Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has had a rough few months, and finally admits he needs help.
When helping clients with personal branding, I am seemingly constantly encouraging them to be themselves — but always strive to be that best version. No one is perfect, and we all make mistakes. Hopefully, when we do make mistakes, our stellar personal brands speak for us and let those around us know that’s all it was, a mistake, and not who we really are. That is the power of a personal brand — it speaks for you. If you’ve been building it with consistently good behavior, smart decisions, and great results, then that personal brand can give you the breathing room to recover from one bad move. But what happens when the personal brand is about making lots of bad moves when it comes to people, and being, well, a “douche,” as a 2014 Vanity Fair profile shows?
Can you recover?
Absolutely. I believe fiercely in redemption. The American public loves to give second chances. That’s the stuff of great books, movies, and life itself. After all, who hasn’t faltered? There but by the grace …
While that personal brand has worked for Kalanick in the past, as people have overlooked — or even embraced — it because he is the leader of the multi-billion-dollar ride-sharing company, he will want to tamp down on that going forward.
While Uber has lately been in the news for other things, including being criticized for providing ride service to JFK airport despite a protest over President Trump’s executive order banning travelers from seven Muslim countries and a former employee’s allegations that the company ignored her sexual harassment claims, Kalanick’s recent fight with a driver points to the CEO’s personal actions.
He has been known as someone who breaks the rules and does things his way. And that, in its place, is fine. We must not be afraid to step outside the box, to be visionary, to be bold. But there is a difference between being unconventional and bold, and simply showing poor judgment or self-control.
While some may aspire to create business success like his, there are a few leadership lessons Kalanick himself still has to learn. In fact, his recent drama can teach us all.
Be respectful to your employees — or contractors
A few days ago, Bloomberg published a video of Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver, even proclaiming at one point that, “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own sh**. They blame everything in their life on somebody else.” While it is true that there are people who blame others for their shortcomings, and it’s fine to point that out, Kalanick’s combative tone and the way the conversation ended allows the observer to see he was being quite disrespectful to his driver.
This is a man who works for Kalanick’s company. As a leader, it’s important to be respectful of your employees, contractors, and others in your sphere of influence. You can express concern, disappointment, and other emotions in a respectful way. You can disagree in a respectful way. While we should all be respectful of each other, as a leader, it’s even more important for you to be that way. Your actions carry more weight. What you say and do affects others’ lives and even self-esteem. Because of your position of authority, you must be sure to show respect for the human being, even under the stress of criticism.
Kalanick’s fight with the driver also reinforces the idea that these drivers can be disrespected. Drivers face a tremendous amount of harassment, hostility, and disrespect from the public, as they get yelled at, thrown at, and more, already. His lack of respect condones this mistreatment. That’s no way to treat your people.
Kalanick joined President Trump’s advisory council in January and after sharp criticism, resigned last month. While it can be prudent to change our minds as we gain more information about a matter, it’s also important to try to make the right decision the first time, when possible. In this case, Trump was saying and doing things before Kalanick joined the council that were no different than what he was doing after Kalanick joined. So why wasn’t Kalanick able to look at this and see this may not have aligned with his values or those of his company? This wasn’t a case of Trump tricking him into joining. Kalanick made an informed decision. He knew the types of comments Trump made and policies he promised before he joined. If he joined in full knowledge of this, he should have been able to stand behind his decision. As a leader, you will be criticized. You can’t change your mind every time a criticism flies your way. If you truly believe in something, stand by it. And if you don’t truly believe in it and abandon it at the first criticism, why do it in the first place?
Ask for help
Kalanick has gone into damage-control mode and in an email to employees and referenced in Bloomberg’s update on the story about his argument with the cab driver, he apologized to the driver for being disrespectful and said he will get help. “This is the first time I’ve admitted I need leadership help, and I intend to get it.”
It’s OK not to know everything. None of us does, though some would pretend otherwise. If you are a leader or aspire to be one — and, quite frankly, if you’re a human being, period — it’s a good idea to always be in a state of learning. Even as you grow your career or build your business, never forget the constant construction project that is you. Keep working on you. Get help where you need it, whether from reading, working with a coach or trainer, joining a program, etc. There are many ways to grow.
Kalanick has admitted he needs help to become a better leader. And if he gets it and truly takes to heart what he learns, then I have no doubt he can build a personal brand that showcases his tremendous business success and the character befitting that of a real leader.
As for the rest of us, we don’t have to wait to be publicly embarrassed. Let’s learn from Kalanick’s story.
She is the host of the Chase Your Star with Monica Carter Tagore podcast, an online show on life strategy, personal growth, and entrepreneurship, available on iTunes, Google Play, and Spreaker.
Monica is the author of several books, including her most recent, "Stronger: 31 Inspirational Messages to Get You Through That Tough Time."
She helps entrepreneurs and professionals gain the mindset and skills for success. She also helps them build brands.
She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two boys.
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