Real Leaders

Top 10 Leadership Traits of Google Managers

Research shows that managers matter. They can have a significant impact on business outcomes and employee engagement. But many organizations do not adequately select or develop their managers, and miss a great opportunity for business advancement.

Google set out to determine what makes a manager great at Google. But first, a research team tried to prove the opposite: that managers actually don’t matter, that the quality of a manager didn’t impact a team’s performance. This hypothesis was based on an early belief held by some of Google’s leaders and engineers that managers are, at best, a necessary evil, and at worst, a layer of bureaucracy.

The team defined manager quality based on two quantitative measures: manager performance ratings and manager feedback from Google’s annual employee survey. This data quickly revealed that managers did matter: teams with great managers were happier and more productive.

But knowing that managers mattered didn’t explain what made managers great. So the team asked employees about their managers. By going through the comments from the annual employee survey and performance evaluations, the team found ten common behaviors across high-scoring managers. The researchers also conducted double blind interviews with a group of the best and worst managers to find illustrative examples of what these two groups were doing differently. Here are the ten traits they found that made a Google manager an effective leader:

  1. They are a good coach
  2. Empowers the team and does not micromanage
  3. Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-being
  4. Is productive and results-oriented
  5. Is a good communicator — listens and shares information
  6. Supports career development and discusses performance
  7. Has a clear vision and strategy for the team
  8. Has key technical skills to help advise the team
  9. Collaborates across the company
  10. Is a strong decision maker.

The People Operations team uncovered what makes a great manager at Google, but that doesn’t mean what works for Google managers will work for any organization.

To determine what makes managers great in your organization, consider these questions:

  • Do managers matter at your organization? Explore external research (e.g., Gallup research highlights five important manager talents) and internal input like surveys or interviews to find out if people managers matter to your team members’ performance and happiness.
  • If managers matter, whom do you need to convince and how? Google used internal data to convince engineers and leaders that managers matter. How will you convince your organization?
  • What makes a great manager at your organization? Google found ten behaviors of successful managers – you might find you have two, three, or twelve. Internal data, like employee survey results and interviews, can help uncover the elements of good management at your organization. 

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