Uber and the “Free Market” of Leadership

The opportunity to lead is not a right, but a privilege.

And this privilege is not permanent; it must be earned and re-earned daily.

As he sat down to write his resignation letter, Travis Kalanick still held the title of CEO of Uber. But his actual ability to lead had already been stripped away through the collective checks and balances that emerged from numerous acts of microleadership.

It wasn’t one single act that checked his leadership, but rather many acts of microleadership. From Susan Fowler bravely shining light publicly via a Medium post on her experience with Uber’s corrupted culture to the Uber driver who dared to challenge Kalanick’s lack of concern for drivers and then shared video of Travis’ tantrum. Both people had far less formal leadership authority than Kalanick did, but their acts of microleadership collectively created a tsunami which was unstoppable.

The pendulum of leadership in the 21st century is rapidly shifting. A title is no longer sufficient to be a leader and followers now have a choice in how they are led. And because microleadership is accessible to all, a leader must not rely on formal leadership authority but rather informal authority — something which is earned not given.

The great irony is that Kalanick loved to hide behind the “free market” to gouge customers through surge pricing and to reduce pay for drivers. Yet it was ultimately the free market of leadership — the collective weight of microleaders overpowering a single corrupt leader — which gave him no choice but to resign.