Business and Leadership Thought Capital

Uber-Egos and Uber-Problems

Leaders committed to using disruptive management practices and techniques have to constantly assess every move they make. The ethical and legal issues they could get dragged into have the potential to derail their dreams and the companies they are leading.

In addition, disruptive CEOs face high amounts of pressure from investors, the media, their employees, families, customers, suppliers – and of course other players in their markets they are forcing to change or go out of business.

For these and other reasons, such leaders surround themselves with the skill sets and experiences they need to help them overcome obstacles and create great advances for their business and the world. However, they are happiest when they are working with like-minded souls who at heart live and breathe the same principals as they do. It’s not uncommon for such leaders to assemble a group of executives they know and trust that stays with them for decades.

Not unsurprisingly, Bezos has proven himself to be a master at understanding and implementing the basic building blocks to put together a champion team using what we commonly refer to as “core values” or “leadership principles.”

Even just a cursory look at Amazon’s fourteen leadership principles shows the extent to which Bezos’s values and beliefs have been codified, disseminated, and internalized by Amazon’s leadership team.

Some of Amazon’s core values such as customer obsession, thinking big, and delivering results may sound generic to any well-run business. But there are a few eye openers on the list that are rather unique to Bezos and Amazon. These include principles such as frugality, understanding how to be right as much as possible, and diving deeply.

It is these leadership principles that have contributed to making Amazon the huge success it is today.

But not all disruptive CEOs understand the importance of core values and a thought-through culture and organization. The most glaring case of the ramifications of not paying enough attention to the “softer” aspects of business is Travis Kalanick and the company he led until mid-2017, Uber.

Kalanick broke so many rules about basic organizational structure and culture as to call into question his ability to lead the company. Eight years after it was founded, the company was still operating without a CEO, COO, CFO, CMO or president. A cult of personality and ego which celebrated a highly aggressive culture had taken hold.

On June 6, 2017 it was made public that twenty employees had been fired over harassment, discrimination, and inappropriate behavior several days earlier. This was the first public sign that Uber was trying to contain the fallout from a series of toxic revolutions.

A week later Travis Kalanick was fired, although he still retained a seat on Uber’s board. His success and ego not only blinded him to the need to build a culture of accountability and ethics but also the need to adhere to local and state employment laws.

A report into Uber’s problems with sexism tied most of the problems to Uber’s deeply embedded culture of “stepping on toes” and “always be hustlin’”. While these behaviors might work for a small startup they can also be highly destructive for a nearly 12,000-person company.

Uber’s new CEO since August, Dara Khosrowshahi, faces a long list of challenges he rarely if ever faced as CEO of Expedia. Although he is rightly focused on creating a new culture and values system for Uber he also has to contend with an array of legacy issues and liabilities including multiple lawsuits.

One lawsuit that is drawing public attention involves Waymo, a smaller competitor, which is suing Uber for stealing trade secrets from them. After a federal judge on November 28th discovered Uber had been withholding important evidence in the trial, he declared he could no longer trust Uber’s lawyers.

Meanwhile, customers are choosing to ride with drivers of companies that might have grown slower such as Lyft but have also taken the time to build constructive and supportive corporate cultures. These rivals have been raising billions abroad and are banding together. In addition, important cities such as London and Montreal have threatened to either cancel or not renew Uber’s licenses.

Several large Uber investors recently marked down their investments in the wake of the company losing $2.8 billion in 2016 as Kalanick drove aggressive growth.

But the thing Khosrowshahi might have to be most concerned about it that with Kalanick on the board, he might just have a Steve Jobs’ type disruption on his hands if Kalanick makes a play to return to his old job of CEO.

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