The fallout from the venture capital sexual harassment allegations continues to stir conversation in the tech industry, as it should. But I think the larger issue is business leaders losing track of the most basic of interpersonal skills: PLEASE DON’T SUCK.
First off, in case you missed the Caldbeck incident in your long-holiday weekend excitement and recovery, catch up. Then take a look at some other first-class jerks who’ve made headlines recently, and you’ll begin to understand what I mean:
Pharma-bro, Martin Shkreli. This guy first came on the radar as the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals AG. Turing makes Daraprim, an older drug that had “aged out” off competition from other pharma companies based on its relative rarity (it’s prescribed for a rare parasitic infection) and low prescription numbers. But for people who need it, the drug can be, literally a lifesaver. Under Shkreli’s tenure, Turing’s prices for Daraprim increased more the 50X the original patient cost. After being lambasted in the media because of his approach and subpoenaed to testify before Congress on the monopolistic tendencies of his company’s actions, Shkreli resigned from Turing. The testimony is ongoing, but outlines how Shkreli lied to the chairman of his board of directors and engaged in sexual conversations with staff and members of his investment team.
Recently departed Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick, is another example. Uber’s and Kalanick have never been without contention – governments, employees, investors, and competitors have all pursued the ride share company for some transgression or another. After those had died down, Uber was placed directly in the cross hairs again by a former employee, accusing Kalanick and other of promoting an environment heavy on machismo and conducive to sexual harassment.
These are not small problems. These are problems of greed, immense superiority complexes, blatant disregard for other humans, and overwhelming shortsightedness by people who purport to be leaders but who actually just suck at being human beings.
There are those, particularly in the startup community, who want to believe that disrupters (those people who achieve success by thinking and working differently in the world) MUST suck (or as Netflix founder and CEO Reid Hastings puts it, be “brilliant jerks”). But leadership, success, innovation – those things don’t happen ONLY to terrible people, proving a negative attitude is not a key determinant on the road to success. Or, as one of my favorite business education innovators, Adam Grant, puts it, you don’t have to be an asshole to be a disrupter.
So if you want to be a leader, found a company, build a startup, or change the world, by all means, go ahead. But do it with this idea in mind: PLEASE DON’T SUCK as a human being. You’ll get just as far.