We have all at some point dreamed about a Utopian world without bosses. Heck, many businesses are started by people who leave comfortable jobs in order to become their own bosses. But is it possible to get rid of bosses entirely and still run an effective business?

Google wondered this same thing and conducted an experiment to see what would happen. The search-engine giant's founders--Larry Page and Sergey Brin--decided to move to a flat organization without managers in 2002. They brought managers a few short months later, after the experiment turned out to be a disaster. Without managers, they found, people were left searching for answers to basic questions and needs, as well as guidance in important areas such as career advice.

Perhaps more important than determining that workers need managers, Google used its analytic expertise to find out what characteristics matter the most for strong leadership1. To do so, it drew on data from a wide range of internal sources, including performance reviews, employee surveys, and even double-blind interviews. A total of 8 consistent behavioral abilities emerged and they found that the best leaders embody the following qualities: 

  1. They are good coaches. People inherently want to do well. A good boss is also a coach who provides tailored advice to help the team succeed.
  2. They don't micromanage. People want autonomy and empowerment, which are signs of trust and respect for their skills and ability.
  3. They care about team members. The best leaders don't just care about the work--they take a genuine interest in, and have concern for, team members.
  4. They are productive and results-oriented. Leaders set the tone and example. If they are not productive and focused on results, it's hard to hold others accountable for the same.
  5. They are good communicators. It's important to feel connected. Through strong communication, people understand roles, responsibilities, and purpose. Beyond just sharing information, the best leaders also listen.
  6. They help with career development. Career development is at the top of almost every list of what matters to employees. Great leaders take the team under their wings and provide career advice and support.
  7. They have a clear vision and strategy. People want to understand and be invested in the mission. They want to know how their work connects to the bigger picture, which is not possible without clarity of vision and strategy.
  8. They have technical skills. Every job has a core technical aspect. Having a leader who is an expert in this area makes it easier to learn and develop in this essential component of the role.

1Garvin, D. A. (2013). "How Google Sold Its Engineers on Management." Harvard Business Review, 91, 74-82.

Published on: Sep 17, 2014