Last month, the Verge published a disturbing story about fast-rising direct-to-consumer luggage startup Away. The report detailed stories indicative of a toxic work environment, one it claimed that co-founder and CEO Steph Korey had helped foster.

The story went viral, and the impact was immediate. The day after the story went live, Korey made a public apology. A few days later, Away announced that former Lululemon executive Stuart Haselden would be taking over, and Korey would assume the role of executive chairman.

"I'm not proud of my behavior ... and I'm sincerely sorry for what I said and how I said it," Korey said in a statement that is still pinned to her personal Twitter account. "It was wrong, plain and simple."

But in a recent interview with The New York Times, Korey has walked back her apology--and announced that she will again take over as CEO, although this time as co-CEO with Haselden.

"Frankly, we let some inaccurate reporting influence the timeline of a transition plan that we had," Korey told the Times in an interview. With added time and perspective, she said, the company's board members decided to reverse course. "All of us said, 'It's not right.'"

And regarding her previous behavior, Korey's comments strike a much different tone:

"When I think back on ways I've phrased feedback, there have been times where the word choice isn't as thoughtful as it should have been, or the way it was framed actually wasn't as constructive as it could have been," she said. "Those are not, in the eyes of our leadership and the eyes of our board, terminal, unsolvable problems."

What a difference a month makes.

These actions by Korey are a huge mistake, and it has everything to do with emotional intelligence. Let me explain.

What's EQ got to do with it?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage emotions--both your own emotions and those of others. It allows you to keep your emotions in balance, which aids in personal growth. And it can help you to build trust in your relationships.

It's important to remember that like Korey, we all have blind spots. Sometimes we can address these perspective gaps by listening to feedback and making adjustments. Other times, correcting problems requires more drastic measures.

In Korey's case, her original apology showed that she recognized she needed to make big changes. This was great on her part--and it showed a willingness to learn from criticism. Korey also says she has been working closely with an executive coach, has built a leadership team that she can lean on and learn from, and has instituted a number of further measures to help improve the company's culture. These moves should also be applauded.

But by making the decision to return as CEO just one month after stepping down, Korey makes two vital mistakes:

1. She reduces the authenticity of the original apology.

2. She minimizes the wrong she's already admitted to, both in her eyes and in the eyes of her team.

Of course, stepping down doesn't mean Korey has to completely walk away from the company. She describes her current role as "very external-facing," one that includes working with new vendors and new partners. This sounds like a role at which she could continue to excel, and provide great value for Away.

But a CEO is by nature a management position, and has a unique role when it comes to dealing with employees and helping to form the culture of a company. And if even only a fraction of the Verge report is accurate, it's these areas that are begging for change.

To be clear, I'm not saying Korey should never return as CEO. No one should be frozen in time. Likely, she's already grown from this experience, and she can continue to do so by continuing to get the help she needs.

But if Korey really wants Away to succeed, she'll recognize the need to step down ... again. 

Doing so won't just make her better, it will also set the example for everyone else. And show that Away is serious about being a great company--not just for customers but employees, too.

Published on: Jan 14, 2020
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