven?
  • How might you change? Will you learn new things or experience better results? Will people see you differently? Will you see yourself differently?
  • How might the organization benefit? What might be accomplished in both the short- and long-run?

One last thought…

I’m not naive enough to think that everyone has something of value to add to every conversation. So, once you allow voices to be heard, you must discern what should be listened to and acted upon.

As the saying goes…create an environment where everyone gets their say, but not necessarily their way!