` What Uber's Dara Khosrowshahi teaches us about being "In the dance floor. On the balcony." - Think Deeply. Speak SimplyThink Deeply. Speak Simply What Uber's Dara Khosrowshahi teaches us about being "In the dance floor. On the balcony." - Think Deeply. Speak Simply
  • January 23 ,2018

  • Written By Rajat Mishra

What Uber’s Dara Khosrowshahi teaches us about being “In the dance floor. On the balcony.”

The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function– Scott Fitzerland

In the first few weeks of Dara Khosrowshahi’s job as CEO of Uber, government officials in London announced that they would not be renewing Uber’s license to operate in the city. Tough break for any CEO looking to IPO in 2-3 years. Dara sent a remarkable email to the employees. Here is the excerpt that I found particularly insightful.

Like all of you, I’m hugely disappointed in the decision by London’s Mayor and Transport for London. It could have profound negative consequences for the 40,000 drivers who depend on Uber for work and the 3.5 million Londoners who rely on Uber to get around.

While the impulse may be to say that this is unfair, one of the lessons I’ve learned over time is that change comes from self-reflection. So it’s worth examining how we got here. The truth is that there is a high cost to a bad reputation. Irrespective of whether we did everything that is being said about us in London today (and to be clear, I don’t think we did), it really matters what people think of us, especially in a global business like ours, where actions in one part of the world can have serious consequences in another.

Clearly, Dara shows high emotional intelligence and a sharp departure from Uber’s previous communication. However, what struck me was the ability to dive into the specifics (“the 40,000 drives who depend on Uber”) and simultanesouly step-back and see the bigger picture (“it’s worth examining how we got here. …. High cost to a bad reputation”).

This ability to jump in and see the details and step-back to see the bigger picture is beautifully captured by Ronald Heifetz (King Hussein bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government). He uses the metaphor of the dance floor and balcony. In the book, “Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading” he notes:

Let’s say you are dancing in a big ballroom. . . . Most of your attention focuses on your dance partner, and you reserve whatever is left to make sure you don’t collide with dancers close by. . . . When someone asks you later about the dance, you exclaim, “The band played great, and the place surged with dancers.”

But, if you had gone up to the balcony and looked down on the dance floor, you might have seen a very different picture. You would have noticed all sorts of patterns. . . you might have noticed that when slow music played, only some people danced; when the tempo increased, others stepped onto the floor; and some people never seemed to dance at all. . . . the dancers all clustered at one end of the floor, as far away from the band as possible. . . . You might have reported that participation was sporadic, the band played too loud, and you only danced to fast music.

. . .The only way you can gain both a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture is by distancing yourself from the fray. . . .

If you want to affect what is happening, you must return to the dance floor.

To “Think Deeply and Speak Simply” one needs to be in the dance-floor and in the balcony. The magic is in going back and forth between the two.

Where are you spending your time? In the dance-floor? Or, on the balcony?


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  2. This tendency is generally helpful in smoothing the progress of interpersonal relationships, but too much concern about what others think renders your mind inhospitable to original thought and can result in your holding on to dangerous misconceptions.

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