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A To-Do List for Leaders Who Need to Grow Up


The CEO and founder of Uber, Travis Kalanick, recently acknowledged after the latest in a series of misfires at the high-flying firm: “It’s time to grow up,” and that he “Will seek leadership help.”

The misfires include a patent infringement suit by Alphabet (Google), a major sexual harassment investigation and his berating of an Uber driver who took the opportunity with Mr. Kalanick in the car to voice some complaints. His response as captured on the car’s camera was less than leader-like.

The hard-charging genius founder and entrepreneur who cannot lead or manage is not a new story. I’ve worked for, survived, and coached several of these characters.

I admire their brilliance in seeing and seizing an opportunity, and I marvel at the locomotive power of their genius.

They change the world by bringing a vision to life.

They have foresight and far-sight that most of us wish we had, myself included.

But, their world-changing behaviors often come with a price tag and some weaknesses that typically manifest when the firm is attempting to grow up and scale in a hurry.

It has been my experience that very few of these founder geniuses care about the work most of us recognize as leading and managing. It’s not how they are wired.

They put on their capes and tights in the morning and focus their superpowers on bringing their vision to life. The people they encounter are either making it happen or they are obstacles to be flung out of the way. Process-be-darned and right-versus-wrong rarely a concern.

Ironically, effective leadership and management behaviors are both critical enablers of success, yet these are often short-circuited in the haste to move faster.

Success is Not Guaranteed:

Again, drawing upon my experiences, many (but not all) of the founder geniuses I have encountered either choose not to grow up or are incapable of it.

It’s neither good nor bad, just a fact of life that employees, investors, boards and customers are left to navigate. One of the biggest struggles most boards or investor groups grapple with is this very situation where the genius founder begins to wreak havoc.

If the admission of “It’s time to grow up” was more than an attempt to control the spin, then kudos to Mr. Kalanick. It takes a big person to look in the mirror and see the faults and behaviors that are counter to the mission. It takes an even bigger person to do something about them.

Now comes the hard part. This growing up as a leader stuff is never easy.

Travis Kalanick’s To-Do List:

  1. Lead the charge with unbridled passion and commitment to help the culture evolve to reflect one with visible, meaningful, and actionable values.
  2. Lead the way on purging every vestige of sexism and harassment for every employee from the firm.
  3. Fill the firm with the people, processes, and practices that can scale the mission without sacrificing the values.
  4. Create distinct processes and conventions for surfacing issues in the ethical gray zone and model the decision-making behaviors that make the right choice every time.
  5. Support the development of the organization as a model for hiring, developing, and promoting people of difference.
  6. Suppress the natural urge to launch in the face of resistance. Instead, learn to pause in the face of criticism and listen and look for the nuggets of gold and then do something good with them.
  7. Practice the ultimate motivational behavior of showing respect to others at every single encounter.
  8. Learn to appreciate the importance of all stakeholders, especially those that enable the business model.
  9. Live and model this new set of values in every encounter, every minute of every day.
  10. Study and think about what it means to lead. And then do it.
  11. Ask for feedback constantly and learn and grow from it.

There’s nothing easy about Mr. Kalanick’s “To Do” list for growing up as a leader. Frankly, it might not be one that he wants to take on or is up to tackling. However, if he does pull it off with the ferocity and passion that he displayed changing the world thus far, this firm will be a force for growth and he will be a model for leaders everywhere. I hope he succeeds.

Art Petty is a coach and consultant working with executives and management teams to unlock business and human potential. He writes the Leadership Caffeine blog.

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