Uber-Derailed

Barb Krantz TaylorBy Barb Krantz Taylor

If you have been keeping current on any business news, you’ve heard that Travis Kalanick, the CEO of Uber, has finally resigned. Two weeks ago, he announced he was taking a “leave of absence” citing the recent death of his mother and the need to “grow as CEO” (duh!), as reasons to take a break before he returned to take the reins of Uber.

Last week, however, he resigned his post as CEO, but only after a number of “influential shareholders and investors” who, lacking the power to fire him, sent him a letter requesting that he step down.

While I have no inside knowledge of Uber and admit to playing catch up with the details of Kalanick’s demise, it’s pretty easy to conclude that his reported behaviors are a result of leadership derailleurs gone wild.

Strengths On Over-Drive Lead to Derailment

From what I’ve read, Mr. Kalanick sounds like the epitome of a highly confident, results-driven, innovative, break-all-the-rules kind of leader. And for a long time, he was admired for this and even purported to be the reason for Uber’s success. Not surprising, as these personality characteristics are often hailed as “leaderlike”.  These same characteristics that begin as assets quickly become liabilities when over-used or exaggerated, leading to leadership derailment.

And there’s more. In 1984, renowned ethicist and psychologist Carol Gilligan first reported that success is often measured by a results-orientation more common to men, rather than a relationship-orientation, more common to women. Translated: so long as success is ultimately defined by results over relationships and competition over cooperation, we will continue to see leaders like Mr. Kalanick lauded for their style, particularly if they are men (I’ll save the rest of that story for another blog).

Tolerating Bad Behavior

The cynic in me believes that until the stakeholders and investors saw the risk to their investment in the company, they tolerated the “narcissistic jerk” in Mr. Kalanick while those who valued relationships over results and had no tolerance for his narcissistic jerk aspects lacked the power and influence to stop him.

Why?

Why do leaders, who may never actually cross the line as far as Mr. Kalanick did, accept this behavior? I understand why Mr. Kalanick chose not to change his style – he was winning and he was rewarded for it. Every time he intimidated someone, manipulated others, used his power/authority to make decisions, chose not to understand or listen to alternate points of view, or turned his back when others succeeded, he won. He won financially, he won by holding on to his position, and he won when his opinions carried the day.

How others allowed this to continue is beyond me. It wasn’t until the bottom line was clearly at risk that people finally took action but not before the impact of his bad behaviors reverberated with thousands of others.

How to Cope

If you have a “narcissistic jerk” in your midst (particularly one over whom you have no career limiting leverage) and want to learn what you can do to cope, please contact me. I have some ways you can live with yourself.