On a spring day in 2017, Travis Kalanik, then CEO of Uber, appeared on the threshold of a meeting room at his company’s headquarters in San Francisco. One of us was waiting for him there (Francis). We were invited by Megan Joyce, Uber’s general manager for the USA and Canada: she hoped that we would help the company recover from the deep wounds that she had inflicted on herself. We have previously assisted organizations affected by poor leadership and corporate culture problems, including companies run by their founders.
We were skeptical about Uber: what we read about the company did not inspire any hope of restoring our reputation. This startup made an incredible breakthrough, but on the way to success neglected the elementary rules of decency. So, in early 2017, Uber did not fail to take advantage of the strike of New York taxi drivers who protested against Trump’s decree on restrictions on entry into the United States. Uber’s dubious tactics provoked widespread indignation, which grew into the #deleteUber campaign: people urged each other to remove the application. And a month later, shortly before our visit, one of Uber’s developers, Susan Fowler, spoke about the harassment and discrimination suffered by the company on her blog. A new wave of indignation arose. Then, a video appeared on the network, in which Kalanik talked with the driver without a trace of sympathy, complaining about how difficult it is for him to earn a living. All the new accusations made against the company, secured her a bad reputation as a soulless operator who is ready for anything for the sake of profit.
Despite our skepticism, Francis nevertheless went to California to listen to Kalanika. (Anne played a minor role in this project because she was building her own business at that time.) The man who entered the meeting room was not at all the smug director Francis had expected to see. Kalanik looked depressed and self-absorbed. He pondered a lot about how the values that he instilled in the companies – the very ones that led Uber to success – were trampled and distorted before his eyes. Travis admired what his team had accomplished, but acknowledged that he had appointed some people to leadership positions without caring for their training or mentoring. Although Kalanik had made many mistakes by that time, he expressed a sincere desire to become a good leader.
After this conversation, we met in Cambridge (Massachusetts) and had a long discussion about whether to take on this project. There were a lot of reasons to refuse: the work was not easy, the outcome was unpredictable, and the path to California was not long. Uber employees were unhappy with the company, and the brand became toxic. But we thought that if we can help Uber get back on the right path, then we will get a ready-made action plan for many others who are trying to return humanism to the work of companies that have lost their orientation. And we agreed.
In making this decision, we already knew exactly where to start: with trust.
Trust is considered a particularly valuable asset – and at the same time, it underlies almost all the activities of civilized people. Without trust, we could not exchange the money earned by hard work for goods and services, connect our lives with another person by entering into marriage, and vote for someone who will represent our interests. We rely on laws and contracts as a safety net, but they are ultimately based on our trust in institutions that monitor their implementation. We do not know if justice will triumph if something goes wrong, but we trust the system enough to enter into serious transactions with people about whom we know almost nothing.
For a leader, trust is one of the forms of capital that he possesses. But in order to earn trust, sometimes you need to look at it in a new way. The traditional approach to leadership is built around the leader, his vision and strategy, the ability to make difficult decisions and motivate people, his charisma, talent, courage and intuition. However, true leadership is not tied to a specific person. It assumes that people will realize their potential not only in the presence of a leader, but also after his departure.
This is the main principle that we are guided in helping leaders and organizations to become better. Your task as a leader is to create conditions in which employees fully demonstrate their abilities. And this should happen not only when you work side by side with subordinates, but also when you are not around, and even then – and this is the most important indicator – when you leave the team forever. We call it inspirational leadership. And the more they trust you, the more chances you have of becoming such a leader.
KEY TRUST FACTORS
How can a leader build trust as an important part of his capital? Our experience indicates that three main factors contribute to trust: sincerity, logic, and empathy. People trust you more when they see that you don’t bother with communicating with them (sincerity), when you are confident in your sanity and competence (logic), and when they feel that they are not indifferent to you (empathy). If trust is lost, the root of the problem almost always lies in weakening one of these factors.
People do not always realize how the information (and more often misinformation) that they broadcast can undermine their credibility. Stress usually exacerbates this problem, forcing a person with his behavior to cause even greater distrust of others. For example, during an interview, a candidate may unconsciously try to hide his true face, although it is precisely such insincerity that will reduce his chances of getting a job.
Fortunately, most of us give the same signals, indicating that we can be trusted; which means that even a small change in behavior can produce a result. If people began to trust you less, this is probably due to the fact that you have problems with sincerity, logic or empathy – a “weakened” factor of trust. In other words, it is this side of yours that can let you down.
Each of us has such weaknesses, and before building trust with subordinates, you need to find out which of your skills is lame.