Says Jack Dorsey: It’s an “Organizational Failure” if the CEO Has to Make a Decision


Jack Dorsey is well known among tech circles, as a co-founder of Twitter (he's @Jack) and, now, as the CEO of Square. I'm a frequent Twitter user (I'm @MarkGraban) and I also utilize the Square reader occasionally to sell a book to somebody. I appreciate being able to easily and inexpensively accept a credit card here and there.

This interview on the public radio program Marketplace caught my eye (I mean, ear):

Jack Dorsey: Twitter co-founder, Square CEO, punk

How does he define his role as CEO?

“First, assembling the right team. (That means) hiring, certainly, but it also means parting ways with folks that just aren't cutting it…making sure that we're paying attention to that team dynamic and [that] it's collaborative and it's really challenging itself.

Number two is making sure decisions are being made. I say that if I have to make a decision, we have an organizational failure. (That's) because I don't have the same context as someone who is working day to day with the data, with the understanding of the customer. I definitely see the organization and the people in it as the ones to make the decisions, because they have the greatest context for what needs to be done.”

There's nothing in the discussion about “Lean” nor do I ever recall Jack talking about “Lean Startup” or Lean management principles. But, that second point reminds me of Lean leadership styles.

This one quote, in particular:

Says @Jack: 'If I have to make a decision, we have an organizational failure' Share on X

What I read into that quote is that Jack feels like his role is to create an organization full of people, including his direct reports, who are capable of making decisions. And, he should be able to trust those decisions.

Far too many leaders, bosses really, define their role as being the Chief Decision Maker. Top-down decision making causes a lot of problems in organizations — whether that's startups, factories, or hospitals. If information has to flow upward to the CEO, there are time delays and distortions that might occur in the communication chain. You likely get slower decisions and decisions that aren't as good as what would come from those who are closer to the work.

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Lean leaders are involved but they tend to delegate decision making down in the organization. That doesn't mean setting goals and ignoring everything that's being decided. But, it certainly doesn't mean insisting on making more decisions yourself (as a leader at any level). In my mind, as you go up in the organization, leaders should have a broader, more systemic view of the organization and the system. Leaders can help make sure people aren't sub-optimizing or making decisions that are too short term. Some of that is the result of forming the right team but then serving as a direction-setter and a coach, not “the decider” on all things.

As I've learned from Lean, and people like John Shook, is that Lean is neither top-down and it's not completely “bottom-up” either. It's a blended model. I first heard John say this in 2007 at a Lean Healthcare conference in England (read more about it):

What Toyota can teach us about Lean Leadership from Lean Enterprise Academy

See slides 8 through 10, in particular.

Also see slides 20 through 21. Lean leadership isn't the top-down dictator model. It's also not the “empowerment” style where a leader just sets goals and lets people do things however they want.

Lean leaders have greater respect for the insights and abilities of front-line staff and managers… and everybody in the organization.

Jack describes a similar view that the people closest to the customer and the real work have a great perspective on problems and how to improve.

'I don't have the same context as someone who is working day to day with... the customer' says @Jack Share on X

Has your organization moved away from top-down command-and-control decision making?  That was one of my 10 Key Lean Mindsets that I wrote about last week. Have been able to shift from giving answers to asking the right open-ended questions? Have you been able to make that transition from “boss” to “coach” whether you're a manager, a director, a C-level executive, or a Lean facilitator or consultant?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I would go further and say that certain decisions shouldn’t be made by certain groups as you cascade down the org chart. For example, VPs and Directors shouldn’t be problem solving front-line issues. That should involve the people doing the work with the guidance and coaching from their direct manager.

    • Great point, Isaac. There’s an opportunity for a CEO to set an example for other leaders so that THEY help push decision making down in the organization.

      I had somebody on LinkedIn comment that maybe Dorsey was referring to tactical decisions, not the strategic.

      The CEO and senior executives certainly have a role to play here. In a Lean system, and with strategy deployment, we have a combination of top-down and bottom-up information and decision flows, with “catch ball” influencing things in both directions. But even strategic decisions of the highest level shouldn’t be made by the CEO alone. At the least, there’s a need to get input from the executive team and maybe even people at other levels.

      I’m reading a preview of Dr. John Toussaint’s new book that will be out this week. John talks about the need for a CEO to be humble and to start saying “I don’t know” instead of having all of the answers.

  2. Leadership is no longer about how many people you can control using a Theory X management style. Rather its about how many free thinkers want to be part of your organisation of their own free will.

    Leadership starts with having respect for people. It demands you provide people with challenge in their roles. Start by providing a safe and healthy work environment. Then help people reach their full potential. Provide one-on-one training in work standards and problem-solving, along with participation in cross-functional improvement teams.

    Respect also means coaching. Help people understand and resolve personal difficulties. And allow people to work to their strengths and to their full ability.

    In today’s always on, connected world leadership isn’t about getting ever more followers its about to creating more leaders.


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