UBER – The Tale of Another Traumatized Executive

Uber CEO, Childhood Trauma and Leadership

Yesterday, Travis Kalanick, UBER’s CEO announced he was taking an extended leave of absence. Recently, the leadership of embattled CEO is also under significant scrutiny due to alleged sexual harassment and dismal record around diversity. As noted in reports, the board is stepping in to try to transform the culture. These shifts include revisiting the corporate values that include revisiting the corporate values, which include ‘fierceness’ and ‘super pumpedness.’

Most will look at Kalanick’s leadership and the culture he created and shake their heads. They will see another arrogant white male who they hope will be taken down. Individuals in my profession will use this as another example of why leadership and culture are so important. Both takes are understandable, but they both miss the underlying truth and cause. This truth is that Kalanick was likely a traumatized child. His approach to building UBER, was merely a way to compensate and prove his value. And his story is not an exception. I would go so far as to say a high number of executives fall into this category and it is the primary reason we face a leadership crisis in corporate America.

Most people want to point fingers at people like Travis. I am not saying we should put up with disrespectful behavior. What I am saying is we need to be honest where that behavior comes from and be willing to look in the mirror ourselves. For example, if we are judging him harshly and find a little compassion for him, we must ask the source of our disdain? Might it be us deflecting our traumas and avoiding our pain?

Here are some interesting statistics:

Trauma’s Impact On Our Approach to Building Organizations and Selecting Executives

We all know inspiring cultures make a huge difference in the quality of value an organization generates. It involves creating environments of caring, meaning, inspiration, and service. And authentic, courageous leadership is the primary catalyst for creating such cultures. However, we tend to attract individuals into executive positions who are driven to build something that strokes a self-image built from trauma. And many that sit on the boards that hire the CEOs fall into the same category!

In many cases, such a self-image supports workaholism. This workaholism is a journey much like drug or alcohol addiction, that is more socially acceptable. Its expression compensates for a deep lack of self-worth that arose from early childhood trauma. Just look at the juxtaposition of Our president, Donald Trump and his brother Freddy. Freddy died at 42 of alcohol addiction, and Donald was driven to success and eventually the White House. And while you can see the President’s success in the skyscrapers he built and millions he made, his tendency to rants and desire to pronounce his greatness – tend to point to the trauma he endured as a child of a ruthless, demanding father.   Again, what drives the path to material success can be the same thing that drives other addictions.

What Happens If We Embrace Healing?

I am certainly not saying all executives fall into such a category. We can find cases of benevolent, servant leaders or of more heart-centered executives who deeply care. What I am saying is that if we want to see more of them and create workplaces that bring out the best in others in service to the greater good – we must face our pain and heal, not bury it under the carpet.  We must realize at our core we are all infinitely valuable before we make a dime for anyone or before we measure our worth by the money we have in the bank.  In short, love and feeling our genuine connection to others is the way.  If and when we follow this path, my prediction is there will be far fewer Ubers. Business will become a place that consistently uplifts, adds great value and yes – still earns a profit.

About the Author David

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