Leadership

3 ways Uber CEO Travis Kalanick says he plans to grow as a leader

Travis Kalanick.
David Orrell | CNBC
Travis Kalanick.

Embattled CEO Travis Kalanick is taking a leave of absence from Uber to grieve the loss of his mother, who passed away in a boating accident last month. The announcement was made via a letter sent to employees Tuesday afternoon, in which Kalanick vowed to return to the company as the "2.0" version of himself.

The letter demonstrates three key leadership strengths: a desire to improve, humility and the willingness to openly discuss grief in the workplace.

During his period away, Kalanick will hand over some of his responsibilities to a committee. In the letter, Kalanick suggests that he'll use the time to grow as a person, which will ultimately help the company.

"For Uber 2.0 to succeed there is nothing more important than dedicating my time to building out the leadership team," he writes. "But if we are going to work on Uber 2.0, I also need to work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs and that you deserve."

He adds that "the last eight years my life has always been about Uber," but that "recent events have brought home for me that people are more important than work." That kind of honesty and humility shows growth in Kalanick, which could inspire confidence in his leadership upon his return.

Humility is a crucial quality for any leader and something CEOs like Airbnb's Brian Chesky and Apple's Tim Cook hold in high regard.

"Being humble is a key trait for successful leaders," says Chesky. When asked in an interview to offer his advice to Kalanick earlier this year, Chesky suggested he "take a step back and have some humility."

Kalanick's version of humility honors his mother. "Put people first, that is my mom's legacy," he writes. "And make Uber 2.0 real so that the world can see the inspired work all of you do, and the inspiring people that make Uber great."

He also discusses grief, a topic that's gotten more attention in recent months following the release of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's book "Option B." Co-written with Adam Grant, the book explores Sandberg's grieving process after the unexpected death of her husband Dave Goldberg in 2015.

"For those who have the opportunity," she writes in the book, "pursuing meaningful work can help with recovery from trauma."

"Put people first, that is my mom's legacy." -Travis Kalanick, Uber CEO

Kalanick's decision to take time off as CEO of Uber comes after a difficult few months for the company, which has been under fire after former employee Susan Fowler alleged that Uber failed to adequately handle sexual harassment and gender discrimination complaints. The news prompted Kalanick to order an "urgent investigation."

In February, video turned up depicting Kalanick yelling at a driver. "By now I'm sure you've seen the video where I treated an Uber driver disrespectfully," he wrote at the time. "To say that I am ashamed is an extreme understatement. My job as your leader is to lead … and that starts with behaving in a way that makes us all proud."

Notably, in his letter to staff announcing his decision to take time off, Kalanick failed to offer a return date, concluding simply with the phrase "see you soon."

See also:

In 'Option B,' Sheryl Sandberg presents meaningful work as an antidote to trauma