Uber is the world’s largest and most popular ride sharing company. So why did recently appointed CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, say he’s afraid of taking the reigns of the company that has changed the way people commute? Because there’s actually quite a bit to be afraid of. And it says a lot about Mr. Khosrowshahi’s confidence and his character that he would admit taking on this troubled company is scary.
Here’s what Mr. Khosrowshahi is inheriting:
-Uber lost $3 billion in 2016 year and has no foreseeable plan of becoming profitable in the immediate future
-A sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former employee exposed Uber’s toxic culture and remains in litigation
-Another lawsuit filed by an investor against former CEO Travis Kalanick regarding a contractual agreement
-Google sues Uber for allegedly stealing trade secrets around their autonomous vehicle technology
-Experts projecting at the current trajectory Uber will be out of business in 3-5 years.
If that wouldn’t strike fear in a CEO, I don’t know what would. But sometimes fear is a good thing—a motivator. It’s that fight or flight mechanism that makes a person more alert for the task at hand. Making him/her hyper-aware of all the moving parts and pieces in a company that need to align for success. But knowing how to best cope with that fear is key.
Overcoming the fear of criticism
When I left my VP of Marketing position at BURGER KING® to join Driven Brands, I admit that I was fearful, yet optimistic. I knew people in the organization would say, “What does this burger guy know about cars?” So I confronted that fear head on by going on a “listening tour” to hear individual franchisees tell me about their challenges face to face. It was tough feedback, but by having the conversation, the franchisees, the company and my ability to lead all benefited.
Failure should be more sought after than feared
Look at any successful entrepreneur and you’ll discover a history of failure. That’s because the reality of it is, if you haven’t failed, you haven’t pushed yourself hard enough. Test your perceived limitations. Many times taking one step back can help you take three steps forward. I learned that when I launched a marketing firm right before the Great Recession. Many hard lessons were learned during that time. But those failings have made me a much better leader today.
Make hard decisions in the face of fear
Let’s be honest. I don’t have all the right answers, and you don’t either. No one does. Accepting that fact is a huge step in handling the fear of making the wrong choice. After you consume all the data available and have a strong grasp of the situation, tough decisions have to be made. That’s true if you’re overseeing a project, a team or a Fortune 500 company. Having trustworthy advisors helping you do the right thing will help make those hard decisions much easier.
That’s why creating a new company culture at Uber focused on doing the right thing is so important. It put everyone on the same page that we’re now ushering in a new era. Simply the presence of Mr. Khosrowshahi will have the biggest impact on company culture from day one.
A new leader provides the opportunity to hit the reset button and begin again with a redefined culture. And I’ve always believed a leader casts a long shadow. Where Travis Kalanick is a visionary who got caught in his own dream and let the corporate culture stay a “bro culture,” as former Attorney General Eric Holder stated after a months-long investigation. As a leader of a global brand, it was time for Travis to pivot and shift the culture so the company could continue to grow. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to accomplish this so the board had to make the tough decision of hiring Mr. Khosrowshahi.
The new CEO now needs to cast the right leadership shadow so everyone can emulate the right culture. In other words, leading by example to set the tone. While I was at YUM Brands, Burger King and Driven Brands I made it intentional to always watch my shadow. Giving public recognition to my team, suppliers and partners. This showed everyone that my “shadow” was about promoting and celebrating success. That’s the tone I wanted to set.
Whatever Mr. Khosrowshahi envisions for the future of Uber, it starts with his actions. It’s ok to be afraid. But he must use that fear to give the company that edge it needs now more than ever. Making it stronger, more self aware and grown up. Only the strong survive might be a cliché. But that’s because it’s true. Uber will only survive if it’s able to do what it made the business of transportation do—evolve.