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Take the lead and let it go; how to attain effective leadership

“Most of us have recognized by now that successful organizations are the product of distributive, collective, and complementary leadership.” This is what Manfred Kets de Vries, one of the foremost advisors and leadership trainers in the world, says. At Google, we think leadership is a key factor in establishing work environments in which employees and innovation thrive. In this article, we will try to explain what is often lacking when it comes to classical leadership approaches. Furthermore, we want to inspire you to try a more collaborative and free form of leadership in your organization.

No need for applause
Most leaders in today’s world are more inclined to show extreme behavior and narcissistic personality traits. Standing out might often be viewed as a good characteristic for leaders, but according to Kets de Vries, “narcissism is killing the world”. A very bold statement, however, Kets de Vries has surely done his homework. He is a psychoanalyst, professor of leadership development, and has been rated among the global top 50 thinkers in management.

After years of analyzing leaders and their personalities as a psychoanalyst, he claims that a lot of destructive leadership comes from having experienced insecurity. Feeling insecure feeds the need for reassurance and control. That is why he sees many CEOs and directors using their leading position as a platform for receiving applause or as a justification for keeping control of everything. Unfortunately, this does not help the organization as a whole to achieve its goals. But Kets de Vries does have some good news: it can be done differently!

Finding the right balance
Research has shown that empathy and balancing out personalities within a team is key to effective leadership. According to Kets de Vries, the importance of empathy in leadership shows how women could turn out to be better leaders than men. In general, women have a higher capacity for empathizing with others. This does not mean that all male leaders should be replaced by female alternatives; the key to effectiveness is in finding the right balance.

A balance should also be sought in the personality-traits of different leaders within your organization. Some should be more strategic, others more innovative or good communicators, while another leader is important because they drive change or excel at coaching or building a team. At Google, we investigated why our best managers are so successful by analyzing our data. It turned out that our top-managers are doing so well because they found balance. They can understand the team - technically and socially. In addition, they found a balance between prioritizing performance and empowering and supporting the people they lead.

Here’s how we do it
So, leadership is not about strict control and pushing for results to be applauded for. Some organizations have, therefore, successfully left behind the strong hierarchy and controlling kind of leadership. When we hire any Googler, whether an engineer or top-manager, we evaluate their leadership competencies. This way, any Googler can take the lead and inspire others. If you want to know more about this process, take a look at the video in this article. 



We also encourage employees to spend 70% of the time on our core business, 20% on things related to that core business and 10% can be spent however they want. In this way, we choose to not completely control employees but to leave them completely free 10% of the time. This may sound ridiculous and might look like a waste of time and money, but it is not. In fact, it has led to major innovations, successful products (such as our AdSense service), a boost of creativity, and a workforce that dares to dream. 

At Google, it is not purely the task of a leader to implement the organization’s vision in the team. We are convinced that making the dreams and visions of the team come true is just as important for effective leadership.