Uber has had a rough few weeks. The #deleteuber hashtag picked up steam after several incidents which, on their own, could have been disastrous. Taken together, it’s become an all-out crisis. In case you missed it, Uber faced backlash after CEO Travis Kalanick joined (and subsequently left) President Trump’s advisory council, the airport strike fare debacle and sexual harassment allegations from one of its female engineers. The final straw came yesterday when dashcam footage was released showing Kalanick in a dispute with a driver.
The Uber CEO took the unusual but commendable stance of owning his personal failure as a leader. In his apology he said, “It’s clear this video is a reflection of me—and the criticism we’ve received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up”… “This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”
It’s rare to hear CEOs admit they’re lacking leadership skills. By acknowledging he needs “leadership help,” Kalanick is underscoring two very real truths at most workplaces: people don’t automatically have management skills, and everyone has room to develop and grow.
While the kind of help Kalanick will receive is unclear, other organizations can take steps to ensure their own leaders and managers continue developing their skills. Here are some ideas that can guide your organization toward stronger leadership:
Your C-Suite isn’t perfect.
Just because someone’s title starts with “Chief” doesn’t mean they should stop seeking new skills. In fact, leadership should set the example for aggressively pursuing growth. (And no, we’re not talking about bigger sales.) Many people are promoted through the ranks because they were top performers in their specific roles. However, they lack the leadership training that prepares them to actually manage people. When someone ascends to a leadership position, they actually have an obligation to their workforce to learn abilities that will make them an effective and ultimately respected leader.
Encourage multidirectional feedback.
The Uber driver who confronted Kalanick was an extreme but relevant example of how front-line employees are in the best position to give performance feedback. From his reaction, it seems clear that constructive (maybe confrontational is the better word) feedback was unfamiliar territory for Kalanick.
But that’s not unusual — many companies still view feedback conversations as a one-way opportunity for leadership to evaluate employees. Simply said, that won’t work anymore.
Leaders should be held accountable and encouraged to regularly solicit feedback on their own performance. Perhaps more importantly, employees have tribal knowledge that is often lost in the bureaucracy of traditional, top-down performance management. The most effective conversations are collaborative and both parties take something away.
It remains to be seen if Kalanick’s commitment to better leadership will make a difference. But in the meantime, you can start taking steps toward ensuring your own company has a leadership team that’s committed to their own growth and a culture where two-way feedback is the norm.