What Makes a Great Boss? What 10 Years of Research Taught Google

There’s a famous quote that says:

“People leave managers, not companies.”

But what makes people want to leave a manager in the first place? And if you’re leading a team, what qualities can make you a better boss?

In 2008, Google set out to answer these questions in an operation code-named: Project Oxygen.

Here are the ten signs of a great boss, according to Google…and some tips on how you can develop them.

(You can also read what Google discovered about what makes a great team in another project code-named “Aristotle.”)

A good coach.

Good managers don’t solve every problem for their team.

Instead, they use problems as teaching moments. They guide, share insights, and let team members gain valuable experience along the way.

Empowers the team.

A good team lead gives people freedom: freedom to explore new ideas, to experiment, to develop their own working style.

And they make sure people have the tools and flexibility they need to do their jobs.

Creates an inclusive team environment.

Great managers build trust and psychological safety.

That’s a fancy way of saying teammates feel safe to take risks, admit a mistake, ask a question, or offer a new idea.

Productive and results-oriented.

The best managers make those around them better. They realize what their teams are capable of, then do their best to help them realize their potential.

Good communicator.

Great managers:

  • listen first
  • are transparent
  • praise sincerely and specifically
  • provide constructive feedback—framing it in a way that’s easy to accept and learn from.

Help develop their teammates’ careers.

Great managers are invested in team members as people and provide career path options, realizing not everyone wants to follow the same road.

Then, they help their people reach their goals.

Clear vision and strategy.

Great managers know where they’re going…and they make sure the whole team knows, too.

They communicate “scope”: what’s needed to get a job done, and what’s expected of each team member.

Possess key technical skills.

They understand the work they oversee, and take time to get familiar with the challenges of their team. This earns them respect.

Collaborate.

They see the big picture, and work for the good of the company as a whole.

Take the lead.

They set the example, make tough decisions, and make sure everyone understands the reasons behind those decisions. Then, they commit to following through.

As Google CEO Sundar Pichai put it: “Leadership is decision making. Leadership is moving things forward.”

Of course, identifying what makes a great boss is only the first part. But if you can find and train managers in your company to do these ten things, you’ll help your people reach their full potential.

 

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