9 Things I’ve Learned About Leadership While Driving With Uber

1.11.16 Uber

by Silas Grant –

Over the past year and a half, I’ve driven my car as an Uber driver on a part-time basis. Without initially knowing it, I’ve learned a lot about life and leadership through my experiences as a driver with Uber. I thought that I’d share my insights with you all. It’s my hope that you can draw some inspiration from it in an effort to be better leaders in your respective lives. My lessons on leadership as a driver with Uber:

Your current location, the destination, and the road in between

I am a native Washingtonian. I love D.C. I breathe D.C. I feel like I’ve been on every block in the District of Columbia. I feel like I know how to get everywhere in my city. Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s different story when a stranger is in your car and he/she is in a hurry and needs you to take the most efficient route to the intended destination. I learned very early on that when I pick up a passenger in D.C., I normally know where we are currently. I also know where we are headed. But knowing the road between where you are and where you need to be is utterly important. And having that stranger critiquing your turns will add pressure to the ride.

A lot of us know where we want our teams to go. We also know where we are at the moment. If you’re the head of your department, bowling team, household/family, or church ministry, seeing the goal from afar isn’t enough. You have to know exactly how to get there. See, sometimes when I’m alone in my car, I can take a route that is not as efficient as it needs to be when someone is in my car. No one is holding me accountable in that situation. I can make a wrong turn and get twisted around and still make it to my intended destination. But when I have a rider, I have to be on point. Lead your team correctly. Take the time to learn the “lay of the land”. Map out a path before you encourage your team to follow you. Know the terrain and be confident in the path that you will have your team take with you.

Your followers have different needs. Cater to the needs of your riders

Some riders like to talk. Others would rather not say much. Some riders like music or a podcast. Others can go without any noise. Some riders want to hear your music. Others want to grab the AUX cord and play their music. Some riders are in a rush. Other riders aren’t as hasty. Riders have different preferences. And drivers have to cater to those needs.

Communication as a leader is important. Use your judgment and conversation to determine what your team wants and needs from you. Each person may have a different desire with respect to how you lead them. Respect your team enough to learn the team members individually. Give them the assurance that you are actively learning their styles and preferences. You may not be able to “bend over backwards” and meet every request. But learning and acknowledging the styles of your team members goes a long way to gaining respect and loyalty from the team.

Have options for your “Leadership GPS”

When drivers pick up riders, they can rely on their knowledge of the area or choose from several GPS options. As I stated earlier, you might think that you know the area, but you don’t always know every back alley and crevice. So it’s best to have a GPS app at your disposal. Uber allows you to select their GPS app, Google’s GPS, Mapquest, and Waze. Before Uber integrated the other GPS options, drivers had one option built into the app. Many drivers like myself would go to the other options as backups. Sometimes, a street that used to be a two-way street is now a one-way. Sometimes, there may be traffic or a road that is temporarily closed. Simply put, things change.

As a leader, do all that you can to have the tools in place to lead your people. Invest in your performance by investing in the team and obtaining the tools needed. If it means buying each member a book that helps to develop their skills, so be it. If it means budgeting for training and certifications, so be it. If it means that you have to learn new styles of communication and leadership to navigate “troubled waters”, so be it. Know that you need help with direction and do all that you can to take the right path.

When there is a loss, you should be the one to take it

When I first started as a driver, sometimes I’d hit the “complete trip” button too fast. The rider would end up getting a severely discounted trip on my account. Other times, I would take the wrong route. In those instances, I’d hit “complete trip” early to save the rider from incurring any unnecessary cost for a longer trip. Sometimes, I’d take a rider to an area where tolls were required. I’d have to dig in my console for quarters or, if I didn’t have change, take the camera fine in the city where the tolls were located.

Leaders take the hit. Leaders take the loss. Leaders pay the cost. Don’t pass the buck.

First right of refusal for those who have been following

Uber has a new “pool” option. Riders that are headed in the same direction have the option of sharing a vehicle and splitting the fare. The fare is about 60% of what it would be for each person. So the driver gets a little more for the ride. But, the riders are still discounted for sharing a ride to the same area. As a driver, I give the rider the first right of refusal of another rider. So, even if a rider selects “pool”, if they don’t want another person in the car, I let them make that decision. When riders are open to another rider, I pick up the second or third rider(s) and I make an effort to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to be comfortable. If the first rider and I already have a convo going, I may brief the new rider(s) on what we were discussing.

