Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has gotten a lot of media backlash lately. Most recently a video of Kalanick arguing with an Uber driver went viral. The public outcry in response to the video prompted Kalanick to release a public statement in which he said that he knows he needs to “grow up” and become a better leader. Unfortunately for Kalanick, the damage was already done with many social media campaigns calling for a boycott of the ridesharing service arising in the aftermath of the video.
While Kalanick is undoubtedly 2017’s corporate poster child for toxic leadership, not every toxic leader becomes exposed as such quite like he did. The appropriate questions to ask then become “How does one learn from the example of Kalanick’s fall from grace?” and “How does one recognize similar patterns in other organizations and effectively counteract them?”
Padilla, Hogan and Kaiser’s (2007) article sheds light on the factors that allow for organizational situations similar to what we’ve observed at Uber. According to the authors, destructive organizational culture perpetuates itself when three things are present: destructive leaders, susceptible followers, and a conducive environment. In the case of Uber, a lack of reflective leadership, a workforce comprised of at-risk “gig” workers, and a lack of meaningful checks and balances certainly all contributed to its unhealthy culture.
Padilla et al. (2007) propose three solutions for dealing with adverse organizational conditions: careful leader selection (and development), empowerment of followers, and organizational improvement. While Kalanick has outwardly claimed to have taken steps to rectify his mistakes, and to develop into a more effective and mature leader, the entire organizational culture of Uber must undergo a deep healing process. Counseling or leadership training is likely the best option for Kalanick to move forward as he aims to leave his problematic leadership style behind. For the troubled organization he helms, some form of organizational consulting may be a good start.