It's been a rough couple of months for Kalanick, whose ride-sharing company faces a boycott and accusations of sexual harassment. Those controversies were compounded on Tuesday, when a video leaked of Kalanick yelling at Uber driver Fawzi Kamel after he complained of drivers getting lowballed — to which Kalanick was filmed responding, "bullshit."
"Some people don't like to take responsibility for their own shit," Kalanick said. "They blame everything in their life on somebody else."
These icy words — and the leaked tape — were quickly followed by a "profound apology" sent out in a public memo to the Uber CEO's employees. "My job as your leader is to lead... and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud," Kalanick wrote in the release, also published Tuesday. "That is not what I did, and it cannot be explained away."
The apology included a rare admittance for a CEO: that his leadership skills need serious work. "This is the first time I've been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it," he promised.
Indeed, Kalanick's behavior — and what he should have done (and didn't do) — serves as a great teaching moment not just for tech CEOs or business leaders, but for all bosses and managers everywhere. No one leader is ideal, of course, but there are certain ideals that those in power ought to uphold in order to be successful, effective and respected.
Here are the seven most important leadership qualities all bosses should demonstrate before managing a subordinate — or a company.
1. A moral compass
The Harvard Business Review interviewed 195 leaders in 30 organizations across 15 countries and asked what they thought were the most important leadership skills. "Has high ethical and moral standards" came at the top of the list, with 67% of respondents ranking that as the most crucial quality.
"These attributes are all about creating a safe and trusting environment," Sunnie Giles, the author of the study, explained. "A leader with high ethical standards conveys a commitment to fairness, instilling confidence that both they and their employees will honor the rules of the game."
Kalanick appears to recognize the value of this trait, as his apology addressed the idea that a leader's behavior should make all employees feel "proud."
2. Focus — and a knack for strategy
Providing goals and objectives was ranked the second-most important quality in the HBR study. Without these, reports don't know how to do their jobs properly and a company cannot thrive.
Good leaders trust their team and delegate daily tasks in a way that let's them stay focused on the big picture: "Finessing your brand vision is essential... but if you don't learn to trust your team with that vision, you might never progress to the next stage," entrepreneur Tanya Prive wrote for Forbes.
The very best leaders take that a step further and think hard about what each of their employees is good at — and enjoys doing.
"Extraordinary leaders ... think through multiple scenarios and the possible impacts of their decisions, while considering viable alternatives and making plans and strategies — all targeted toward success," bestselling author on business and leadership Peter Economy noted in Inc. "Once prepared, they establish strategies, processes, and routines so that high performance is tangible, easily defined and monitored."
In other words, you'll want to be flexible — but very, very prepared.
3. Candid, effective communication skills
Passive aggression creates a toxic work environment and dissuades workers from giving the boss or company the best efforts they have to offer: Who wants to work hard when it is unclear what, exactly, is expected of you?
Instead of snide comments or angry looks, a great leader provides constructive feedback when a project is not up to snuff — and learns from the experience, in order to give better, clearer instructions in the future. This will not just improve the quality of work but also build employees' trust.
And communication can be be nonverbal, too. Businessman and life coach Tony Robbins argues that the best leaders set a good example even in subtle ways: "Know how to set the right tone as a leader by letting your confidence show," Robbins wrote for his website. "Confident leaders win over their followers because everyone else wants to embody confidence, too." In order to achieve this, he suggests not fidgeting, standing tall and making direct eye contact.
But eloquence and smart body language are only half the battle. Remember that you also need to listen carefully during your interactions to be a great communicator — and to take a pause (and think) before you respond.
Gaining the trust of employees takes more than simply showing ethical and moral standards; it requires you be self-aware and comfortable with yourself. You need to be transparent — and human.
"I've never bought into the concept of 'wearing the mask,'" ESPN senior director of public relations Keri Potts said, according to Entrepreneur. "As a leader, the only way I know how to engender trust and buy-in from my team and with my colleagues is to be 100% authentically me — open, sometimes flawed, but always passionate about our work."
Potts added that doing so has made her a better leader. "It has allowed me the freedom to be fully present and consistent," she added. "They know what they're getting at all times. No surprises."
If a leader sets the tone for transparency — and humanity — it encourages their reports or organizations to follow suit.
5. An ambitious, inspiring vision
It's no secret: Inspirational bosses foster loyalty and get employees excited. If you're working for the kind of person you want to become — and you believe in the mission they're touting — you'll be more dedicated to and passionate about your job.
Of course, as a boss, it can be incredibly hard to escape the daily grind, step back and figure out — or tweak — exactly what the grand vision for your organization should be.
The best advice is simple: Follow your gut.
The most inspiring part of your vision might be that you are taking a moral stand through your business, or that you are attempting to address a challenge others have ignored — or that you have a new, outside-the-box take on how to address challenges that many face.
The details can be unique to your and your company's style, but it must — crucially — reflect your sincere beliefs.
6. Support and advocacy for workers
A good leader advocates for the people who work for them. They support their reports in high-level meetings and throughout the company in general — and they help their reports get promoted.
"Even high-potential employees need unwavering support from their leaders to reach their ultimate career goals," entrepreneur Glenn Llopis wrote for Forbes. "Leaders must take responsibility to assure these employees stay on track and help minimize any disruption that may slow down their momentum."
This might require taking extra time each day to teach something new to an employee — or help break down an idea or task that an employee is struggling with. Yes, it makes the worker better by helping to enhance or expand their skill set. But it also makes the team more effective as a whole.
In fact, kindness and support are the most effective ways to inspire reports to give the best version of themselves to their jobs.
7. High standards
Finally, as important as it is for bosses to lift up and encourage employees, they must also spot complacency before it begins and always push workers to grow and develop their skills. Good leaders "challenge their people by setting high but attainable standards and expectations, and then giving them the support, tools, training, and latitude to pursue those goals and become the best employees they can possibly be," Economy said.
Of course, setting high standards for others means it is especially important to hold yourself to these lofty ideals yourself.
One key move is staying emotionally controlled — especially while under high levels of stress: "As the leader, by staying calm and confident, you will help keep the team feeling the same," Prive wrote.
And that's why great leadership is all about aiming for the best — while expecting the worst, said The Obstacle is the Way author Ryan Holiday, according to Entrepreneur.
It's inevitable: We're going to find ourselves in some real shit situations, whether they're costly mistakes, unexpected failures or unscrupulous enemies. Stoicism is, at its core, accepting and anticipating this in advance, so that you don't freak out, react emotionally and aggravate things further. Train our minds, consider the worst-case scenarios and regulate our unhelpful instinctual responses — that's how we make sure shit situations don't turn into fatal resolutions.
Everyone who works hard runs into frustrating moments, tough times — and yes, awkward or difficult conversations.
It is in those challenging moments that great bosses stay aware of themselves, and consider the impact of their behavior. Because while quality work is rewarded in the short term, demonstrating quality character never stops paying off.
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