As a leader, you may take on more team members and followers. Your team members or followers won’t always have the luxury of being able to refuse new members. But, keep those original people in mind. Be mindful of chemistry and culture. Work to integrate the new members of team into the culture to build chemistry. Bring the new members up to speed. Leaders who lead teams that are changing shapes have to have great team awareness.

“Do you have a preferred route?”

When I started with Uber, I took an online training. One of the tips given during the training was to allow the rider to lead the ride if they have a preferred route. Most riders will allow the driver to take the lead. But it’s a courteous question that allows you to figure out if the rider is in a hurry and has a specific way or shortcut to get to their destination.

Relinquishing power can be difficult. Sometimes your team members have shortcuts that you didn’t think of. Empower them to help guide the direction. They will rely on your leadership in most instances. But every once in a while, they may be aware of an “alley” or “side street” that can help the team avoid barriers in the road to success.

Commit to be a leader once a day, rather than a leader all day for one day

Many Uber drivers use it as an additional stream of income. Some drivers will drive on weekends to gain some extra funds. One of the problems that I faced was my schedule changing or just being tired from all the other activities that I am a part of. The idea of driving on a Friday night and getting no sleep in preparation for a busy Saturday sometimes discourages me from going out altogether. Before Uber lowered its rates/fee for riders, I could forgo one weekend night. I knew that I could skip one weekend and make up for it the next. Well, Uber dropped fees and it became harder to make as much money as fast as it used to be. This meant that skipping a weekend night could be more costly. You have to spend a little more time on the market to make the same money you could under the previous rates. I’ve now committed to driving more often. I’ve committed to looking at my schedule each day and seeing if I can get at least one rider a day. Being in the habit of working on the app will help me avoid a week where I bank only on a Friday being free for me to drive and then my schedule changes and prevents that from happening. One random weeknight, I cut the app on and I got a rider who was leaving D.C. and heading to Baltimore. I wasn’t expecting that request, but the fare that she paid was a pleasant surprise. That came as a result of me being open to drive on more than just a weekend night.

Today, leadership isn’t always as valued as it used to be. People are quick to criticize leaders. If you lead, your head seems to constantly be on “the chopping block”. Therefore you have to lead more often and not just in big moments. Leaders and those who aspire to be leaders should try to lead once a day rather than being “all in” for the one day that they think they should be “all in” for. You can’t predict when people will need you to lead. So, it has to be an everyday practice. It is often those random moments that we don’t pay attention to that allows us to practice leadership and make an impact on the lives of others. If we wait for what we perceive to be a “big moment” to lead, when it comes, we won’t be ready. Leadership is something that we have to practice and get in the habit of doing. This is why we must lead everyday at least once a day.

Candy as consideration

As a driver, I am rated by my riders. My goal is to give the rider a pleasant experience. I have a candy dish in my backseat. It’s filled with jolly ranchers, bubble gum, and sometimes I have water back there as well. I picked these items because some riders may want to freshen up their breath or they may need a quick drink of water to replenish themselves. I gave some thought to what a rider may want and I try to offer some of it for them.

Consideration goes a long with with leadership. It promotes trust and offers an opportunity to build a rapport with colleagues and teammates. Having an informal discussion with someone and learning about their likes and preferences can teach you a lot. If you provide them with some of their likes, it shows that you listen. And if what they want, like, or prefer is easily obtained and is considered to be “low hanging fruit”, why not give them that to show that you’re listening?

Lead where you are (dont chase surges)

Anyone who rides in an Uber knows about surges. It’s an increase in rates based on the ratio of riders to drivers. If there are not enough drivers on the market, the demand among riders on the market increases and so does the price of an average ride in that area. The surge in price is an alarm for drivers who are not on the market. Once more drivers get on the market, the surge in prices goes back down to normal. Many drivers chase surges to get extra money. Some surges last for minutes if not hours. Other surges last for a few seconds. The surge basically aims to adjust the market to make it as even as possible in terms of the ratio of riders to drivers. So if you’re in one part of town and you see a surge on your app happening 2-3 miles away, by the time you get to that area the surge could be done. Some drivers decline rides in their area just to get to another area that is currently surging. All of this effort is put in by that driver just to get to what they thought was a surging area that is now back to regular pricing. What a waste!

Lead where you are. Don’t be a big name chaser. If your job is in a less than popular department, be the best leader in that department. If your company is not a household name, that doesn’t excuse you not being the best leader you can at that company. Opportunities to lead where things are surging won’t always be promised. But if you lead, and you lead well, you can increase the chances of the “surge” happening where you are.

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