Turning Uber Around

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We’ve heard the words “Uber” and “turmoil” in the same sentence a lot in recent months. The ridesharing company has been facing trouble from political, internal, and corporate fronts. Most recently, we saw their president of less than a year, Jeff Jones, step down after the CEO asked for his resignation. Jones cited a difference in leadership styles, telling Recode,

“It is now clear, however, that the beliefs and approach to leadership that have guided my career are inconsistent with what I saw and experienced at Uber, and I can no longer continue as president of the ridesharing business”

This departure as well as allegations of sexism, the use of police evading software, and public outbursts by Trevor Kalanick, the CEO, have left Uber in a very vulnerable position. What it really tells us is that there is a pretty serious disconnect with the board, the executive team, and the CEO.

As Uber spirals, the stress on their corporate office increases exponentially. The private company is known for their competitive culture which is starting to impact their leaders in a negative way. Being driven is important in business, but only after you are emotionally connected and united with your team. People need to know that they are safe to not only make the decisions that are aligned with company’s core values but also share concerns openly and feel that they are not addressing these concerns all by themselves, but that they are doing it together. The scandals that are plaguing Uber have been building unchecked.

With Uber, the cycle is quite clear. The CEO would get triggered from fear or shame, then act out. This acting out would trigger the people around him including the President, board, and employees. They would react by distancing, stonewalling, and fleeing. This would in turn trigger the CEO and the cycle continues. Each trigger leading the CEO or team into a deeper emotion of fear, shame, or sadness.

When a company and its employees are caught in a negative cycle, important information gets stifled. Everyone is in survival mode and trying to protect themselves –keeping their cards close to their chest and shutting down. When they see or experience things, they burrow deeper into their emotion and put walls up. The only way to break down these walls is to establish an attachment with a secure base

It is important to remember that

  1. There is no “bad guy” – the reason we make bad decisions is that we are putting up walls is to protect ourselves. When these walls are up, our communication is heavily impaired. We can’t send messages clearly and we can’t really hear what our team members are saying.

When Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick got caught in a negative cycle with an Uber driver, he responded by sending the following apology to his employees:

“To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement. My job as your leader is to lead…and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud. That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away. 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.”

  1. Emotional disconnection happens to everyone regardless of how mature you are. Often times when team members or leaders act out, they look back and think that the outburst was a sign of immaturity like Kalanick. The reality is that It’s not a matter of “growing up”, it’s a matter of understanding your emotion and how you react under stress. While it is heartening to know that Kalanick understands he needs leadership help, his statement indicates that he’s going to go in the direction that might address the symptom but not the root cause. Uber needs address the underlying emotion that triggered him to get caught in the recent drama.

There is an Irish phrase, that says, “Everybody focuses on the drinking, but what about the thirst?” People look at problem behaviors and they don’t look at what’s pushing those behaviors. They don’t look at the emotional reality that those behaviors are caused by.

  1. Secure attachment is the key. Don’t just focus on behaviors, focus on how people experience each other emotionally. Are they getting their emotional needs met? We know what those emotional needs are and we know what happens when those emotional needs are not met. People get desperate if they can’t reach for each other. If they don’t feel safe enough to reach and pull each other close, they usually end up either attacking to get a response or shutting down and withdrawing to protect themselves.

 

We have a sense of what is going on in these relationships. We know that if we look at the thirst (the needs that aren’t being met), we can help people address it and behavior becomes less important. If we can help people with this longing for connection (which all the new science that has been coming out since the 1990’s on adult bonding says that is our first and our most foremost compelling instinct), then negative behaviors fall by the wayside.

The key is realizing that it’s not the content issues or the problem behaviors, it’s paying attention to emotional responsiveness – how you put your concerns and needs together on an emotional level and how you communicate those needs. When you can communicate in ways that pulls the board or team together, the behavior will naturally change.

This starts at the board level and with the executive team (including the CEO). It is not too late for Uber (and any other company) to break their negative cycle. As the board becomes reconnected and safe, that culture of safety starts to trickle down to the management team and all the way down to the drivers. When everyone is connected, information flows more freely and issues that threaten the company are addressed before they cause any harm.

Now is the time to pivot, and this is such an incredible time for business leaders to pivot toward emotional connection! We know exactly how to get people to connect and stay connected. We understand what happens when people don’t feel safe and we know how to lead them to safety. Uber has the chance to turn things around in a very real way and unlock potential that they likely don’t even realize they have.

They just need to stop and commit to emotional connection.

 

Lola-Gershfeld,Corona, Murrieta, Menifee, Temecula

About the Author:

Lola Gershfeld PsyD is a Board Dynamics Specialist, Founder and CEO of Level Five Executive Inc., a board consulting firm in Newport Beach, CA that focuses on the human condition in the boardroom. She has developed the Board Dynamics Process which helps board members reconnect by addressing emotions and creating a safe environment for board members to improve their performance and feel more fulfilled by their role. Dr. Gershfeld has authored several works that help boards become more effective, including TRUSTMAKERS and The Effective Board Dynamics Guide. She can be reached at lola@levelfiveexecutive.com.

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