By, Stuart R. Levine
Published in, The Credit Union Times

Emergent leadership is defined by “google search” as a type of leadership in which a group member is not appointed or elected to the leadership role; rather, leadership develops over time as a result of the group’s interaction.  The most successful companies are focused on this new type of leader to add value to their organizations.

Two writers for The New York Times interviewed Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of “people operations” for Google. Adam Bryant and Thomas Friedman shared with readers what Google learned about traits for success among its 48,000 employees.  Mr. Bock used “Big Data” analytics to determine that continuous learning, the art of leadership, collaboration and intellectual humility are the characteristics of successful employees.

Google analyzes what works and doesn’t work in recruiting, management and leadership.  Mr. Bock is clear about the importance of trust in performing these analyses: “We treat the data with great respect. You need to construct this really powerful tent of trust in the people gathering the data and how they use it.”

Google, like most other employers, had been using methods to recruit and select new hires that it found were not well correlated with future success on the job. They found that a candidates GPA, the school they graduated from or even facility with the Google brainteasers were not particularly correlated with success. Predictive of success were adeptness with the “soft skills” of leadership, humility, collaboration, and loving to learn and re-learn. Counterintuitively, Google found that expertise, except in select technical areas, was not a useful predictor.

For every job at Google, Mr. Bock deems “general cognitive ability” as the primary attribute of success, and expertise as one of the least important.  Google discovered that emergent leadership skills – including a desire to learn and the ability to process and integrate disparate bits of information for solutions and insights were more important than content knowledge. Employees with these qualities, once given the chance, will usually reach the same answer as an “expert” with far greater experience.  Furthermore, the expert may have “fixed thinking”, while the “non-expert” may uncover something totally new.

Humility is needed for learning, because without humility, one cannot learn from failures and mistakes or share success with others.  An individual demonstrating emergent leadership does not derive “power” from a position or degree, but instead has the ability to steer things in the right direction through competence in dealing with social situations.  As a team member, the leader steps in and leads at the appropriate time when their leadership is required, whether or not they have official status. Just as importantly, they step back and let someone else take over when the time is right. Mr. Bock states: “to be an effective leader… you have to be willing to relinquish power.”

Consistency, fairness and predictability in decision-making are important leadership traits.  Once employees understand the management landscape and know the parameters within which they can operate, teams feel free to create.  Unpredictability in management limits freedom and creativity.

In order to improve management skills, employees at Google evaluate their managers twice a year on a number of factors, such as: the manager is consistent, respectful, sets clear goals, shares information and treats the team fairly.  The data is shared with the manager and their progress is tracked.  As a result, Google has improved management proficiency as measured by how satisfied the employees are with their manager.  Mr. Bock says: “We’ve actually made it harder to be a bad manager.”  Big Data provides the facts and the information managers can use to better understand the quality of their decision-making and leadership. They can then change their conduct accordingly.

Big Data has given Google insight into leadership, but Mr. Bock also recognizes its limitations. Analytics will always require an element of human insight.  He believes that human judgment, human inspiration and creativity are still needed.  Even if the analysis says one thing, you need to ask if the direction is right and is it the right thing to do.

As for attributes of management success at Google, Mr. Bock believes there are fundamentals that are important in creating employee excitement and happiness that inspires them to go the extra mile.  Google wants employees to feel a sense of responsibility and ownership as well as  courage to step in and try to solve any problem. Each individual contributes to the benefit of the whole. Organizational success is built on this collaborative foundation.