When Leaders Lose Their Rag

05 May 2017 -


Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s infamous outburst to an Uber Black driver earlier this year highlighted that sometimes the pressure in the C-Suite can get just too much

Jermaine Haughton

Recorded on a dashcam video by Uber Black driver, Fawzi Kamel grilled his chief executive Travis Kalanick over his frustrations with deteriorating conditions at the company, such as a drop in fare prices.

Kamel claimed that when he joined the company in 2010, he had earned a minimum of £15 per fare but it had since dropped to as low as £8.50 in some places. In a public relations blow to the company, Travis Kalanick came across combative and aggressive as he challenged Kamel’s claims. “Some people don’t like to take responsibility,” Kalanick said in the video. “They blame everything in their life on someone else.”

Following the video footage going viral across the world, Uber founder Kalanick declared that he would look for help to run the multi-billion pound company, suggesting the difficulty of handling the stress of the fast-growing firm.

Recent reports suggest Uber have interviewed candidates such as Thomas Staggs, the former Walt Disney chief operating officer, and Karenann Terrell, former chief information officer of Wal-Mart - candidates with track records in large, established companies.

Over the years, there have been many industry leaders, who have been known for their fiery tempers, such as Apple chief Steve Jobs, former Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer or legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. All have one clear common trait, they’re all high performing winners.

Apple temper tantrum

Particularly in his youth, Jobs was well-known for his short temper.

One of his most-documented temper tantrums reportedly occurred upon his return to Apple in 1997 and his attempts to overhaul Apple’s board. “Stop the train, this isn’t going to work,” Jobs told board member Edgar Woolard, as written in Walter Isaacson’s biography. “This company is in shambles, and I don’t have time to wet-nurse the board. So I need all of you to resign. Or else I’m going to resign and not come back on Monday.”

High-performing leaders expect a lot of themselves and the people around them. But when they feel their team is not excelling as much as they’d like, these types of leaders can be quick to voice their displeasure. What is, at one moment, an inspiring leader when things are going well, can rapidly turn into a temperamental, withdrawing and angry boss.

Conference call firing

Just a day after he had informed analysts that Patch would soon see huge layoffs, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong lost his cool and surprisingly fired Patch creative director Abel Lenz during a conference call to 1,000 employees of AOL’s news service in August 2013.

The very public and abrupt sacking was reportedly due to Lenz taking pictures of the staffers and recording during the conference call. However, reports later emerged that suggests Lenz may have been relieved of his services due to his role in the botched Patch 2.0 redesign.

Rogue Biscuits

Known for its long hours, money-driven and testosterone-fuelled culture, the financial and banking industry has widely been viewed as a conducive environment for managers who lead with the iron rod.

Fredrick Goodwin, the disgraced former chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, earned the name “Fred the Shred” for his ruthless and angry style of management.

According to a book co-written by Matthew Hancock, a former chief of staff of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, Goodwin had once threatened the bank’s catering staff with disciplinary action in an e-mail with the title “Rogue Biscuits” after he found some pink wafers on his plate during afternoon tea.

Is shouting worth it?

Chief executives are human, and are as likely to have an angry, frustrated outburst as anyone else when things go wrong. However, this realisation is typically balanced by acceptance of bosses that they hold a leadership position of authority, and abusing that power as a way to vent frustration is unfair and problematic.

Communicating less positively and being less approachable to employees threatens to cast doubt on their own abilities, position and confidence. Therefore, great managers are often those who understand the fine line between holding people accountable and alienating and scaring employees.

If your employees are regularly high performers, they’ll known quicker than most how and why they’re falling short.

In the Harvard Business Review, Peter Bregman, CEO of leadership coaching company Bregman Partners, revealed three alternative steps managers can take to avoid angry outbursts, and constructively alert employees to their responsibilities and the need for an improvement in performance.

Take a deep breath

Pausing for a few minutes, and slowing yourself down before reacting to bad news can give you enough time to avoid saying something you might later regret.

Decide on the outcome you want

In the heat of the moment, it can be difficult to be critical and know what you want, but great managers are generally able to decipher what they desire. In many cases, this will be improved performance, and managers can assess the situation to ask whether they can do more to help a particular person or team to turn around their poor performance or failure.

Avoid Scaring Employees

While shouting and ranting at employees may get an immediate reaction, and sometimes make you feel better, staff that are made to feel appreciated, well-managed and happy are in the long-term more likely to bring better value and performance to your business.

Connect with Employees

Choose a response that will achieve the outcome you want, rather than simply making your already obvious displeasure more obvious. One-on-one meetings, team-meetings, brainstorming sessions and Q&A sessions are all examples of ways bosses can communicate with their teams.

In hard times, people want to feel more connected to their leaders. They need to have reasons to trust you, and they need to feel trusted by you.

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