Have you seen it? The video of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick arguing with one of his own drivers? Kalanick rages and storms, cursing out the man while a dash cam captures it all. Within minutes it was uploaded to social media, and within hours it was being watched by millions around the world.
Shortly thereafter, Kalanick issued a written apology. Among other things, he wrote: “…I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”
You couldn’t ask for a better case study on the importance of emotional intelligence. Kalanick’s behavior in the video, and his reaction to it after it went public, are classic examples of how a lack of emotional intelligence can damage your career (and life) – and how to recognize opportunities for growth and act on them.
Two of the building blocks of EI are self-awareness and self-regulation. Clearly, Kalanick exhibited a lack of both qualities in the video. But because the interaction was videotaped and shared, he had a unique feedback experience. It wasn’t just a matter of someone telling him that he had behaved badly – he could see it and hear it himself.
And so could millions of other people – which is the other exceptional factor. Since the video went viral, Kalanick received lots of feedback from the video – and as you can imagine, it wasn’t positive.
This was probably not the first time Kalanick had behaved this way. But this very public and visible example might have been the first time he became aware of it himself. It’s a painful way to gain self-awareness. But sometimes that’s what it takes.
Let’s face it, a lot of CEOs are isolated to a degree. They’re powerful people, and it is often difficult for them to be vulnerable and seek out honest feedback. Kalanick didn’t seek it out, but he certainly got it – and to his credit, he received it and he’s reacting to it.
“…I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”
Now, I haven’t taken any calls from Uber headquarters (yet). But I’ve helped many high-level executives in these types of situations, very powerful men and women who have had the same kind of epiphanies: I need to change. I need to grow up. I need help.
Sometimes their bosses or their boards force the epiphany, and sometimes they come to it themselves. But either way, I’m able to help them, by teaching them the principles of emotional intelligence and helping them raise their personal EI quotients.
Let’s look at the Kalanick situation again and see what he could have done differently. When the driver, Fawzi, began to voice his concerns, Kalanick could have:
- practiced active listening, restating Fawzi’s points to make sure he understood. “Ok, I hear you saying that you’re unhappy with the UberBlack changes because…”
- controlled his body language and tone of voice to keep the conversation from escalating.
- demonstrated concern for Fawzi’s situation and replied with empathy. “I’m sorry you’ve had a negative experience with UberBlack.”
- probed for more specifics. “Which change had the biggest negative impact, from your perspective?”
If things went this way, the CEO and the driver may have still ended the conversation in disagreement. But I bet they each would have learned something about the other’s viewpoint. And Uber wouldn’t have had to spend the last few weeks doing damage control.
I give Kalanick credit for his very public mea culpa and his receptiveness to help. That’s not easy to do – and actually, that resiliency is a sign of high EI. Instead of continuing to rage and blame others, he’s taken responsibility and said, ‘I’m going to fix it.’ That ability to reframe negatives into positives is a great asset.
There’s still a lot of work to be done here. There is no quick fix. I’ve been teaching and coaching in the field of EI for 20 years, and I’m still working on it for myself every day. But I know from personal experience how critical it is to my success, and I’ve seen the huge impact it can have on the success of my clients. I hope that Kalanick seeks the help of an experienced executive coach who will work with him consistently over time. And I hope that the world gets the opportunity to see his transformation, in just as public a way as we saw his meltdown.
I hope you don’t have any experiences as dramatic as Kalanick’s. But there may have been times where you’ve thought, ‘I need to change. I need to grow up. I need help.’
There’s no shame in that. Kalanick’s experience shows that you can be incredibly successful, and still need help. The key is to get that help before your lack of EI derails your success. If that sounds like you, give me a call. (And Travis, if you happen to be reading, I’d be happy to help you, too.)