Lessons Learned by the Mistakes of Travis Kalanick
Two weeks ago I talked about the ethical challenges leaders and organizations face in this age of acceleration. Well it couldn’t have timed better. Last week Travis Kalanick stepped away from the organization he built and led, Uber, for an indefinite leave of absence. In his message to employees he stated “If we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve.” It’s a bold move for a leader, particularly when he has to admit he’s made mistakes and then to walk away from the company he created with so much passion.
Such decisions are never easy, but they are sometimes necessary for an organization to sustain its growth, rebuild its tarnished reputation and facilitate a bounce back. Over the years Uber has had its fair share of controversies and scandals. But all that hasn’t stopped it from growing exponentially – yet. The board, however, finally decided that it’s had enough. In order for Uber to continue its growth and maintain its competitive edge it needs to revamp its flailing brand. The news of Travis Kalanick taking time off comes with much anticipation, particularly for its employees, contracted drivers and customers. And what’s expected by them is a cultural face-lift that’ll create a more conducive workplace environment, a sympathetic approach to its drivers and more customer focused services.
Mistakes Leaders Make
Kalanick isn’t, however, the first leader to face hardships for his chosen leadership style or unethical practices. One of the most talked about incidents revolved around Theranos and its CEO, Elizabeth Holmes. At its peak the organization that revolutionized blood testing was valued at $9 billion. Today it’s facing several litigations and struggling due to its malpractices. In the business world, Holmes has become an exemplary leader of what NOT to do. The hospitality service provider Airbnb and tech giant Apple have also come under fire for their tax avoidance. And who can forget the mistakes made by VW in its emissions scandal. Though ex-CEO Martin Winterkorn denies he had any roll or knowledge of the cheating, his leadership still was under the knife.
Whether an organization does well or not, the finger always gets pointed towards the leadership. That should be the wakeup call we all need to be detail oriented and constantly on our toes when it comes to matters of ethics. Sure mistakes can be made, but it’s how big (in terms of ethics and morals) the mistakes are that makes all the difference.
Take the example of Red Hat. It’s CEO, Jim Whitehurst, launched a product that wasn’t based on its core ideology of open source. What resulted was utter disapproval by its users and employees costing the company not only monetarily, but severe loss in terms of time to bring a product to market. Mr. Whitehurst had to accept the mistakes he’d made and apologized to this entire team.
Should Leaders be Passive?
Does all this mean that leaders should be extra precautious in their leadership abilities? Have ethical pressures ended the days of fearless and bold leaders? Are you transform yourself into a timid and risk evasive leader? No! By no means does all this translate into timid leadership styles. Not while we’re still experiencing exponential growth thanks to technology.
Leaders should continue to be bold, risk taking and innovative. In doing so, however, they should be calculated, informed and creative. Last week Amazon purchased Whole Foods causing a shake up in the retail food industry. The deal provides a few interesting perspectives. Firstly, there’s promise that Amazon will inject its technological advantages into the retail food industry which could help make the shopping experience much more pleasant for consumers. Secondly, Amazon is famous for working with thin margins, which consumers could benefit greatly from as competitors engage in price wars. And thirdly, and remarkably, this deal is yet another testament to the power of Tech Giants. We’ve heard of interesting acquisitions made by Apple and Google and now Amazon has made yet another fascinating and curious strategic move.
Time will tell whether this acquisition truly is beneficial for Amazon or not, but in the meantime what’s clear is that leaders need to continue to take risks, be bold and leverage their prowess to fuel exponential growth.
Making the Right Choices
All this further warrants the need, importance and weightage to the fact that governance, ethical practices and honest leadership is key and fundamentally essential for organizations. It’s the heart and core of what every organization should hold most dearly and advocate frequently. And all that must be true at all levels of an organization, which includes, its employees, suppliers and customers.
Mistakes can be made and probably should be made often to encourage learning. Making mistakes and admitting to it goes hand in hand when you’re striving to be innovative and taking risks. Your strength as a leader is defined by how well you bounce back from those mistakes. Remember, the choices and decisions you make will always be weighed on an ethical and moral balance. Staying true to your morals and ethics will help you avoid tarnishing your (and your organization’s) reputation to a point that’s beyond repair.
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