Uber's CEO Wants To 'Grow Up' -- Here's 3 Ways He Can Start

This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ

By now, you’ve undoubtedly seen the video of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick getting into a heated argument with Fawzi Kamel, one of his company’s drivers. And you’ve likely followed Uber’s other problems over the past 3 months; from #DeleteUber to a former software engineer’s scathing blog post about Uber’s sexual harassment problems to Uber’s head of engineering resigning Monday after Uber learned about sexual harassment complaints from his former employer.

It’s been a brutal few months for Uber’s CEO. And on Tuesday, he issued a very public apology, saying in part “the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.”

So, what should he do to "fundamentally change as a leader" and "grow up"? Here are three places that Travis can start:

#1: Recognize That Leadership Styles Need To Change As Companies Grow

Your leadership style can be much harsher, more aggressive and pugnacious as a startup CEO than when you’re CEO of, what is essentially, a global utility. Every company stage requires a different kind of leadership style and not every CEO is able to smoothly transition from one to the next; it’s why startup founders are often replaced along the growth curve. And it’s why the founders of Google wisely allowed Eric Schmidt, a more politically-seasoned executive, to take the reins for a while. And it’s why, at one point, Steve Jobs was fired from Apple.

In the early days, Uber needed Travis to be a bulldozer who could plow through regulatory impediments to gain entry to markets. But now Travis’ role is more akin to that of an ambassador, or what I call the Diplomat leadership style. And he needs to practice techniques that are second nature to diplomats. For example, do not ever talk about personal issues in public or in the back of Uber cars.   On the dashcam video, Travis brags about how he likes every year to be a hard year; “That’s kind of how I roll. I make sure every year is a hard year. If it’s easy I’m not pushing hard enough.” Tossed off without more context, that kind of comment won’t play well in front of an employee who’s struggling to scrape by financially and for whom a "hard year" is not an optional, goal-setting technique, but rather a matter of having food and shelter.

#2: Talk To Your Stakeholders

Uber is an incredibly smart business model and technological innovation. But to millions of people, it’s a lot more than an app or a business model; it’s a livelihood, a way to feed their families, or an essential piece of their transportation. And one has the sense from the dash-cam video, as well as Uber’s other mistakes, that Travis (and probably many other executives) have no idea just how important Uber really is to employees, drivers and customers. This isn’t an app or a strategic decision, this is financial survival and personal safety and a way to get to work (and probably a whole lot more).

The Uber executives need to take some time out of the c-suite, talking to those employees, drivers and customers. If they were truly grounded in the life of an Uber driver or software engineer, or a typical Uber customer, the CEO wouldn’t have uttered the comments he did.

#3: Learn To Listen Without Reacting

As the argument between Travis and Fawzi gets heated, the driver says “But people are not trusting you anymore. I lost $97,000 because of you. I'm bankrupt because of you. Yes, yes, yes. You keep changing every day.”

And a minute later, Travis says “Some people don't like to take responsibility for their own s***. They blame everything in their life on somebody else. Good luck!”

This would be a great example of what "not listening" sounds like. Two things that say "I'm not listening" include:

  • “Griping About It Won’t Make It Better”
  • “Suck It Up”

Impressively, Travis manages to capture the essence of both of those phrases. Fawzi tells Travis that he lost $97,000 and is bankrupt. Assuming those are accurate, are they both entirely Travis’ fault? Of course not. But by telling Fawzi that ‘some people don’t like to take responsibility’ he basically saying “what you just said was stupid and whiny and you should shut up.” Along the same lines, when Travis says that some people “blame everything in their life on somebody else” he’s basically telling Fawzi to “suck it up,” which really means “the thing you’re telling me isn’t even a real problem.” In other words, if you were tougher or smarter or whatever, you wouldn’t have anything wrong to begin with.

With all the recent issues, it’s clear that Uber needs better transparency and truth telling. And yelling at the people who tell you things you don’t like is a sure-fire way to guarantee that they won’t tell you anything in the future. Even if the driver was inappropriate in how he voiced his concerns, yelling back at him is never a good idea. Had Travis said “wow, I want to thank you for being courageous enough to share your thoughts,” this would never have become a story.

Mark Murphy is the author of Truth At Work: The Science Of Delivering Tough MessagesHiring For Attitude and Hundred Percenters.

Posted by Mark Murphy on 21 March, 2017 0 comments
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