Dara Khosrowshahi has poured cold water on Travis Kalanick’s comeback hopes for now; management experts on what to do if your predecessor is making it hard to transition
Updated: August 30, 2017
Travis Kalanick may not be getting his second coming.
The controversial former Uber chief exec has reportedly been telling Silicon Valley acquaintances that he was eyeing a return to the ridesharing pioneer, even though he only left his post earlier this summer. But successor Dara Khosrowshahi has poured cold water on Kalanick’s plans for “Steve Jobs-ing it”— a reference to the late Apple head’s legendary corporate comeback— during a winning “why you should hire me” presentation to Uber’s board.
According to Recode, the former Expedia big included a slide in his presentation deck that simply read: “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.” The trade publication says the tech company’s board interpreted it simply to mean: if I’m hired, there can only be one boss.
Khosrowshahi’s early show of defiance comes as analysts speculate the Brown-educated Iranian-American was Kalanick’s preferred choice as his replacement— for now. eBay CEO Meg Whitman had been the other contender for the gig, but she was viewed as too close to Benchmark, the venture capital firm and Uber investor suing Kalanick for fraud. Khosrowshahi told the Wall Street Journal yesterday that he had a “budding” relationship with Kalanick, who remains on Uber’s board.
Kalanick’s bluster comes at a challenging time for the ridesharing company he ran. Under fire for controversial business tactics and a culture of alleged misogyny, the Silicon Valley unicorn is quickly losing market share to rivals like Lyft.
That said, it’s common for business execs or sports coaches to be promoted to an interim position under review, or to have a predecessor peering over their shoulder. Jeff Fisher became interim head coach of the Houston Oilers in 1994 and went on to a long career in the National Football league. Roberto Di Matteo was appointed interim manager of Chelsea Football Club and promptly won soccer’s coveted Champions League, only to be fired months later. But management experts say there are steps you can take to be more like Fisher than Di Matteo.
“It’s typical that a predecessor casts a long shadow,” says Debra Benton, an executive coach in Denver. “You have to walk a balancing line between appreciating the person’s accomplishments while establishing how you will insert your approach so things get even better.”
This translates into two golden rules. First, even if there are things you don’t like about the predecessor’s approach, don’t talk negatively about them. This establishes you as a gossip at a time you want to be building trust, especially since the person is likely to still have allies on your staff. But it also means that you need to mark your territory, even if your own long-term future isn’t secure. “Let it be known there’s a new sheriff in town,” says Benton, co-author of “The Leadership Mind Switch.” “Say ‘this is what I want going forward and this is what I don’t want.’ Have your expectations clearly laid out and repeat them as often as necessary.”
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Indeed, you should always act like the role is already yours. “It’s like being a Broadway understudy, by acting like the role is yours, you may be seen by people in a different light,” says Eden Abrahams, managing partner of Clear Path Executive Coaching. “It resets relationships and new doors may open for you.”
However, it’s not just about demanding from your new team—it’s also key that you have something to quickly offer, even if it’s small. Benton recalls a client who regularly acquired smaller businesses in his industry. One of his first steps after each takeover was to paint the office walls and install brighter lighting. Job security—or what passes for it these days—is about “showing positive change, not just promising it,” Benton says.
That said, it’s always wise to keep an eye out on other jobs just in case this doesn’t work out. “It’s not a bad sign if it takes some time” before you know if you got the role permanently, says Abrahams. “But everyone should be a bit opportunistic.”
This story was updated on August 30 2017 with news of Dara Khosrowshahi’s Uber board presentation.
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