Kalanick is eyeing a return to Uber even as Arianna Huffington and the ride hailing app’s board seeks his replacement; management experts on what to do
Travis Kalanick wants a second coming.
The controversial former Uber CEO was ousted just over a month ago, but he’s been telling Silicon Valley acquaintances that he’s eyeing a comeback. According to Recode, Kalanick has claimed that he’s “Steve Jobs-ing it,” a reference to how the legendary tech titan was ousted from the company he co-founded in 1985, only to return a decade later and transform Apple into the most iconoclastic of American companies.
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. Uber has also been reportedly having trouble recruiting a quality replacement for Kalanick and his comments surely won’t help.
Whoever replaces Kalanick will be in an uncomfortable position, but not exactly an unfamiliar one. 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.”
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