Like many, I followed the epic rise and meteoric fall of Theranos and its founder Elizabeth Holmes. I listened to John Carreyrou’s best seller, Bad Blood while traveling to visit clients. I’m sure I concerned a few folks on the road when they saw me yelling in my car. It wasn’t road rage. It was Holmes rage. And Balwani rage. And Silicon Valley rage. And shit leadership rage.
Almost daily, we’re faced with examples of fallen tech leaders that have zero foundation in leadership and disgusting behaviors that create and promote toxic culture. Elizabeth Holmes and Sonny Balwani are certainly examples. In another example, Travis Kalanick’s über-bro-ness lead to his ousting from Uber. I’m guessing that these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. You’re probably reading this, and some names are coming to mind for you.
These headlines infuriate me and break my heart at the same time. Like most people, I’m furious over the outright lies, fraud and abusive behavior. My fury turns to a bit of heartbreak, too.
Remember, at my core, I’m a scientist and I believe in the good that tech can bring to the world.
It truly pains me to think about the mass of brilliant ideas, promising technology and inspired professionals that are silenced because of garbage leadership. Instead, their time and talent are wasted in a cesspool of chaos with “leaders” that are clueless about how to engage and empower staff. Elizabeth Holmes silenced ideas and talent that could have been funneled toward something great. For that alone, I’d like to pummel her. And, I’m happy to wait in line.
It’s easy to point the finger at specific people like Holmes, Balwani and Kalanick. The truth is, though, they’re part of the Silicon Valley machine that’s trying to crank out unicorns by any means necessary. As other cities clamber to become the next Silicon Valley, their machines are hard at work, too. With eyes focused on inflated valuations and short term returns, building a sustainable company with a real foundation is overlooked. Countless incubators focus on the pitch, business plan and fundraising. All very important, for sure. I’ve asked “What are you doing to develop leadership, teams and culture?” In one case, I was told, “Oh, they’re just not ready for that, yet.” If you’re not ready to start working on leadership, teams and culture, you’re not ready to build a sustainable company geared for growth.
I’m not willing to ignore the headlines about another fallen tech leader. I’m not willing to ignore toxic tech culture. I’m not willing because I’m a scientist at heart and I can’t stand the thought of science & technology being squandered simply because we don’t know how to lead. I’m not willing to be silenced.
In memory of the late Dr. Ian Gibbons, Chief Scientist at Theranos.
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