Entrepreneurs

Uber's new CEO: ‘I have to tell you, I am scared’

Dara Khosrowshahi
David Ryder | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Dara Khosrowshahi

"I have to tell you, I am scared."

So says Uber's new CEO pick, Dara Khosrowshahi, in a note he sent to his staff at Expedia, where he was CEO for more than a decade.

Of course he's scared. Who wouldn't be? Uber is one of the most fabled start-up stories of all time and, simultaneously, one of the most harrowing corporate unravelings. Replacing embattled founder Travis Kalanick to get Uber back on track is one big and terrifying task.

What's notable is not that Khosrowshahi is scared, but that he admits his fear.

"I've been here at Expedia for so long that I've forgotten what life is like outside this place," he writes in the email obtained by Recode. "But the times of greatest learning for me have been when I've been through big changes, or taken on new roles — you have to move out of your comfort zone and develop muscles that you didn't know you had."

Khosrowshahi also says the decision to make the move was "one of the toughest" of his life.

"I've had the privilege to run Expedia for 12+ years now, and most of you who have been on this journey with me know it has not been easy going," he writes.

Indeed, Khosrowshahi passed on an opportunity to buy Booking.com in the early 2000s. Instead, his competitor, Priceline did. And Booking.com blew up.

Such willingness to be vulnerable about your fears and missteps is the sign of a great leader.

In February, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly apologized for mistakes his social media behemoth made in moderating content on the platform. His honesty was met with respect.

"I give an A+ to Zuckerberg for taking the time, and devoting the resources, to acknowledge a few of Facebook's blindspots — then do something about them," says Hal Gregersen, executive director of the MIT Leadership Center, in an interview with CNBC Make It at the time. "Being uncomfortable and vulnerable, as his letter acknowledged yesterday, is one of the most powerful paths to creating inclusion."

SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Bridgewater founder and co-chairman Ray Dalio both have worked to develop cultures at their respective companies that encourage employees to speak up and let their leaders know when they are wrong. That willingness to be vulnerable takes courage and has helped both men build blockbuster companies.

And legendary Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has also underscored the importance of being vulnerable as a leader. "You have to be honest and authentic and not hide," he says in Harvard Business Review. "I think the leader today has to demonstrate both transparency and vulnerability, and with that comes truthfulness and humility."

See also:

Why Elon Musk encourages his employees to tell him exactly what he's doing wrong

Why Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's vulnerable apology makes him a strong leader

13 inspiring quotes on leadership and success from Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz