Leadership Lessons from Google


Leaders of well-led organizations focus on people, purpose, and potential. What makes an ideal organization distinctive from others, who remain mediocre, is their leaders’ inability in creating a friendly and thriving culture.

We have witnessed a remarkable growth in top-tier companies (e.g., Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook) over the last decade. Is their success accidental or intentional? What makes this whirlwind success easier for the top-tiers while others keep struggling?

Managers and leaders at Google, like all other leaders in the industry, stay focused on company strategy, plans, process, priorities, and checklists, however, Google is a lot more focused on its people than others.

Just imagine, what a good strategy can do if the people executing it are unmotivated or unclear about what to do. Google’s overwhelming success begins with a different paradigm – value your people first before anything else – which can be noticed but not touched by other companies in the industry.

Leadership is all about people; it is not about organizations, it is not about plans, its not about strategies. It is all about people motivating people to get the job done. You have to be people centered. Colin Powell- a retired General from the US Army

Good Leaders Value People First

Leaders of exceptionally successful companies formulate their strategies centered on their people who in turn bring enduring success through hard work and commitment to the company’s vision. People start living and breathing company’s value everyday when its values, mission, vision, and strategies are crystal clear to them.

With these intangible values, mission, and corporate vision, a company’s employees can formulate a culture of shared direction, motivation, and commitment.

People feel recognized in a trusting culture built on an inspiring vision, vibrant mission, and a strong value system. What motivates people is a lot bigger than compensating them with regular salary and bonus. A real trust begets an absolute trust!

Give people slightly more trust, freedom, and authority than you are comfortable giving them; if you are nervous, you haven’t given them enough. Excerpts from the book “Work Rules”, by Laszlo Bock, Google, COO

Leadership at Google empowers independent thinking (freedom) and encourages research. Other organizations planning to learn from and emulate Google’s people-first policies must put the following practices in place in their organizations:

1.   Get to know your employees

2.   Create new ways to reward and promote your high-performing employees

3.   Let your employees own the problems you want them to solve

4.   Allow employees to function outside the company hierarchy

5.   Have your employees’ performance reviewed by someone they respect for their objectivity and impartiality

How does Google shape the behavior of its employees by adopting the people-first policy? In any organizational culture, people choose to either collaborate, averse or manipulate each other depending on the passion of their practice.

The culture of cooperation begins where people trust each other and builds things bigger than them. In Google; a newly hired software engineer gets access to almost its entire source code domain on the first day. One would expect that Google would carefully guard its code base — a collection of source code files that contain every secret of how Google’s algorithms and products work.

Granting access to the entire code base on day one is the first level of trust Google gives to an employee it hires. On the other hand, new engineers, in most of other software companies, can only see parts of the code bases for the product they are working on. Why? The issue is trust. If you trust your employees, there is no reason not to be transparent and not to let your employees transparently guide their everyday decisions.

Good Leaders Work with a Purpose

People crave for recognition, and purpose, specifically, a sense of purpose in their work more than anything else according to a Gallup survey. Leaders in the past used to work for their position and salary and now they aim to work for a purpose. Henry Ford used to say that a lot of leadership and success is about looking at things from your followers’ point of view, which I feel calls for a new paradigm of people-centric leadership called servant leadership.

Google’s brief mission statement is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” A significant cornerstone of Google’s culture rests on its core values – transparency and individual voice.

While most companies insist that they champion full transparency in their operations and give their employees a full voice, but the reality is far from the truth, Google translates the words into an unequivocal, on-the-ground, reality creating both clarity and a sense of purpose among its employees to unleash their full potential.

Dalai Lama has expressed it beautifully regarding the need for having a purpose: “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others, and if you cannot help them; don’t hurt them.”

Leaders Unleash People’s Full Potential

A “high-freedom approach” according to Laszlo Bock, for managing people is essential as compared to a low-freedom command-and-control approach of traditional companies that prefer to follow processes instead of unleashing the full potential of their people.

Freedom with accountability bolsters creativity, which is why Google is one of the most creative businesses in the world. Its workers feel more independent and are accountable for their actions.

Google allows its developers 20% of their time at their discretion. Following the 70-20-10 norm about time allocation by employees: 70 % of the time should be devoted to Google’s core business of search and advertising, 20 % to the off-budget projects related to the core business, and 10 % to pursue ideas based on one’s interest and competencies. Most of the innovative products at Google have emanated from this 20 and 10% creativity marathon.

“There is no reason not to be transparent and not to let them guide decisions,” Bock mentions in the book.” Values, when strictly adhered, help the employees direct their daily behavior and assist them in making more optimal decisions.

In the end, it is the people, their purpose (mission) and potential. Creating a friendlier and trusting culture is important. Anything undermining these aspects will result in substandard and mediocre corporate performance.

Mohsin Lodhi
Jul 12, 2017
Mohsin Lodhi is a Charter Member of OPEN Islamabad and Chief Evangelist of Leadership Special Interest Group. He is the CEO of mohsinlodhi.com with a mission to share knowledge and skills for a breakthrough performance. As a CEO, Mohsin has successfully led three companies and carries diverse local and international experience in leadership and management. He is an Enterprise Trainer and Executive Development Coach, who has trained and coached CEOs, Directors, Managers and Executives in groups and individually. You can get more information about him at Linkedin @ https://www.linkedin.com/in/mohsin-lodhi-009938b

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