Without a doubt, the biggest challenge for company leadership in the Information Age is centered on emotional management and effective communication skills. Unlike past generations of leaders, today's business executives face the stress of constant market change, organizational fluidity, and the pressure to produce every single day. In addition, keeping up with competitive innovation in technology and business can become overwhelming. It's no surprise that we see a leader struggle on occasion.
A recent video surfaced of Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, in a heated exchange with one of his company's drivers. In an apology, Kalanick wrote:
"It's clear this video is a reflection of me -- and the criticism we've received is a stark reminder that I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up. This is the first time I've been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it."
Many are blaming Kalanick's "youth" to explain away some of what happened. However, in my experience, I see leaders at all levels and ages struggle to maintain emotional composure during intense situations when the perceived stakes are high. When the lines of communication are broken, or simply not effective, workplace relationships suffer. Strategies become misaligned, goals and targets collapse, and poor execution of projects meld into a wasteland of time-consuming change, slow to market introductions, cost overruns, and other headaches. These issues can contribute to a runaway epidemic of communication breakdowns as team engagement levels plummet, and you run the risk of losing high-performing employees.
Here's the good news: emotional regulation skills are largely learned rather than being innate or the result of life experience. The development needs of each leader are unique, of course -- there is no "one-size fits all" mode of training. The idea is to learn critical skills and competencies, and to create alignment with other people regardless of the context of the relationship -- be it personal or professional.
Executive coaching could help leaders like Kalanick by providing the tools to understand his unique emotional triggers and physiological response to social and environmental stressors. Uber's entire executive team would also benefit from a range of training to help them come to a place of alignment. The process of meaningful change begins by creating a deep awareness within each individual. If you establish an awareness of the role of your intense inner world that drives your current behavior, you can intentionally shift to address your external world more effectively. Inter-personal relationships require a solid underpinning of self-awareness. After all, how can you understand another if you can't begin to understand what motivates you?
It's tough to be a leader today, regardless of your age. You need to lead with both your head and your heart while building authentic communications skills. I'm sure Kalanick would agree, that the most "grown-up" skills that any leader needs to turn their attention to is how to gain alignment with others, employing emotional composure and resiliency.