Executive Insight From Twitter’s Kirstine Stewart

Earlier this month we hit a Deloitte Women of Influence luncheon series, where media executive Kirstine Stewart, Managing Director and Head of Twitter Canada, shared her seasoned insight on business, women in the workforce and what makes an effective leader today. She also let us in on what it’s like to work at a company like Twitter. Formerly the Head of English Language Services at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Stewart made an enormous mark there and played a pivotal role in taking it from last to first place in terms of Canadian programming. She left to pursue a side of things that was new and different, but acknowledges that it was a huge transition from CBC to Twitter – and from managing all that programming to an app of 140 characters. She said that people would question whether the shift meant that TV is dead, along with the future of the CBC. “TV and magazines are not dead, they are just changing,” says Stewart. “And we need to adjust as well.” This isn’t just restricted to media, however, and goes for all elements of business… 

On the changing face of business:
Stewart attributes the changing nature of business to a combination of factors: the millennials, the boomers, changing values, corporate responsibility and globalization. “Business changes quickly because of the massive amount of data out there and businesses need to change the way they look at data,” she says. “As business changes, values change and what we value in a leader changes.”

On collaboration:
Stewart suggests that we need to adopt the West Coast mentality of collaboration and that the future centres on partnerships. This view was inspired in part by a trip to Napa Valley she took with her husband. She discovered that the growth and subsequent success of the California wine industry was due to a collaboration to create an entire industry in California, a region once seen as an underdog in the world of wine. Another successful example Stewart highlights is the collaboration between Facebook and Google to sell ads, recognizing and seizing an opportunity to create a business that did not exist in the past. “Advertisers were part of a traditional media landscape for too long and they were afraid of non traditional media,” says Stewart. She cautions that it is possible that you will miss an opportunity for change if you sit still too long. Case in point: The recent purchase of the Washington Post by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. “They stood too long and missed their opportunity for change,” she says.

On the changing nature of leadership:
“We need a new type of leader if business is changing; there will be huge opportunities missed if you choose to sit alone,” says Stewart.

According to Stewart, there are three characteristics of a good leader: 

1. Sets a clear, passionate vision
2. Gets the tools and clears the way to do the job
3. Gets the hell out of the way afterwards

And there are three things a good leader must invest in:

1. A good team
2. Sharing of credit
3. Sharing of power

According to Stewart, then, a good leader sets the parameters and then invests in the team to collectively execute. Stewart credits the CBC’s success in securing the Sochi 2014 Olympic programming, for example, to the work of the entire team.

On sharing credit:
Stewart addresses that annoying moment in the boardroom where you speak out with what you know is a good idea, and then someone says the same thing differently and inevitably gets all the credit. We’ve all been there. Stewart admitted that she “used to get so mad,” until she realized what was happening, which was a positive domino effect that had the best result for the team. “People would rephrase what others said and add to it, and it all become part of a cycle – and that is true teamwork,” she says. “This is how a team reacts and behaves. The next time you’re in a situation, sit back for a second and see how you share the credit.”

On sharing power:
As a good leader, you should have the ability to pull power back once it is delegated. This means the ability to effectively monitor what is going on with your team. An avid NFL fan, Stewart gives the example of a football team and the sharing of power between the owner, coach and players. “This could have started with the owner saying ‘I want to have the best team’, then turning to the coach and players,” she says. “They have different points of power, but they all wear the same Super Bowl ring at the end of the season.” According to Stewart, if you share your personal capital, it only increases when it comes back to you.

On women in the workforce:
“I find a large number of women are not optimistic when it comes to their careers,” says Stewart. “They understand the challenge and want to make their mark, but the growth is slow and it is taking too long.” The problem is that there are still not enough opportunities to make a mark, yet women do need to recognize their positive strides. “Women need to stop apologizing. Women feel we should be more grateful for where we are and many are in a perpetual state of imposter syndrome,” she says. “As women, we need to relax in our positions; we are where we are meant to be.”

Meaning, bosses aren’t working on the side of charity and will get you out of there if they are not happy. “As women, there are so few places at the top that there is a survival mentality where women hoard power,” she says. “We are so worried about competition but need to realize that we have banked a lot of personal capital.” So, don’t be greedy; stop hoarding personal capital. The best way to invest in personal capital is to share it with others.

On female leaders
Stewart advises not to be conformed to traditional ideas of leadership. “Women have a natural ability to listen, empathize, and assess the data coming at us,” she says. “Apply these natural skills.”

On using Twitter effectively:
Twitter, of course, allows the opportunity to create your own broadcast channel… but it takes certain criteria and guidance. In offering business advice, Stewart naturally suggests to follow other leaders on Twitter. By now, many great leaders and business figures are using Twitter as voice channels; just as you would read a business book by such individuals, actively follow them on Twitter and what they are doing. Furthermore, don’t be too self-indulgent. “Use the platform to educate; it isn’t just about you and your opinion,” she says. “Share knowledge and have a conversation, it isn’t a one-way dialogue.” Like any social media outlet, be smart about it. Share only what you want to on Twitter. “People shouldn’t know your kids by name or your family situations. Don’t pull your kids into your story without permission,” says Stewart, who admits that she wasn’t always so careful.

On Twitter corporate culture:

1. There is no average day at Twitter and the focus centres on establishing Twitter and making sure that it resonates.
2. Stewart has bosses in Singapore, New York and San Francisco.
3. On the walls at Twitter there are the company values; one of them is to reach every person on the planet.
4. Stewart says that people think that Twitter runs itself, but there is definitely a vision; for example, a focus on how well Canadians are using it and how people are utilizing it for business.
5. Huge value is placed on the young people in the company at Twitter and they look to the opportunities of the different value systems of the millennial. The value of the younger generation comes in the crazy speed at which technology is growing; the young people understand this.
6. Twitter is not run by hierarchy. Rather they let go of this notion and all work together. They hear the voices of all employees and there is a Twitter buzz platform where any employee can comment. They like to involve all generations so that there is less of a divide. “It is an enlightening and supportive corporate culture,” says Stewart.
7. Yes, they are allowed to tweet during meetings. 

Although Stewart acknowledges an obvious digital divide in developing nations, the main goal at Twitter is for every individual to have access. Each day, a growing number of people around the world join Twitter and it is increasingly used as a source for news as it unfolds. See the year’s biggest moments on twitter here.

Want more updates on the most Notable things happening so you know before your colleagues do? Get our exclusive newsletter here.