There is a hole in the side of the boat


Leaders face tremendous challenges when they take the helms of an existing organization. They don’t have the luxury of a clean slate. Even in a well-run organization, there is room for improvement, and opportunity for the new leader to make a mark. In some cases, the leaders come into situations that might look hopeless and the hurdles insurmountable. In some others, the incoming leader doesn’t even know the enormity of it all until they start revealing themselves over a period of time.

In the 2003 HBR article “Leadership and the Psychology of Turnarounds”, Rosabeth Moss Kanter has some sage advice, including this:

the first task of turnaround leaders is to open channels of communication—starting at the top.

and this:

To turn around his country, Nelson Mandela, the first democratically elected president of South Africa, established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Reconciliation helps people move beyond assigning blame for problems; it helps them regain respect for one another while becoming more personally accountable.

and more:

despite differences in strategies and tactics, all turnaround leaders share the overarching task of restoring confidence through empowerment—replacing denial with dialogue, blame with respect, isolation with collaboration, and helplessness with opportunities for initiative. Each leader must manage the tricky task of creating a winner’s attitude in people, even before the victories.

In the 2014 McKinsey article “Ten tips for leading companies out of crisis”, Doug Yakola says:

Managers need to use words like crisis and urgency from the first moment they recognize the need for a turnaround. A company that’s in true crisis will be willing to try some things that it normally wouldn’t consider, and it’s those bold actions that change the trajectory of the company. Crisis drives people to action and opens managers up to consider a full range of options.

The challenges facing Dara Khosrowshahi, the new CEO of UBER look daunting.

In “Ten Billion Dollars’ Worth Of Unsolicited Advice For Uber’s New CEO”, Bruce Weinstein focused on Uber’s character building.

In Recode’s “What Uber’s new CEO has to do now”, author Johana Bhuiyan lists the tasks that the new CEO must perform:

  • Manage Travis and the board
  • Hire C-suite executives
  • Reset staff
  • Figure out the business: Uber still loses money — lots of it.
  • Manage the lawsuits
  • Know when to go IPO

In the Aaron Sorkin’s HBO show The Newsroom, when MacKenzie McHale has self-doubts about taking on the leadership of the network, Will McAvoy says:

“There’s a hole in the side of the boat. That hole is never gonna be fixed and it’s never going away and you can’t get a new boat. This is your boat. What you have to do is bail water out faster than it’s coming in.”

For the immediate few months, the most important advice the matters may be the one from the brilliant writing of Aaron Sarkin. And practicing some techniques for stress relief.


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