Carefully consider the unintended consequences of breaking a commitment

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on October 21, 2019

Have you ever failed to fulfill a commitment you made to someone and experienced unintended consequences? How did that make you feel? The adage “your word is your bond” has significant meaning to those who place high importance on trust and in meeting their commitments. It defines their character.

A case in point are the unintended consequences of President Donald Trump’s abrupt Oct. 7 announcement to immediately pull American troops out of northern Syria, exposing the Kurds in the region to attacks by the Turkish military. The Kurds are a distinct ethnic group and they live within regions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. The U.S. withdrawal provides an opportunity for the Turkish military to seize the portion of Kurdish territory claimed by Turkey and will permit the resurgence of ISIS.

The Kurds have been a key ally in the U.S. fight against ISIS. They view the U.S. withdrawal as an abandonment of a commitment to protect them against Turkey. Turkey is also an ally of the U.S. and is a member of NATO.

Soon after Trump’s announcement and the U.S. military withdrawal, many ISIS fighters escaped detention. There are now militias roaming the region, which is falling into chaos.

Shortly after Trump’s order to withdraw American troops, the military forces of Turkey attacked the Kurds, notwithstanding Trump’s threat to “totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey if he considered their actions to be off limits.”

On Oct. 14, Trump announced economic sanctions on Turkey in an attempt to halt the Turkish military onslaught against the Kurds. On Oct.17, Vice President Mike Pence announced a five-day ceasefire to give the Kurds time to evacuate the region. The prime minister of Turkey described it as only a pause in operations. In exchange, Trump announced the lifting of economic sanctions. However, a day after the ceasefire announcement, the Turks continued to shell Kurdish civilians. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said, “The cease-fire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally, adding insult to dishonor.”

As a result of the U.S. troop withdrawal, the Kurds have cut a deal with Syrian President Bashal-al-Assad to protect them against Turkey, significantly strengthening the Syrian president in the country’s civil war and boosting Russia’s influence in the region. Apparently, Trump did not think through these unintended consequences nor a possible resurgence of ISIS, which are not in the best interests of the U.S.

In a press conference on Oct. 9, Trump was asked if in future times of need, whether it’s going to be more difficult to develop alliances. Trump responded, “No, it won’t be. Alliances are very easy…” My personal experience is that this is not the case. Trust is built over time, but can be destroyed very quickly. People who violate their commitments are not trusted.

One wonders how the South Koreans and Israelis are feeling now. They must be wondering, “Can we trust the U.S. to keep its commitments to us?”

A Washington Post article dated Oct. 13 is headlined, “Trump orders withdrawal of U.S. forces from northern Syria, days after Pentagon downplays that possibility.” Every effective leader listens to the experts on their staff, and it is reported that they and a number of Senate Republicans warned Trump about U.S. troop withdrawal, but he ordered the withdrawal anyway. It’s an embarrassment to the U.S. for Trump to unexpectedly announce a U.S. withdrawal, contradicting the earlier comments by the Pentagon.

An Oct. 13 article in The New York Times headlined, “Pullback leaves Green Berets feeling ashamed, and Kurdish allies describing betrayal.” The article quotes a U.S. military officer stating, “[The Kurds] trusted us and we broke that trust. It’s a stain on the American conscience.” In the same article, an official allied with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, is quoted as stating, “The worst thing …is betrayal [of your comrades].”

Trump has talked about his desire to pull troops out of Syria in the past. His abrupt action without a plan to protect American interests in the region led to strong condemnation by former members of his and previous administrations, and by both Republican and Democratic members of Congress.

Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, during an interview on Meet the Press, stated, “[We] will have to see if [the Kurds] are able to maintain the fight against ISIS.” Mattis continued, “I think Secretary of State [Mike] Pompeo, the intelligence services and the foreign countries that are working with us have it about right, that ISIS is not defeated.”

Mattis was asked, “How do you turn [U.S. abandonment of the Kurds] around?” He said, “You turn issues like this around based on trust, and re-instilling trust is going to be very difficult for the Americans at this point.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a fervent Trump supporter stated,“I think he’s putting the nation at risk, and I think he’s putting his presidency at risk … I hope he will adjust his policies.” During a Fox and Friends interview, Graham said, “The biggest lie being told by the administration is that ISIS is defeated.”

On Oct.16, The House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the U.S. Syrian troop withdrawal by a vote of 354 to 60, with two thirds of the House Republicans voting for the resolution, including the Republican House leadership.

