Monday, November 9, 2009

So What Does Google Think??

So we are getting to the end of the wire... and as we are all trying to come up with our own models of leadership and opinions of whether or not it can be taught, I thought why not look into what Google thinks about this. We ask Google everything else, right?

I was fortunate enough to come across an interview conducted on August 18, 2009 with Evan Wittenberg, head of Global Leadership Development at Google. He makes some very interesting and intriguing comments about Google's opinion of leadership and asks many of the same questions we have asked throughout this course. Overall, Wittenberg describes Google's opinion of leadership with the following: "It's not authority based leadership. It's credibility, it's innovation, it's influence. It's the kinds of things anybody at any level could use to be more effective and help Google." Their view of leadership aligns with the values of their organization (Burns, Selznick, Heifitz). He goes on to say this is possible because everyone is dedicated and passionate about the vision. (Sashkin, 1989). This idea reminds me of Choi's model of leadership (Choi, 2006). It comes down to envisioning, empowerment, and empathy. Google focuses on all three and they put that responsibility in the hands of every employee. Their focus on the importance of teamwork and trust in each other models elements of servant leadership. All employees are servant leaders by serving first. (Greenleaf, 1991). They are serving each other and ultimately all serving Google's mission first above all else.

So with this model of leadership, what do they provide for development? Well interestingly enough, nothing is mandatory. They do not make anyone go to any of the programs they offer. They want their employees to be motivated to attend on their own so they really believe in the value of the program. McGregor would agree with their opinion to not pick out a select few of employees (McGregor, 1966). So what do they teach? Wittenberg claims they create "lab environments" where employees can come and build on their own personal leadership capabilities by teaching each other and sharing cases and problems from their day-to-day work. At the end of the day, Wittenberg says that the self-awareness piece is one of the most critical to personal leadership growth. It is even the foundational core to their view of leadership development. He says, "You cannot lead anyone until you know yourself..." What does everyone think about Google's decision to not make it mandatory?

I think what is important to notice is everything seems to be aligned at Google; the leadership, the culture, the vision, the values, and the work.

I will leave you with this quote from Wittenberg that says a lot of what they believe in regards to leadership. " Every Googler, every one of our 20,000 people, can act as a leader." In organizations, do you believe this is really true? Can everyone be a leader? Well, Google sure does seem to think so, and I do believe I agree.

Here is the link to the interview:


  1. Allison-

    I definitely see Theory Y written all over Google, and I'm personally a fan. And I think it works generally. I think of Pixar and IDEO and Apple in general. Combined with Google, they all have a very similar mantra/ style of working environment- you are your own leader, now create!

    So I think this loose control is an excellent form of empowerment and does cultivate a multitude of leadership. I'm a big fan of this style of "leadership", because someone at the top of all these companies does make the conscious decision to run their corporations in this manner and the leadership does trickle down to every employee.

    Thanks, Allison!

  2. Allison, I agree with Christopher too, that Google has Theory Y written all over it. In fact, I think Theory Y answers your question - about Google's decision to not make development programs mandatory. According to Theory Y, people actively seek responsibility when they are committed to a vision. Google employs people who fit into its culture of trust and teamwork and then develops a shared vision with them.

    Like other Theory Y proponents, it probably believes that these intrinsically motivated employees will make good use of any opportunity that they think will help them develop. Therefore, I think Google does a good job at practicing its professed values by not making these development programs mandatory. The results speak for themselves.

  3. In addition to the idea of Theory Y by McGregor, this also makes me think of our recent reading in regards to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. It seems that Google is nurturing both, but really put their faith in the intrinsic motivation of their staff.

    I also wonder how this leadership style would work in a different industry that doesn't thrive as much on creativity and innovation. Would Theory Y and this openness to staff freedom be as helpful?

  4. Thanks for your comments, everyone! I completely agree with you in regards to the reflection of Theory Y in the leadership model of Google.

    Marisa, I think you bring up a good question. As I mentioned, it seems like the culture, values, and leadership are all aligned at Google. So to answer your question, maybe a different industry or different culture should also have a different model of leadership. Creativity and innovation is valuable is any organization but of course that could look different for any one company. Therefore, maybe the big take away from the Google example is that at the end of the day, it is important that all these aspects of your company are aligned in order to drive the best performance. So leadership should look different in varying organizations because no two organizations are exactly the same.


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