Preventing the Next Uber Dumpster Fire

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Preventing the Next Uber Dumpster Fire

Nobody in their right mind flies an aircraft, rewires their home, performs surgery, goes skydiving, or engages in many other activities without the benefit of training and/or certification. And if we cared about someone, we wouldn’t stand idly by while they attempted such an endeavor. So, why in the hell do investors and boards with fiduciary responsibility continue to act as though having the requisite leadership skills to run an organization is factory-installed equipment on every entrepreneur or executive? It’s not!

Travis Kalanick and several of his compatriots at Uber are just the latest bright, gutsy entrepreneurs to crash and burn from high altitude due to unmitigated blind spots or missing components in their leadership tool kits. And, as is so often the case, it didn’t have to happen. Mr. Kalanick et. al. had resources available to them that, for one reason or another, they simply chose not to, or perhaps didn’t get enough encouragement to use. They will be just fine, though, and so will Uber…eventually. Let’s turn our attention instead to those who remain in or are just signing on to leadership roles, and how boards and senior leaders can do a better job of supporting them, and ensuring the success of their organizations.

Great Cakes Start With Great Ingredients

Regardless of position level, we should make certain that necessary hard-wired leadership capabilities are present in every, repeat, every leadership candidate, right from the start. Like lots of other occupations, some elements of the leader’s tool kit cannot easily be taught, if at all. Things like courage and humility are good examples. They either exist in sufficient degree or they don’t. Similarly, other factors which are antithetical to good leadership, e.g., narcissism (present in many who aspire to leadership roles or public office) require more surgery to remove than you or I are licensed to perform, so avoid them, at all costs. 

Coach Earlier and More Often

The average Major League Baseball team, with an active roster of 25 players, employs ten position coaches to work regularly with the team. Backed by voluminous performance data for every position and player, the coaches and manager are quick to spot both teaching moments and anomalies, and step in to guide the player. As senior leaders and board members, we should be fostering similar behavior. In that vein, serious attention to “player development” should be as regular a component of our budgeting, planning, and governance processes as any financial or customer metric. Moreover, it’s something that we should take personal interest in. Following are four questions we should all be asking in our organizations:

  1. What are our workforce development priorities?
  2. How much did we spend last year on leader development, and what did we get for it?
  3. How many of our managers have a professional development plan?
  4. How many of our hi-potential leaders are working with a coach, someone who can help accelerate their development, and make sure that they aren’t breathing too much of their own fumes?

If you get consistently accurate answers to even one of these questions throughout your organization, contact me ( and I’ll send you a complimentary copy of our book, Rebooting Leadership. (limited to the first 100 respondents)

Don’t Ignore Bad Behavior or Performance

On several occasions I’ve been invited to present to and answer questions from a corporate board about the progress being made in working with one of their senior leaders. I welcome those interactions, not because they’re fun (they aren’t), but because it’s a clear indication that the organization is serious about making progress. I wish more would behave in this manner, and indeed that some would be as quick to notice and sanction bad behavior as they are an earnings or other business plan miss. In nearly all cases, bad behavior will lead to bad performance, and if stopped early enough, it won’t become institutionally embedded like it was at Uber.

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