Google insights on the emergent leader

Google has been using Big Data analytics to learn what works and doesn’t work with its 48,000 employees in recruiting, management and leadership. Adam Bryant, a New York Times reporter who interviews CEOs for his Corner Office column, interviewed Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of “people operations” for Google and provides significant insights into the changing face of leadership.

Google discovered that it had been using techniques to recruit and select new hires that were not well correlated with success on the job.  What they found was that a person’s GPA, where they went to school and even facility with the Google brainteasers they used for testing acumen, were not predictors of success.  Expertise, except in select technical areas, was also not a useful predictor.

Google found that the primary attributes of success were emergent leadership skills and the desire and ability to learn.  Intellectual curiosity, the capacity for pulling together and processing disparate bits of information to arrive at an answer or understanding, is more important than possessing specific knowledge. Most of the time employees with intellectual curiosity and leadership skills will reach the same answer as an “expert” having far greater experience and, at times, the “non-expert” will come up with something totally new.  Furthermore, humility is needed for learning. Many successful people make a fundamental attribution error; taking credit for successes, believing it is due to their own skill, and then not taking responsibility for failures.  Without humility, one cannot learn from mistakes.

Emergent leadership predicts success. Emergent leadership does not derive “power” from a position or degree, but instead the leader guides the process in the right direction through competence in dealing with social situations.  As a team member, the emergent leader knows when to step in and lead, whether or not they have an official position. Then, when the time is right, they step back and let someone else take over the leadership role. Mr. Bock told the Times: “to be an effective leader… you have to be willing to relinquish power.”

Google has significantly improved the level of employee satisfaction with management’s leadership.  Mr. Bock says: “We’ve actually made it harder to be a bad manager.”  Consistency, fairness and predictability in decision-making are all desirable leadership traits.  When employees understand management’s requirements, teams feel free to create because they know the parameters.  Unpredictability in management limits freedom and creativity.  As part of a program of continuous management improvement, employees evaluate their managers twice a year on about 12 to 18 characteristics, such as respectfulness, clear goal setting, sharing of information and treating the entire team fairly.  The feedback gathered is shared with the manager and the manager’s progress is tracked.  Big Data gives the manager information that is useful for understanding the quality of their decision-making and leadership.  Accordingly, the information impacts the manager to change their conduct in order to improve.

Organizational success is built on a collaboration and accountability.  Google wants employees to feel a sense of responsibility and ownership, and the courage to step in and try to solve any problem. The goal is to work together with each individual contributing for the benefit of the whole.  Mr. Bock believes: “These are fundamental things that turn out to be really important in making people feel excited and happy and wanting to go the extra mile for you.”

Stuart R. Levine

Stuart R. Levine

Founded in 1996, Stuart Levine & Associates LLC is an international strategic planning and leadership development company with focus on adding member value by strengthening corporate culture. SL&A ... Web: Details