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What is good leadership? 10 ultimate tips from Google

Leadership is no child's play - most should agree that. But what is good leadership? As with most everyday questions, Google has found a good answer here. Because Google is now using its experience and resources as a global corporation to generate knowledge even in internal studies. 

So also on the subject of good leadership and what makes good leadership - and that means a welcome to the Project Oxygen! 

What is "Project Oxygen"? 

First, it turns out differently, and second, than you think. So also with Project Oxygen. Because originally, the Google research team in 2008 was not trying to find out what makes a good manager at Google, but rather to prove that managers have no influence on team performance and are at best a necessary evil. 

Because engineers and millennials at Google in particular struggled with the seemingly outdated and superfluous hierarchy. However, this thesis of superfluousness was quickly refuted and the focus was on the question: What is good leadership? 

Before we go any deeper, a quick note. In two weeks we will hold a Free webinar on "Culture in agile transformation: the 5 most important success factors" - with 11 international experts as our guests! You can find more information in the teaser video below. 

If that sounds interesting, check out the Project Scagile website for more information - you can also register for free.

How was the data collected?

The quality of leadership was initially assessed using two quantitative measures, namely the performance ratings of the managers and their feedback from the annual employee survey. When it turned out that teams with good managers were happier and more productive, they began to investigate what specific behaviors led to this success. 

For this purpose, the comments of the employees from the annual survey and the performance evaluations were evaluated and in this way ten typical behaviors of successful managers were identified. 

In the end, double-blind interviews (meaning that neither the interviewer nor the interviewee knows which group the other person or they belong to) were carried out with particularly capable and particularly incapable managers. So the best and worst case were consulted to find out how these two groups differed in their behavior. 

Eight components of good leadership were originally identified, but an update from 2019 is now based on ten. These ten components of good leadership are presented in more detail below.

What makes good leadership - the 10 components

Here is an overview before going into detail for each criterion. The order corresponds to a ranking list and shows how important which qualities were to the employees.

1. Is a good coach

The manager should take care of the problems of the employees. Weigh up who needs how much support and when. Give sufficient help. And look for solutions together. Targets should also be developed jointly. 

2. Encourages team and avoids micromanagement

A good coach does not tell everyone what he has to do exactly, but also leaves room for free development. A good coach provides the employee with all the necessary physical and psychological tools so that he can largely work independently. Because a good coach does not train afterwards, but self-thinkers. 

3. Creates an inclusive team environment, cares about success and well-being

Here comes the one (hopefully familiar to us by now) psychological safety in the game. Good teamwork can only come about if everyone feels they can express themselves and try things out and take risks without reaping resentment or punishment from colleagues and managers. A good manager develops this security with her team and prioritizes it.     

4. Is productive and results-oriented

Managers should also participate in actual work, not just lead. Because someone who only demands and never delivers does not appear authentic in his position. 

5. Is a good communicator - listens and shares information

Transparency is the key, in both directions. It is good leadership that the manager actively absorbs information from the employees and in turn returns information to the employees. So everyone knows why what is done is done.

6. Supports career development and discusses performance

"They do a good job" - That is certainly a very nice praise, but also said quite generally and rather impersonally. A good manager, on the other hand, praises specifically and sincerely. The same applies to criticism. And it supports the employee without fear of being outstripped by them. Because here you can quickly fall victim to the Social Comparison Bias (Garcia, Song & Tesser, 2010) and then only hire people who are a little worse than yourself. Or keep the employees so small that you never lose competence. As a result, the general level drops steadily and the quality of the employees moves in a downward spiral. 

7. Has a clear vision / strategy for the team

A good manager knows both the current and the target state of the team, as well as the steps that are necessary to bridge this difference! She also knows how to convey all of this in such a way that everyone knows what his role in the vision is. 

8. Has key technical skills for helpful advice

A manager should therefore be a master of their field and not just an expert in leadership. This enables them to really understand the work processes and challenges of the employees and provide helpful advice if necessary. It is interesting, however, that the employees at Google seem to see the technical competence as a crucial component of good leadership, but rather place a subordinate position within this ranking of professional qualifications. 

9. Works together effectively

Good leadership and teamwork do not end with your own team, but embrace the entire company. Good managers see the whole company as an in-group and do not split between their own team and the “others”, the out-group. 

10. Is a strong decision maker

Decisions have to be made and it makes good leadership to fulfill this duty. Even if it can get uncomfortable. But never without sufficiently analyzing the situation.

What is good leadership? 2 final tips

Even though many of the components certainly describe in general what good leadership is and can therefore also be transferred from Google to other companies, one should not forget that ultimately every company ticks a little differently and what works for Google and is prioritized by Google employees , does not necessarily have to be congruent for the needs and challenges of your company and your employees. That is why it is worthwhile to evaluate again for your own company whether managers really make a positive difference and which skills are specifically required. "What is good leadership?" So in the end it always remains a bit of an individual question. 

Here are 2 general tips:

1. Hire smart

Let's not fall victim to the social comparison bias mentioned above! This is a wisdom that many successful managers emphasize again and again. Steve Jobs, for example, saw that in addition to the vision as one of his main tasks: "The key for us, number one, has always been hiring very smart people."

Guy Kawasaki, one of Steve Job's long-time colleagues at Apple, clearly explains why this is so important in his keynote presentations (see below): “A player hire A + players; But B players hire C players; And C players hire D players. If you hire B players you'll soon end up with Z players; this is called The Bozo Explosion. ”

Anyone can imagine that in the final stages of this downward spiral, leadership will generally become a difficult and uncomfortable topic. That's why we stick to this wisdom, which Bill Marriott (Executive Chairman and Chairman of the Board of Marriott International) also understood when he said: “Always hire people who are smarter than you.”

2. Establish psychological security 

Once you have the right talent on board, it is important to create a working atmosphere in which your team members can fully develop their potential. To do this, record your status quo, clarify common expectations, give individual feedback, give each team member a vote and promote an appreciative atmosphere as well as a healthy error culture. Is that a bit much at once? Do not worry, right here everything is described and explained in detail again. 

We hope that the article gave you good food for thought and keep our fingers crossed for you to further develop your leadership skills (whether with leadership responsibility or without)!

Finally, a small hint... I am repeating myself because I can really recommend it:

In two weeks there will be a Free webinar on "Culture in agile transformation: the 5 most important success factors" - with 11 international experts as our guests! You can find more information in the teaser video below. 

If that sounds interesting, check out the Project Scagile website for more information - you can also register for free.

What makes good leadership - sources 

Garvin, DA, Wagonfeld, AB, & Kind, L. (2013). Google's project oxygen: Do managers matter ?.
Garcia, SM, Song, H., & Tesser, A. (2010). Tainted recommendations: The social comparison bias. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 113(2), 97-101.

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