How to Build (and Rebuild) Trust: Frances Frei (Full Transcript)

The third wobble is authenticity, and I find it to be the most vexing. We as a human species can sniff out in a moment, literally in a moment, whether or not someone is being their authentic true self. So in many ways, the prescription is clear. You don’t want to have an authenticity wobble? Be you. Great. And that is super easy to do when you’re around people who are like you.

But if you represent any sort of difference, the prescription to “be you” can be super challenging. I have been tempted at every step of my career, tempted personally and tempted by coaching of others, to mute who I am in the world. I’m a woman of super strong opinions, with really deep convictions, direct speech. I have a magnificent wife, and together, we have such crazy ambition. I prefer men’s clothes and comfortable shoes. Thank you, Allbirds. In some contexts, this makes me different.

I hope that each person here has the beautiful luxury of representing difference in some context in your life. But with that privilege comes a very sincere temptation to hold back who we are, and if we hold back who we are, we’re less likely to be trusted. And if we’re less likely to be trusted, we’re less likely to be given stretch assignments. And without those stretch assignments, we’re less likely to get promoted, and so on and so on until we are super depressed by the demographic tendencies of our senior leadership. And it all comes back to our being, our authentic selves.

So here’s my advice. Wear whatever makes you feel fabulous. Pay less attention to what you think people want to hear from you and far more attention to what your authentic, awesome self needs to say. And to the leaders in the room, it is your obligation to set the conditions that not only make it safe for us to be authentic but make it welcome, make it celebrated, cherish it for exactly what it is, which is the key for us achieving greater excellence than we have ever known is possible. So let’s go back to Uber.

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What happened at Uber? When I got there, Uber was wobbling all over the place. Empathy, logic, authenticity were all wobbling like crazy. But we were able to find super effective, super quick fixes for two of the wobbles. I’ll give you an illustration of empathy. In the meetings at Uber, it was not uncommon for people to be texting one another about the meeting. I had never seen anything like it. It may have done many things, but it did not create a safe, empathetic environment. The solution though, super clear: technology, off and away. And that forced people to look up, to look at the people in front of them, to listen to them, to immerse themselves in their perspectives and to collaborate in unprecedented ways.

Logic was equally wobbly, and this was because the hypergrowth of the organization meant that people, managers were getting promoted again and again and again. Soon, they were put in positions that they had no business being in. Their positions outstripped their capability, and it was not their fault. The solution: a massive influx of executive education that focused specifically on logic, on strategy and leadership. It gave people the rigor of the quality of their logic, and it turned a whole lot of triangles, right-side up, so people were able to communicate effectively with one another.

The last one, authenticity, I’ll say it’s still mighty wobbly, but honestly, that doesn’t make Uber very different from all of the other companies I’ve seen in Silicon Valley and beyond. It is still much easier to coach people to fit in. It is still much easier to reward people when they say something that you were going to say, as opposed to rewarding people when they say something entirely different than what you were going to say. But when we figure out this, when we figure out how to celebrate difference and how to let people bring the best version of themselves forward, well holy cow, is that the world I want my sons to grow up in. And with the collection of people here, it would be a privilege to lock arms with you and go ahead and rebuild trust in every corner of the globe. Thank you very much.

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