Uber Reveals the Perils of Grit Gone Wild
Set bold goals. Drive for results. Accelerate growth. Foster competition. Push people to excel.
This is the ‘grit’ side of business success, and it’s become a favored playbook in the start-up world. This formula has produced dizzying growth and investor bonanzas for countless new companies. So what’s not to love about a strategy like this? Ask Uber’s investors and its CEO, Travis Kalanick.
Under Kalanick’s leadership, Uber’s strategy and corporate culture were overwhelmingly grit-centric: which is to say that Uber has faltered – seriously and predictably – because of the absence of the grace aspect of the enterprise. What was missing in Kalanick’s Uber? Fairness; compassion; care for employees’ welfare; collaboration. You know – that touchy-feely stuff that, in the right amount, actually makes organizations sing.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with bodacious goals and an aggressive stance to productivity. But, if left to its own devices, grit’s aggressive ambition will ultimately bring a company down. Like a tall tree with shallow roots, like a field farmed year after year, like an engine run too hot for too long, a leader who leans on the grit and ignores the grace has followed a recipe for failure.
According to a recent New York Times article, Uber’s obsession with results at all costs – unmediated by attention to workplace equality, safety, civility and due process – has fostered some very unhealthy dynamics:
- a hyper-competitive atmosphere which pits employees against each other and against management
- inappropriate workplace conduct among high-performers has gone unchecked, condoned and even modeled from the top
- incidents of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination have continued to mount
As a result, Uber’s “bro” culture became a broken culture. Customers, employees and investors are in revolt and the company is in chaos.
- The company’s brand and profits have taken a huge hit; Kalanick’s been forced to step aside.
- Uber’s valuation has dropped from $68B to $50B, while its customers flock to competitor, Lyft.
- Uber is mired in lawsuits brought by employees and competitors.
- The company will need to devote untold resources and time to rehabilitate its culture, management practices and brand.
Our experience tell us, and research confirms, that the leaders who are effective over the long term are the ones who blend grit and grace. Maybe not in perfect halves, but at least in dynamic combination. Their actions promote productivity as well as harmony, and foster competition and collaboration in healthy measure. Why? Because the blend is what gets the best results over time.
The Uber story, like the 2009 real estate crisis and Enron before that, was predictable and avoidable, because grit alone (like grace alone) can’t deliver sustainable success. So if you’re a grit-leaning leader who wants to shoot the moon without the crash-and-burn, go get your grace on.
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