Uber’s Culture Issues Stem from the Leadership

WRITTEN BY Juliane Corman, Consultant and Coach at ThinkHuman, a management consulting company.

A myriad of scandals in the past few weeks has propelled Uber and its company culture into the spotlight. Let’s briefly review – sexual harassment has been reported to HR and not resolved, policies were apparently created to evade authorities where Uber was prohibited, Google has accused Uber of stealing intellectual property for self-driving cars…. the list goes on.

These scandals have prompted many to ask what is going on at Uber to create this company culture? Many authors have been citing their corporate core values. Uber has professed to create a culture where its employees are encouraged to “go toe to toe” and have an obsession with “winning”. Many employees have described the Hobbesian culture that these corporate values have propagated, and a clear connection can certainly be made to the scandals showing up in the news.

However, the behavioral expectations, the emotional tone and the underlying beliefs of the corporate culture are set by the leadership, whether intended or not. In other words, the corporate culture will take it’s cues from how the senior leadership acts and treats their people, regardless of the written values. This trickles down into how people treat one another and how the company functions externally.

Just think about it – it should not be of great surprise that, Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick’s leadership has also been under scrutiny since the released video of him arguing with an Uber driver. Kalanick has referred to “women on demand” as “boob-ers”, expressed that Uber is not responsible if Uber driver’s attack passengers and claiming “these incidents that aren’t even real in the first place”, and has quoted Charlie Sheen’s “hashtag winning” when speaking of cutting costs.

The leadership shortcomings and the company culture issues are no coincidence. But this begs the question – what now? Well, Kalanick has already taken the first step in admitting “I need leadership help”. If the culture is to change, the leadership needs to change. Assuming Kalanick remains the CEO of Uber, he will have to do some major and difficult work – not on changing the values of the company (although those could certainly use revising) but on himself. Kalanick needs to be open, willing, and able to work on himself to develop his own emotional, social, and human intelligence. Only then will he be able to send new waves throughout the company, setting a new tone for a new culture. Can he do it? If he’s truly open and committed – it’s possible. If he wants Uber to be successful and remain in his role – he will have to.