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

Get the Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership as Paperback

Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership: Cover of English paperback The Manifesto for Human(e) Leadership is also available in a detailed version as a paperback at Amazon (also as an e-book). Since I have published the book independently, I am always delighted to receive word of mouth recommendations to colleagues, friends and acquaintances.

Leave a Reply