The One Thing about Travis Kalanick No One Wants to Admit
(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)
Yeah, he’s kind of a jerk sometimes. Most people will admit that about Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick. In fact, he just admitted it himself.
His now-famous rant at an Uber driver while getting a ride back from the Super Bowl has gone viral. If you haven’t seen it already here’s the recap: Kalanick gets a ride (in an Uber, of course) from the Super Bowl. He has a discussion with the driver. The driver, aware of who his passenger is, raises some complaints about the company. Things get heated. Kalanick has a tantrum. It’s all caught on video. You’re curious, so go ahead . . . take a look. You’ll agree it was not Kalanick’s best moment.
People were shocked at how the CEO of such a large company could behave so immaturely. Given all the recent negative news about Uber in the media the timing wasn’t great. Kalanick appeared so disappointed with himself that he issued a “profound” public apology to the driver, to his employees and the Uber community via the company’s blog vowing to get “leadership help” because he “must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up.”
As an entrepreneur and business owner, do you agree?
Probably a little. Sure, Kalanick and Uber have done things that no one would be proud of. According to reports like this, Uber has been accused of ordering and then cancelling thousands of fake rides for its competitor Lyft, threatening journalists, teaming up with “shady” partners and cutting drivers wages below minimum wages and even distracting the public from their own bad behavior by delivering puppies! The company has bullied its way into cities and countries around the world and turned what was once a predictable industry — taxi services — upside-down. Most recently, Uber finds itself immersed in sexual harassment accusations.
But does Kalanick really need “leadership help”? Maybe he needs a better PR person. A few anger management lessons. A course in transcendental meditation. But no, Travis, you don’t need leadershiphelp. Actually, you should be teaching leadership. In this day and age of “political correctness,” being brazen, offensive, outspoken and yes, even a jerk sometimes, can be quite effective qualities in a leader. No one wants to admit it, but as entrepreneurs, we kind of admire his behavior.
Steve Jobs was a genius. But he was a jerk. Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer used to yell and scream at employees — but he was a fantastic leader. George Patton dressed down a soldier because he was afraid to fight and almost lost his job because of it. Imagine that. Now, Travis Kalanick — the 40-year-old who has grown a company out of nothing just a few years ago to a value of more than $50 billion that now employs almost 7,000 people, provides income for more than 160,000 drivers and operates in more than 80 countries and almost 600 cities — is being roasted by the public because he’s being, well, Travis Kalanick.
Maybe, just maybe, being a leader means being a jerk sometimes. It means yelling at employees. It means testing the boundaries of what’s legal or acceptable for the good of the company and its shareholders. It means being passionate about your company and willing to argue about it even with one of your drivers. Maybe it means creating a competitive atmosphere, a tough work environment, a place where the best people are discriminated over the worst. When you behave this way there certainly will be mistakes. But the upside, as any Uber shareholder or loyal customer will tell you, seem to outweigh them. As entrepreneurs we don’t like to admit this, but we oftentimes admire jerks because they have the self-confidence to lead, regardless of what people think of their behavior.
Sure, he could use a little polish. But let’s hope that Travis Kalanick doesn’t stop being Travis Kalanick. Even if that means being a jerk sometimes.