Soccer team in a huddle

New Uber Leadership SVP Talks Trust, Diversity, and Building High-Performing Teams

Feature Article | September 1, 2017 by Brian Wasson

What’s your “wobble”? We all have one, according to Frances Frei, recently appointed senior vice president of Leadership and Strategy at Uber.

During her Thursday keynote at SuccessConnect, the SAP SuccessFactors conference for HR professionals, Frei identified a “trust triangle” based on three character traits leaders need to gain trust: authenticity, logic, and empathy. According to Frei, most people are innately good at one of three, but usually have a challenge with one side of the triangle. That’s our own particular “wobble.”

Frei is a Harvard Business School professor and recognized author and expert on organizational transformation. She joined Uber’s senior leadership team in June 2017 in the midst of the ride-sharing company’s ongoing, very public struggles with leadership trust and employee diversity. She is helping reshape the broader culture at Uber, according to an Uber announcement, including “company strategy and planning; organizational transformation and design; management and leadership; coaching, supporting and developing a world-class leadership team; and articulating and helping to architect and adapt our cultural philosophy.”

Uber's Frances Frei at SuccessConnect

Frances Frei, Senior Vice President of Leadership and Strategy, Uber

It’s obvious Frei has a big task ahead of her. But, based on her talk at SuccessConnect, it’s equally apparent she has the necessary experience and is committed to making Uber the company it needs to be to succeed in the global marketplace. Proudly sporting a black Uber T-shirt, Frei modeled leading by example: She publicly told thousands of Uber employees that she would wear an Uber T-shirt every day until each of the company’s employees was proud enough of the company to publicly wear one, too.

Building a Solid Trust Triangle

“We need to enhance our ability to have influence,” Frei said during her SuccessConnect keynote. “We need to learn how to build and rebuild trust.”

In the business world (and personally, too), many want to be trusted influencers but struggle with how to achieve this. That’s where the concept of the trust triangle comes into play.

“The foundation of trust is authenticity,” Frei said. “They need to believe that we are in it for them.”

But authenticity needs to be coupled with logic and empathy to create trust. Any of the three on its own is not likely to engender lasting trust. That brings us back to the “wobble” (the one side of the triangle we are naturally weak at). To build trust, we need to be aware of which wobble we have and actively work to improve how we approach it.

Work on Your Wobble

According to Frei, “the empathy wobble applies often to smart people,” who may grasp concepts quickly and then become bored and detached. Overcome this wobble through the “ecstasy of engagement,” where success is measured by everyone understanding what’s going on.

Those with the logic wobble often have sound reasoning, but may not be good at communicating it, noted Frei. People with the logic wobble may take a circuitous route to making their point, preferring to “tell the story” and reasoning first before the conclusion. The antidote? “Start with your point,” said Frei. “Then tell the story.” That way your audience will at least have heard your idea, even if they get lost in the story.

And, finally, there’s the foundational topic of authenticity, which “really matters when it comes to teams,” Frei said. “It’s with diversity that authenticity is challenging.”

Lead to Excellence

Beware of the “common information effect,” said Frei. This is the small overlap of shared experience/knowledge among diverse people working together. When not properly managed, diverse teams often will not perform as well as homogeneous teams, which have a larger natural overlap. But, a well-managed, diverse team can “lead with unprecedented excellence” by taking advantage of not just the small overlap, but the full breadth of the team members’ experience.

Team Overlap Diagram

By actively managing using the trust triangle, companies can create a truly trust-based culture that allows diverse teams to flourish, driving greater organizational effectiveness.

“Diversity should not be the burden of the diverse,” Frei said. “This is the ‘and inclusion’ part of ‘diversity and inclusion.'”

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