10 Insights from Google’s Search for Good Leadership

In 2008, a team at Google launched Project Oxy­gen. The aim of the project was to find out what defines good lead­er­ship and what behav­iors char­ac­ter­ize a good man­ag­er at Google. Being a data-dri­ven com­pa­ny the team approached this ques­tion on the basis of data from employ­ee sur­veys and the man­agers’ annu­al per­for­mance reviews. The orig­i­nal eight behav­iors have recent­ly been reworked and two new behav­iors have been added. At first glance, they still seem quite triv­ial or, as the New York Times not­ed in its 2011 arti­cle, almost like a gag on the white­board in the tele­vi­sion series “The Office”. But one must not be deceived by this sim­plic­i­ty. Google has seen pos­i­tive effects in recent years in terms of employ­ee sat­is­fac­tion, turnover and per­for­mance through incor­po­rat­ing these find­ing into train­ings and through the intense focus on lead­er­ship that accom­pa­nies the pub­li­ca­tion. This is rea­son enough for a sec­ond look.

So these are the 10 behav­iors as the result of the Oxy­gen project (where 3 and 6 have been changed com­pared to the first ver­sion and 9 and 10 have been added). On first read­ing it sounds rea­son­able, but not real­ly ground­break­ing.

Las­z­lo Bock, Vice Pres­i­dent for “Peo­ple Oper­a­tions,” as the human resources depart­ment at Google calls itself, had a sim­i­lar expe­ri­ence back in 2011 when he read the (then eight) points for the first time. “My first reac­tion was, that’s it?” the New York Times arti­cle cites him. It was­n’t until the team ranked these behav­iors that there was a lit­tle sur­prise (at least for those who have once read job ads at Google for senior man­age­ment posi­tions and were like me per­haps sur­prised to see “strong pro­gram­ming” skills there). The tech­ni­cal exper­tise, e.g. how well a man­ag­er can pro­gram him­self, had by far the least influ­ence. What count­ed much more was that the man­ag­er took time for dis­cus­sions and helped the employ­ees to find solu­tions as a coach by ask­ing the right ques­tions instead of sim­ply giv­ing answers.

As a leader, a lot of your job is to make those peo­ple suc­cess­ful. It’s less about try­ing to be suc­cess­ful (your­self), and more about mak­ing sure you have good peo­ple and your work is to remove that bar­ri­er, remove road­blocks for them so that they can be suc­cess­ful in what they do.

Sun­dar Pichai, CEO Google (Quelle: QUARTZ)

Although less based on data and analy­sis, many of the behav­iors described at Google are nice­ly reflect­ed in the Man­i­festo for Human(e) Lead­er­ship pub­lished here, which makes me very hap­py. At Google, too, lead­er­ship is essen­tial­ly about mak­ing oth­ers suc­cess­ful, as Sun­dar Pichai, CEO of Google, him­self put it nice­ly. Micro­man­age­ment is just as unac­cept­able as Com­mand & Con­trol. Lead­er­ship is instead based on pur­pose and trust in the cre­ativ­i­ty and moti­va­tion of the employ­ees.

In order to find exam­ples of good lead­er­ship, you cer­tain­ly don’t have to trav­el all the way to Moun­tain View. The Ger­man hote­lier and author Bodo Janssen, for exam­ple, said all the essen­tials with the fol­low­ing quote and achieved con­sid­er­able suc­cess with his hotel chain Upstals­boom with this atti­tude of val­ue cre­ation through appre­ci­a­tion. Like Google’s find­ings, his con­clu­sion also sounds very sim­ple – and yet it is so dif­fi­cult to apply. Good lead­er­ship makes the deci­sive dif­fer­ence, also and espe­cial­ly in times of knowl­edge work, agili­ty, self-orga­ni­za­tion, New Work or Bet­ter Work.

Lead­er­ship is a ser­vice – not a priv­i­lege. The ser­vice for employ­ees is to offer them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to devel­op them­selves.

Bodo Janssen

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