Creating an Uber-Leader

I’ve been following, with some dismay, the downward arc of the career of Travis Kalanick (Uber).

He seems like one of many we’ve seen before – a very bright and driven entrepreneur who makes poor decisions and goes off the rails.

Such a loss of talent. And the disruptions – so costly to a company.

I’d like to think that leaders could learn how to harness their genius constructively, for the long term – for their own good and the good of their stakeholders and customers.

I can’t help but think that Ego and Alone-ness are the prime culprits for executive failure. Once you’ve reached the upper echelons of leadership, who can you talk to? Where is it “safe” to be authentic, and accountable, and learn to grow?

Leaders with humility, who seek the counsel of others, stand a much better chance of making wise decisions, and surviving the storms. At least, after 58 years observing on this planet, that’s how it seems to me.

In recent days, I’ve seen (or heard about) this syndrome play out in celebrity pastors who crash and burn, celebrity business executives who self-destruct – and let’s not even get started with political figures.

As an avid reader of the Bible, I’ve also seen this pattern depicted time and time again among the kings and other leaders described in biblical history. The few that seem to successfully provide solid long-term leadership have wise advisers by their side. The leaders who isolate themselves, or who don’t value outside perspectives, always seem to hit the wall and fail.

And by “fail,” I mean really, really costly fail.

I’m beginning to think that successful businesses/business leaders might want to consider having an executive advisor. Not a business coach, who is working on more incremental changes; but, someone who can provide third-party input on the entire array of issues faced by leaders. A moral, practical, strategic, truth-telling adviser whose main goal is to see the leader reach new levels of genius, see the overall business prosper for the long-term, and prevent stupid and short-sighted decisions. (my friend Joe Cascio points out that there is a term for this: a consigliere. Wash off the Mafia overtones of the word, and the word almost perfectly describes what I’m talking about!)

Because even the smartest leaders can’t read the label of the jar they’re in.

Can we help leaders become uber-leaders? Can we keep more Uber-leaders from crashing? (that’s a play on words, btw – of course, you caught that…). I’m not convinced a Board can properly play this role of day-to-day accountability and wisdom. But I may be wrong on that.

It would take humility, and a readiness to recognize that executive alone-ness is truly detrimental. (Someone recently asked me what were the traits I look for when I take on a Clarity client. I replied that there was one trait above all: Humility. You can’t help someone that doesn’t think they need outside help!)

I’ve been thinking about this for years, as I’ve watched the carnage. It really bothers me – the whole “ounce of prevention, pound of cure” thing. Your thoughts? Are there any companies you know of who actually take this approach to executive leadership?

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