So, what are the lessons to be learned from Trump’s withdrawal of troops from northern Syria?

  • Always consider the unintended consequences of your decisions.
  • Listen to your advisers.
  • If you lose the confidence and trust of allies due to a broken commitment, they may go elsewhere for what they need, lessening your influence in the future.
  • If you lose support on a major issue, you lose political capital.
  • Don’t let others think you don’t know what you are doing. It makes you and your organization look bad.

A leader’s effectiveness and their organization’s or country’s standing depends on the degree to which others trust them. Don’t violate that trust. Don’t walk away from your commitments.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at

The lesson taught by Uber: Not all founders can take their company to the next level

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on September 16, 2019

Visionaries have changed how we do our jobs and interact with each other. Think about the world before personal computers, cell phones, email, texting, apps, the internet, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

One such visionary is Travis Kalanick, co-founder and former CEO of Uber. He transformed the taxicab/ride-hailing transportation business by challenging paradigms through the use of information technology and hiring individuals who use their own vehicles to transport people who traditionally used taxis or other forms of transportation.

An entrepreneur with a great idea and the drive to start a new business is not necessarily the individual with the skills, values and temperament to run and grow the company over the long term.

I wrote an article on the downfall of Kalanick in June 2017. This is an update of that article.

Kalanick had been criticized for Uber’s unethical practices in evading municipal ride-share regulations, accusations of technology theft by Google and his disregard for the financial condition and treatment of Uber drivers who were the backbone of his business model. Kalanick was also criticized for his poor tone at the top and fraternity-like culture that ignored sexual harassment complaints from female employees, causing many to leave the company.

The culture within Uber was certainly not one that would be tolerated by public company investors. Any ethical misstep by the CEO or hint of a scandal has an immediate adverse impact on the company’s stock price.

His drive to win at nearly all costs by pushing ethical and legal boundaries to the limit damaged the company’s reputation and adversely affected its market share.

In February 2017, Uber’s board hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his law firm to investigate and make recommendations on how to fix the culture within the company. After the report was issued in June 2017, questions were raised whether Kalanick was the right CEO to oversee the cultural changes that were needed within the then-private company.

In a recent article in Vanity Fair, columnist Mike Isaac chronicles the February 2017 meeting during which the senior leadership team at Uber forced Kalanick to hear the brutal facts of reality, “that he was poisoning the company’s brand.” Isaac writes, “Uber didn’t have an image problem. Uber had a Travis problem.”

It is rare for a CEO who is so identified with a toxic tone at the top and culture to successfully implement change, so it was only a matter of time before it became apparent that Kalanick had to go.

Kalanick stepped down as CEO of Uber on June 18, 2017 but remained on the board. The New York Times reported on June 21, 2017 that Kalanick had been presented a letter from five major investors demanding that he resign. Why didn’t the board of Uber demand his resignation? That’s their job.

Yahoo Finance reported that former eBay and PayPal executive Stephanie Tilenius commented, “Travis’ management style and poor choices are now a case study for every startup that sexual harassment and bad ethics will never be tolerated, regardless of how successful or fast a company grows.” CEO Travis Katz, in the same article, commented, “There has always been a sense that in Silicon Valley, growth is the only thing that matters. Kalanick’s resignation sends a message that we have entered a new era, where growth, without a fundamental sense of decency, is simply not good enough.”

A fundamental sense of decency is always required for the long-term success of any enterprise. Not only is it the right thing to do, but the public demands it.

The board hired Dara Khosrowshahi as the new CEO of Uber. Khosrowshahi, the former CEO of travel group Expedia, is an experienced business leader who is changing the culture at the company. Uber went public on May 10, 2019. It is hard to imagine a successful IPO if Kalanick had remained as the CEO.

The boards of startup companies usually consist of colleagues of the CEO, investors or other stakeholders and, as a result, may not in a practical sense be independent. Nevertheless, the board has the responsibility to ensure the CEO espouses the right tone at the top and nurtures the right culture. It took too long for the board of Uber to launch the outside investigation by Eric Holder.

Boards also have the responsibility to know when it is time to transition the leadership to an individual with the background and experience needed to take the company to the next level, even though that might be a difficult decision for them to make and for the founding CEO to hear. In Uber’s case, it was outside investors who demanded that Kalanick resign. However, it was really the board’s job to do so.

