Uber’s Cruise Control Culture

I love Uber. I really do. I live in California but spend half of my time in New York, and for those of us who live on the road, the single greatest comfort is consistency. I know when I land, no matter where I land (mostly) I can open the app and call a car, skipping the taxi queue. I feel like a bigshot, too, on a budget.

With the recent bad press the new “sharing” economy pioneer has received, I started to wonder what is going on inside the company. While media coverage can be illuminating, it’s certainly not the whole picture about a company. And Uber’s recent press paints a picture of a company’s leadership more interested in settling scores, knee-capping their competitors and shooting the messenger than planning their future and creating value.

So on my last Uber ride, I asked my driver what his take was on all the recent coverage. I thought he would either shrug it off, displaying classic disengagement we see among so many frontline employees, or else vigorously defend Uber, who is known for making career opportunities among the classically disenfranchised labor force such as single mothers.

His answer was far more surprising.

Instead of addressing the topics du jour, he talked about his personal experience as a member of the Uber team. He said he didn’t like being treated like a “robot;” a cog in the wheel meant to take and fulfill orders. This reaction squares with another, more public view from the inside.

Granted, my driver’s comment was just one additional data point added to the canon of media coverage, but it rounds out the picture a little bit.

Most start-up companies focus on carving out a slice of the market – or in Uber’s case, creating a brand new market – and then filling that space. What often doesn’t get enough attention is the intentional conversation around culture. In the absence of that conversation, a cultural vacuum forms, filled in by excuses for behavior instead of a shared set of values, standards and qualities.

If you’ve ever heard someone explain why they did some shocking thing or another with “But you said the revenue targets had to be met!” or “My bonus isn’t based on whether my team likes me, it’s based on what I get done!” then you’ve seen the cultural vacuum in action.

It’s a culture on cruise control, letting other business priorities determine fundamental questions of identity, rather than choosing who you want to be as a company.

This isn’t a problem limited to start-ups, either. In more established companies, inertia often replaces the “do anything it takes” verve of a start up. If you’ve ever heard “That isn’t my job,” you know what I’m talking about.

Cultural vacuums are dangerous. It can be confusing for the people who work there, and can severely limit the growth potential of a start-up. Flame outs like Digg and Akimbo show that success takes more than just a great idea, good funding and a ready-made market.

I sincerely hope Uber redirects its energy to addressing its culture, towards making the drivers and support staff feel respected, where their contributions to the group are valued. I like their service, their drivers are great, and it makes my life easier. And while I don’t know how my Uber experience could get better, an intentional culture would help steer them through the PR storm they’re finding themselves in.

How Leaders Can Fight Impostor Syndrome

Leading at the top of the organization is lonely. According to a recent study called by The School for CEOs, 93% of top leaders require intensive preparation to take over an organization. Technical skill gaps that a leader faces as they take on positions of greater responsibility, such as making decisions about organizational structure and managing various stakeholder groups, often times receive more attention than some of the emotional and psychological hurdles they face. Impostor syndrome, for example, a major phenomenon that many leaders experience as they navigate a more complex landscape often causes people feeling ill-equipped to do the job. This has real performance implications both at a personal level and for the organization.

Leaders that experience impostor syndrome generally feel like a fraud. Often times, the story that replays in their minds is that they are going to be “found out”. In fact they often attribute their success to other factors – “ I was in the right place at the right time” or “I ended up here because I got lucky”. It’s also common to see executives that suffer from impostor syndrome not taking credit for their accomplishments. And if they do, they are usually pretty convinced that they won’t be successful the second time around.

It turns out that execs with impostor syndrome, tend not be vulnerable and this lack of vulnerability inevitably leads to a lack of self-awareness and development . To overcome this, creating a peer support system that can become a trusted network of advisors and serve as a go-to resource can be helpful. Working with an executive coach to look at some of the underlying beliefs and assumptions that are driving certain behaviors and then creating strategies to overcome them can also be of tremendous value. So if you or someone you know is feeling like an impostor, it’s normal and there are things that can be done to address it.

Leadership Drift: How Not to Get Caught Up In Tactics

Leadership drift is a dangerous trap. Have you ever felt like you’re moving so fast and reacting to all the things around you that you aren’t clear about what you’re doing – or why you’re doing it? Leadership drift, a term first coined by leadership guru Bob Lee, is a common phenomenon that many leaders face. Rather than dealing with complex, strategic issues and opportunities that can really propel you, your team, and the business forward, leaders get caught up in fire fighting and dealing with tactical issues that prevent them from achieving optimal performance.

What are some signs of leadership drift?

  • You’re solving problems that that tend to be technical in nature and could be tackled by other people who are lower on the organizational chart.
  • You’ve not expressed your vision about where you want your organization to go lately, so others aren’t clear and aligned about the direction you’re heading.
  • People on your team (and you for that matter) aren’t clear about how the team needs to work together to accomplish all that its setting out to do.
  • You’re burned out and can’t remember why you took this leadership role in the first place!

Given those signs, what are some things that you can do to avoid leadership drift?

  • Be deliberate about setting time aside to self-reflect.
    • Ask: What is my vision and is how I am showing up as a leader helping or hindering our success?
  • Create space for your team to “press pause” and think about what they are doing and why they are doing it; you’ll probably find that there is a lot of energy being spent on things that aren’t actually all that important.
    • Ask: Based on our collective purpose, what about the way we work is working? And what’s not? Do we have the right communication, decision-making and accountability mechanisms in place?
  • Build a community of leaders aimed at exchanging best practices about leading effectively and discussing strategies for overcoming obstacles.
    • Ask: As leaders, what can we learn from each other? What are we doing that’s working that we should share with one another?

Net – net: Catch the drift before it’s become a problem – you and your team could end up in a destination much different from the one you are targeting.