If Uber’s investors have been looking for a night-to-day, clean break from the aggressive era of the company’s founder Travis Kalanick, it certainly seems that their wish has been granted.
In a final memo to his former staff at online travel giant Expedia, the ride-hailing firm’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote: “I have to tell you I am scared. I’ve been here at Expedia for so long that I’ve forgotten what life is like outside this place. But the times of greatest learning for me have been when I’ve been through big changes, or taken on new roles – you have to move out of your comfort zone and develop muscles that you didn’t know you had.”
In a decisive departure from Kalanick’s rhino-skinned, win-at-all-costs belligerence, Khosrowshahi fully disclosed his fears about his impending transition to Uber – sending the most glaring signal yet that his leadership approach is likely to differ significantly from that of his divisive predecessor. It is a move that may prove beguiling for his new employees, who may read the message as a cue to smooth the way for their new leader as he adjusts to his new surroundings.
Displays of vulnerability from leaders have struck significant chords with sections of the public on previous occasions. Who could forget former President Barack Obama’s tears during a speech on gun control? His emotional note shifted the debate’s centre of gravity from commerce and the law to the human consequences of firearms use.
How can leaders benefit from openly expressing their vulnerability?
The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Leadership is relational, and the power dynamics between the leader and the people in their team will always be shifting. But ultimately, the team at the top of an organisation such as Uber want it to be successful. So they want their new CEO to do well, too. People who are sensible and rational in business will always want their team to succeed.
“What Dara is doing here is reaching out and saying, ‘Help me do this job well.’ This is a great start, because it shows that he isn’t for a moment coming in with the attitude that he’s got all the answers. Or that he could possibly be successful in such a large and complex organisation as Uber without the support of his team.”
Cooper adds: “Dara is being authentic, but he is also recognising how important the power relationship with his team is. The fluidity of that relationship is often overlooked, but it is being redefined and renegotiated all the time. On that basis, using vulnerability to tap into a very universal human desire – ‘Could you please help me out?’ – is a very wise approach indeed.”
For further thoughts on how to be an authentic leader, check out this learning item from the Institute
Image of Dara Khosrowshahi courtesy of Uber Newsroom