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Taxi, Regent St, BBC, Uber, London, West End

 

Yet again it boils down to the culture of a business.

I am continually fascinated by the conditions that leaders create around themselves – be it deliberately or accidentally.

I’m particularly intrigued by, and in part concerned about, the culture of some major market disruptors as personified by Amazon, Facebook, Deliveroo and, yes, Uber.

The pioneering spirit and innovation is a sight to behold. The drive, the passion, the chutzpah. In many ways this is a positive, these companies potentially bring huge benefits to our economies and could, if harnessed properly, drive increased social inclusion. They could also bring significant disadvantages for many as my online pal Gemma Dale outlines here: The dark side of disruption

I’ve been a little troubled by the attitude of some of these businesses as they arrive into our cities. “We do what we want”, “we disrupt so of course we are unpopular with some”, at worst a strong hint of “we are better than you”. Look at oBikes: they simply dumped hundreds their bikes across London and, before my local council took action (Council seizes oBikes), pedestrians literally could not get across the pavement into the Tube station nor could local cyclists use the bike racks. They were everywhere. The culture of the business was apparently “we don’t care – this is what we have decided to do”. Not exactly designed to carry their stakeholders with them through the disruptive change that they were hoping to drive. There’s a change management point in there somewhere.

And now Uber. Let me state an interest here. I have always felt they unfairly benefit from an unlevel playing field. For example: black cab drivers have to buy and maintain a very expensive vehicle and complete the ‘knowledge’ over a number of years. They are tightly regulated as are all cab companies. So I have never chosen to use Uber and know I am in a minority amongst my fellow Londoners.

I don’t intend to rehearse the arguments about whether TfL are right to have suspended their licence – that has already been done. But as a coach who works with leaders I am really interested in the reaction from Uber’s UK leaders. Emulating the tone of their former CEO Travis Kalanick the response was outrage, feigned shock and “how dare they withdraw our licence?” They went so far as to launch a petition “against efforts to restrict consumer choice” which many have signed. They hit the TV studios to shout that the decision to withhold their licence would show that “London is closed to innovative companies”.

In short – “How dare London rule against us? We do what we want.” Possibly reminding us of elements in the banking industry before 2008.

It might be that London decides for itself what is reasonable regulation and fair working practice for market entrants. It is our city after all. But that is not my point.

Look at the culture. What does it tell us? What would have been a more emotionally intelligent response?

We soon saw one. Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s new chief executive, said in an internal memo to staff later on Friday that he was “hugely disappointed”. Going on he said: “It’s critical that we act with integrity in everything we do, and learn how to be a better partner to every city we operate in,” he wrote. “That doesn’t mean abandoning our principles — we will vigorously appeal TfL’s decision — but rather building trust through our actions and our behavior. In doing so, we will show that Uber is not just a really great product, but a really great company that is meaningfully contributing to society, beyond its business and its bottom line.”

On Twitter he wrote

To which I replied

 

(I know. I can express myself a little directly when limited to 140 characters).

By yesterday the corporate message to London had become

Bravo. A significant change in tone in that letter compared to the howls of entitled outrage from the UK leadership on the day of the announcement. Emotionally intelligent even.

Where does this leave us then? I think it’s telling and is a lesson for all leaders who might choose to ask themselves:

  • What are the conditions I create around me? (one of my favourite questions)
  • At my best how will I react to a significant setback?
  • What are my values and how do I display them?
  • What is the impact of my business on all its stakeholders?

And in the case of the disruptors:

  • How can I ensure that our EQ, our emotional intelligence, matches our undoubted IQ?