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The Leadership Playbook: Leadership Lessons and Uber

I love Uber. I never use anything else if they operate in a city I visit. If they aren’t operating in a city I visit, like Orlando, I am unhappy that I have to find other sources of transportation. I am a fan, and as of today, I still use the service. But it’s getting increasingly difficult to do so.

I’ve spoken with every driver about their experience, and with the exception of one Boston driver, all of them are doing better than they were before (the Boston driver said there are now too many in Uber operators in Boston). Uber has disintermediated an industry that needed to be reimagined. It’s infinitely better than the existing taxi services available in every major city.

But a few months ago the news reported that Uber employees had scheduled transportation with their competitor, Lyft, and then cancelled the driver. There is no evidence that anyone in Uber leadership directed the activity, but that it was done 5,560 times makes it look systemic. I have a tough time imagining that no one in leadership was aware of the activity. A real leader would have stopped the behavior, reminded their employees of their values, and insisted they win by competing fairly (from everything I can tell, they’re already winning).

Then I watched Tom Peters post that he had deleted the app from his phone upon learning that an Uber executive stated that he would like to dig up dirt on journalists who give Uber negative press. The Uber executive was speaking at a private dinner party, and he said he regrets sharing his private thoughts, that he didn’t intend to act on them. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s Twitter apology was underwhelming.

Add to seriously questionable techniques for recruiting drivers from rivals, and the ability to violate their customer’s privacy with something called God View, and you have a recipe for a cultural problem.

A fish rots from the head. It is a leader’s job to create and a protect their culture. The people you lead will be who you are. They won’t do what you tell them to do when it comes to values and ethics. They’ll do what they see you do.

There is nothing wrong with being a ferocious competitor (and competing against the entrenched transportation interests clearly requires a tough leader). But you can be a ferocious competitor and also be an ethical competitor. The boundaries when it comes to competition end at behaviors that are illegal, unethical, and immoral.

Uber is a serious company. Being a serious company requires serious leadership. Serious leaders don’t put their company at risk by creating (or allowing) a poor, unethical culture. I want to see Uber win. That means I want to see Uber change.

Some other opinions:

http://techcrunch.com/2014/11/23/uninstalling-uber-for-all-the-wrong-reasons/

http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/2014/11/22/in-defense-of-uber-an-unbiased-opinion/


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