A lesson for all boards: Not all founders will have the skills to take the company to the next level. If the founder CEO isn’t cutting it regarding tone, ethics and culture, make a change before change is forced upon you by the company’s investors.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, adviser and nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at

9 ways to build trust within your organization

Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on August 6, 2019

Given the importance of trust in enabling organizations to thrive, this article
updates my April 2016 article, “How to earn employee trust to build a high-
performance team.”

Have you ever worked in an organization where there was a low level of trust
among peers, or where direct reports did not trust their boss or the CEO of the
company? This type of organization has a toxic atmosphere, which significantly
reduces its effectiveness.

What is “trust?” The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines trust as a “belief that
someone is reliable, good, honest and effective … one in which confidence is
placed.” Wouldn’t we all like to work within organizations where all employees
feel this level of trust in their leaders and peers?

Stephen Covey, the late motivational speaker, writer and advisor, once wrote,
“Without trust we don’t truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or, at best,
cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.” When people
don’t trust each other, there is an invisible elephant in the room, which may
adversely impact the effectiveness of the decision process.
Whether you are CEO, a mid-level manager or an individual contributor with no
direct reports, trust needs to be earned. So, how do you earn the trust of others?

Be consistent and readable by those within your organization

As a CEO or other leader, there should be no misunderstanding as to your tone at
the top – the values to which you hold yourself and your employees accountable,
and the type of organizational culture you are nurturing. Employees trust and want
to work for an organization with high ethical standards, and work for a leader that
lives by those standards.

As a leader, ensure your expectations are understood. Situations will arise when
decisions need to be made by your employees for which there is no operating
procedure or precedent. Employees will fall back on their good critical judgment
and proceed in a way consistent with your expectations, tone and culture.

Meet your commitments

Don’t make a commitment you cannot keep. If the situation changes and you find
that you can’t keep a commitment, notify the individual immediately. She may have
made a commitment to others, based on your commitment to her.

Don’t blame other people for your mistakes

If you make a mistake, own it and share how next time the issue will be handled in
a different manner. You don’t create trust by blaming others for your mistake.
Employees that do this never last long within the kind of organization in which we
all want to work.

Allow your direct reports to share with you a contrary point of view

I have worked for bosses who were not interested in contrary views. This did not
engender trust. As the leader, compare other’s opinions on how to proceed on an
issue with your own view. Through discussion and debate, you may accept their
view, or may discover a third alternative path, better than either of the first two
paths. Follow this process and you will rarely choose the wrong way to proceed.

Create an environment that allows employees to share the brutal facts of

As a leader, you want your people to feel safe in sharing bad news. Don’t shoot the
messenger. You can’t solve a problem unless you know what it is. You want your
people to have trust and confidence that you will listen to them.

Help employees develop a sense of ownership in what they do

Empower employees, don’t micromanage. Show your employees that you trust
them by letting them decide how to accomplish an objective. This will help your
employees develop a sense of ownership in what they do. When this occurs, you
can rely on them to drive results.

Be accessible and transparent

Create opportunities for all employees – not only your direct reports – to talk with
you. Walk around the office or factory floor. Ask how people are doing. However,
avoid telling them what to do. If an issue arises that needs to be addressed, talk with
your direct report responsible for the area. Hold town meetings to talk about the
business and respond to employees’ questions. Be as transparent as possible,
realizing that there are things that cannot be publicly shared.

Before making a decision, hear both sides of an issue

No matter how compelling an argument is presented by an individual on one side of
an issue, there is always the other side, which may be more compelling. Hear both
sides before making a decision. The individual on the losing side of the issue won’t
like your decision, but will respect the fact that you went through a fair process and
heard both sides.

Live your values

Living your values engenders trust. As CEO of PQ Corporation, I experienced a
minor OSHA recordable accident while traveling on business. I insisted that the
accident be written up, and for that quarter, I was one of PQ’s safety statistics.
Word was spread to our 56 manufacturing facilities around the world that the CEO
called an OSHA recordable accident on himself. This demonstrated that I held
myself accountable to the same standards as I held our employees.

The best talent will want to work for companies where there is a high level of trust
with the senior leadership and among fellow employees. These are the companies
that have the lowest turnover and achieve the highest long-term returns to
shareholders. This is the type of company at which we all want to work.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker,
advisor and nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and
corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical
engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of
the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be
reached at