On a recent trip to the airport, I asked my Uber driver, Joe, a few questions about the recent resignation of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. He obviously didn't want to talk much about it. "I don't know much about the corporate stuff," said Joe. "As a driver, I really don't feel like I'm part it."
The media, meanwhile, is still abuzz about Kalanick's departure from Uber. The conversation is, quite frankly, ugly. Reports of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, intentional deception, and career sabotage surround the company's corporate leaders--some of whom have already resigned or been fired.
Other reports show cultural problems. Some of the company's core values, for example, are strange. Values like: meritocracy, toe-stepping, and principled confrontation are just a few.
Still, amongst all the controversy, there is a silver lining to Uber's recent struggles. Travis Kalanick is teaching us all a powerful real-time lesson in gratitude.
"I love Uber more than anything in the world and at this difficult moment in my personal life, I have accepted the investors' request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight," the former CEO said in a recent statement.
While that statement doesn't glow of negativity, it also doesn't address where Kalanick's "love" and gratitude probably should be focused. Sure, massive growth, groundbreaking technology, customer applause, and "work when you want to" employment opportunities are phenomenal accomplishments for Uber. However, it seems that Kalanick overlooked a critical aspect of business--showing appreciation and gratitude to the people who operate that business.
Numerous studies show the impact gratitude has on improving the psychological, emotional, and physical well-being of both individuals and societies. Other global studies show similar findings about the workplace--where appreciation and recognition are three times more desired than autonomy, promotions, fringe benefits, and salary increases.
Still, the way I see it, Kalanick (a guy with so much negative leadership press) is teaching us a real-time lesson in gratitude. Through interviews and research, I've found three critical areas where gratitude needs to be focused in order to be a great leader:
1. The people who cheered for your success.
Conducting interviews all over the world, and asking people when the last time they truly felt appreciated at work, I often get a blank stare as a response. Although most companies aren't wrestling with allegations like Uber, many are still not very good at encouragement.
But, if I ask people to revisit their youth and recall the moments when a teacher, relative, or coach recognized them for a specific talent, these same people light up with passion. They remember the words spoken, the feelings they had, and their active responses to those words. They not only wanted to repeat the behavior they were recognized for, but they want to improve the behavior--become better at it.
When it comes to focusing our gratitude, it's important to look back in our lives and be gracious for those people who recognized our talents and had the guts to say something about it. Those are the words that inspired us to move forward.
2. The people who helped you succeed.
Kalanick dropped the ball on this one. As Inc.'s Jeff Bercovici wrote about Kalanick earlier this month: "He refuses to let anyone tell him what he can and can't do, whether it's local regulators or his own legal department."
Whether it's Uber lawyers, drivers, or engineers, the people who surround us in our business are helping us become who we are. They all deserve our gratitude because not only did they buy into a shared vision with us, but then poured their effort and energy into their work with the intention of creating a difference in the workplace that would be loved.
3. The people who show us what not be.
It's easy to look at all the people in our lives and careers that made a positive impact on us. Still, sometimes it's the most destructive, most controlling, least appreciative people who actually can teach us the most--because they're shining examples of how we don't want to behave, treat others, or lead.
While it appears many in leadership at Uber made mistakes, these people deserve gratitude as well. It is their mistakes that teach us invaluable lessons about destructive pride, negative perceptions of power, and why people choose to leave companies.
I don't know Travis Kalanick. But, I do know that he's given the business world something profound to think about. Innovation is a powerful lever. Travis is a master. But, without gratitude for employees, things can go seriously wrong.
Maybe the words of Joe, the driver summed it up best as we approached the airport: "I drive for Lyft too. They treat us better."