Each of us, at some time in our career, dreamed of “designing” the perfect boss. You know what I mean. Type in the specifications and out would come exactly who you needed to get your job done with none of the flaws we’ve all tolerated in mere mortals. The question is “what would you want in a boss?”

Google laid down this challenge, after years of a low interference management style where highly intelligent people with significant expertise reported to equally intelligent people with even greater expertise. The “people operations,” aka HR heads, decided it was time to re-evaluate the strategy as well as address a need to enhance and improve the quality of the leaders at the Googleplex. Project Oxygen was born.

Talent managers analyzed all related data—performance evaluations (given quarterly), staff and manager feedback, as well as took a hard look at whom and why certain people had been recognized and achieved as managers. From this they were able to glean the attitudes and behaviors of an effective leader. To their surprise, and possible dismay, it was not very different from the lists you read in some popular leadership books or what you might hear in any well-functioning office--vision, open communications, interest in staff’s career development. Not totally satisfied with what they discovered, they then teased more from the data and began to rank the qualities. Surprise! What the company had always honored—technical expertise—ranked last. Not that it was unimportant it just wasn’t what people wanted in a supervisor. Important point—they said they did need a person to report and confide in; so much so that the data indicated the person on top had a significant and direct impact on the overall performance of the group, with regard to individual and group retention and overall satisfaction, more so than any other factor.

So what did the super leaders do and how did they do it? They coach (professional coaches were brought in to coach the coaches) and give constructive feedback that is fact based and takes a long view of contributions and missteps (you can have a bad day and not have it appear on your annual review). Super leaders stretch their people, but not to the brink and they don’t micromanage but are generally available. There is genuine interest in each person’s success, career development and well-being. These successful leaders use their influence and seniority to run interference, so their staffs don’t get bogged down or mired in politics. They have a clear, stated vision and a strategy of what needs to be achieved and how. Communication was noted as key to effective leadership. The ability to listen was also highlighted as an essential part of the dynamic. Sure, knowing what they are doing technically and the ability step in when needed was important, but so was having an appreciation for the challenges of the work.

When you hear these points what do you think? My first thought was “why couldn’t I have worked at Google” (me and a million other people on the planet), but I do admit to some envy because most of the people I worked for had few of these positive qualities. I was often forced to learn it myself or operate on instinct, sometimes with a few standoffs and missteps. I’m sure that’s true for many of you as well.

Rather than building a new leader for yourself, what if you became that person? What if you were the one who mentored, coached, and sponsored? What if you decided that vision and strategy would be clear, shared, and consistent? What if you operated on the premise that when your people succeed so do you? Hard to achieve? Maybe. Impossible? No. It can be challenging and requires effort, especially in the beginning, or if it is not your natural suit. Let’s face it; one of the most successful companies in the history of the world is struggling with this aspect of their business.

Here’s a checklist for you to rate and test yourself with.

  • I block out time on a regular basis to coach my staff using constructive feedback, never forgetting to include their career development.
  • My team is clear on what needs to be done, when and why.
  • I look to give and share credit only pulling rank when it will help my team advance?
  • I intentionally spend more time listening than speaking.
  • I macro rather than micro manage most people on most projects.
  • I readily share my expertise and encourage others to tell me when they need support or advice.

How did you do? Were you honest with yourself? I dare say many so called leaders would not pass this test. That’s one of the reasons companies and organizations hire coaches, to assist their very smart people in becoming excellent leaders.

(c) Jane Cranston.

Author's Bio: 

Jane Cranston is an executive career coach. She works with success-driven executives, managers and leaders to reach their potential, better manage their boss and staff, as well as develop a career strategy to reach goals and aspirations. Jane is the author of Great Job in Tough Times a step-by-step job search system. Click here to subscribe to her twice monthly Competitive Edge Report.