10 Inspiring Traits of a Great Manager, According to Google’s Internal Research

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20 years ago, you probably would’ve laughed if someone said your life would one day be irrevocably changed by a company called Google. What’s a google?

But, as you know, Google’s become the largest entity in one of the biggest tech companies in the world. And it’s giving you a glimpse inside its robust research on what makes a great manager.

It’s no secret that being a good manager can make all the difference in how happy your team is and how well it performs. Google not only proved this to skeptics years ago, but also identified eight (later updated to 10) behaviors of its best managers. So why not learn from one of the most successful data-driven companies out there?

1. Is a good coach

Employees need and appreciate a manager who takes time to coach and challenge them, and not just when they’re behind.

Great manages realise that every employee – star performer or not needs to be managed and that simply leaving some employees to do their jobs without any type of feedback or guidance is detrimental to their career development.

2. Empowers team and does not micromanage

Nothing discourages and frustrates employees like being micromanaged by their manager even if its done without the manager realizing it.

But Google’s research found that its best managers don’t, instead offering the right balance of freedom and advice, showing they trust their direct reports, and advocating for the team, according to a sample breakdown from an internal presentation included in a 2013 Harvard Business Review article.

3. Creates an inclusive team environment, showing concern for success and well-Being

Initially, Google described this as “ a manager who expresses interest in and concern for team members’ success and personal well-being.”

Several years later, the company’s updated this entry to reflect research on psychological safety that allows for risk-taking — which Google identified as an important characteristic of effective teams — and unbiasing, or the process of becoming aware of and combating unconscious biases.

It’s not enough just to have a diverse team, good leaders and managers strive to create an inclusive environment every day.

4. Is productive and results-oriented

Great managers are role models of great performance and employees love to be part of a successful and productive team. This is hard to come by if the leader doesn’t set the tone.

One big responsible of being a boss is modelling the very behaviour expected of your team and the organization at large. As a boss you should ever expect people to give their best at work if they don’t see you doing it, so be sure you’re always on your A game. That means putting in the effort and getting results.

5. Is a good communicator — listens and shares information

Communicating effectively is one of the basics of being a good manager (or a good employee for that matter). But it’s also important to remember that great managers prioritize listening.

Focused, curious listening conveys an emotional and personal investment in those who work for you as a boss and when you listen to people, they feel personally valued. It signals commitment.

6. Supports career development and discusses performance

Google recently added the “discusses performance” component to this behaviour. The company pointed to research from Gallup that found only half of employees know what expectations they should be fulfilling at work.

The Gallup research concluded that to free employees to take initiative and inspire high performance, managers need to set clear expectations, hold employees accountable for meeting them and respond quickly when employees need support.

In other words, managers should not only help their team develop skills and advance their careers, but also be clear about expectations and give honest feedback about performance.

7. Has a clear vision/strategy for the team

Stephanie Davis, who won one of Google’s Great Manager Awards, told HBR that feedback reports helped her realize how important it was to communicate team vision in addition to company vision.

They wanted me to interpret the higher-level vision for them,” she said. “So I started listening to the company’s earnings call with a different ear. I didn’t just come back to my team with what was said; I also shared what it meant for them.”

A clear and shared vision can also help members of your team work well together.

8. Has key technical skills to help advise the team

When Google first released its list of behaviors, the findings were somewhat anti-climactic. “My first reaction was, that’s it?” Laszlo Bock, then the Vice President of People Operations, told The New York Times in 2011.

The entries on the list may have been obvious, but their relative importance wasn’t, as Bock’s team found out when it ranked the behaviors.

“In the Google context, we’d always believed that to be a manager, particularly on the engineering side, you need to be as deep or deeper a technical expert than the people who work for you,” he said. “It turns out that that’s absolutely the least important thing. It’s important, but pales in comparison.”

So all hope isn’t lost if you find yourself managing people who know more than you.

9. Collaborates across Google

Google recently extended its list by two when its employee survey found that effective cross-organization collaboration and stronger decision-making were important to Googlers.

Whether you’re at a large corporation, an early-stage startup, or a nonprofit, managing your team and leading it to success can depend at least in part on how well you can work with other teams.

10. Is a strong decision maker

Google’s last addition is a reminder that while it’s important for a manager to listen and share information, employees also appreciate one who can make decisions.

Great managers should go a step further and tell their teams not only what decision they’ve made, but also why they’ve made it. The small extra effort helps the team understand context and priorities, improve their own future decision-making, and stay engaged as well as informed.

One of the reasons this research was so effective was that it used internal data to prove what makes managers great at Google

But that doesn’t mean the list isn’t helpful for people who don’t work there. After all, Google did go from being a made-up word to a household name in just a few years. People and companies now look to it as an example, not only in innovation, but also in its approach to management.

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