After Travis Kalanick’s departure from Uber last month, the ride-hailing company has been moving fast to overhaul its culture. It won’t be easy, and among all those efforts, perhaps the most challenging will be replacing its CEO. Uber’s HR chief Liane Hornsey told Fast Company last week that while there’s already a shortlist, “we’d rather get the very, very best person who can move Uber to its next phase rather than be fast.”
The company seems to understand that it needs a leader with a dramatically different style and skill set than Kalanick’s, but so far hasn’t dropped many clues as to what that might include. In the meantime, decades of personality science might be able to point Uber’s search team in the right direction.
There’s A Dark Side To Everyone
As years of research and hundreds of studies show, who you are determines how you lead. And while people with antisocial, nonconformist, and impulsive tendencies make for both great delinquents and great entrepreneurs (from a personality perspective, these types are rather similar), they often lack the emotional intelligence (EQ), empathy, and cool-headedness to lead with stability and order.
Unsurprisingly, most entrepreneurs are fairly unemployable by traditional standards, which is why they resort to starting their own businesses. But the tiny proportion who succeed in launching innovative companies are often better off when they let more experienced, corporate, and boring types run them.
That said, Uber’s board should remember that everybody has a “dark side,” the undesirable or counterproductive personality traits that derail leaders and can only be managed, never eliminated. Kalanick, however talented, is no exception to that rule, and nor will his replacement be.
Still, given the company’s issues, Uber needs a CEO whose personality tilts in the opposite direction from Kalanick’s. Mother Theresa is dead and the Dalai Lama is probably too busy, but whoever Uber considers should be closer to them than Kalanick in terms of EQ, empathy, and altruism.
EQ has been defined in many ways, but it essentially just signals good people skills—something Uber’s next CEO will need in spades. Not only do leaders with high EQ have reputations for being rewarding to deal with, they also inject stability and harmony into their teams and organizations. This might mean finding someone more managerial- than entrepreneurial-minded to fill Kalanick’s shoes. Self-made billionaires aren’t known for being highly emotionally intelligent.
Empathy is the ability to consider other people’s perspectives and feel their suffering. Leaders with a higher capacity for empathy are more Other-oriented and more likely to build inclusive and engaged cultures in their organizations—which typically means more transparency and less infighting. Empathetic leaders are also more likely to treat others well, and not just in public.
Altruism is a very interesting trait among disruptive entrepreneurs. On the one hand, most innovators are motivated by the desire to improve the status quo and bring progress to the world. Ideally, entrepreneurship is about bridging the gap between demand and supply—and in the process, delivering something of real value that improves peoples’ lives (and not at the expense of others’). That said, among serial entrepreneurs, this desire often coexists with narcissistic and antisocial tendencies—which contributes to some founders’ self-centered reputations.
In looking for a new CEO, Uber doesn’t need to hire someone who sees themselves strictly as a do-gooder, though; altruistic business leaders persuade both employees and the public that their organizations can be forces for good. (Google’s former mantra, “Don’t be evil,” reflects an attempt to do that.)
The good news for Uber is that it should actually be pretty easy to work out whether its next CEO fits this profile: The company’s search team could just inspect his or her Uber ratings.
After the notorious video of Kalanick sparring with an Uber driver surfaced earlier this year, it’s not hard to guess his own rating would be quite low. By comparison, anyone with a score of 4.9 or above might be safely expected to be gentle, polite, and considerate. After all, what Uber needs most right now is a smooth, uneventful ride.