Grassroots leadership and Google (with cartoons)

Google looks for emergent leadership when recruiting

My iPad sketchnote from Laszlo Bock’s talk at the LSE. You can download all the sketchnotes here.

I went to a talk by Google’s people boss (i.e. head of HR) Laszlo Bock at the London School of Economics the other day (he was plugging his book Work Rules – Insights from inside Google that will transform how you will live and lead).

One thing that caught my attention at that talk was the concept of emergent leadership and how Google wants to recruit people who can take the initiative to lead – no matter what their position in the organisation. In an interview in the Washington Post he says:

When I joined Google, we used to look for very traditional outward metrics or indicators of leadership when we were hiring. What we discovered was our best leaders actually weren’t necessarily captain of the football team or president of the chess club. Instead our best leaders were the ones who, when they saw a problem, were conscientious enough to and step in and fix it — and low ego enough and self-aware enough to then step out and let other people fix the next phase.

Google hiring policy according to HR director Laszlo Bock

Enterprise social networks = the perfect platform for emergent leadership?

Traditional corporate idea of leadership assumes that only managers can, and should, lead. That said, there have been calls to harness the power of informal networks and enabling “emergent leadership”. For example McKinsey and co make the case for formalising informal networks (sometimes called communities of practice).

But the sad fact is that in most organisations there is no easy way for emergent leadership to happen when you need to work across silos, hierarchies and geography.

Until now that is. Imagine what a group of self-starters who are more interested in getting stuff done than making themselves look good could do if they had an easy access to people within a company through an internal social network?

Measuring Performance at Google - talk by Laszlo Bock

The social, low ego leaders

Almost all the people I’ve met who are pushing for their organisations to adopt an internal social network, and generally work smarter, are people who show signs of low ego leadership. They feel they need to change things – not because it will advance their careers, but because it will help the organisation and their colleagues. But they don’t really want to lead forever. What they really want is that other people “get it”, too, and then help take the network to the next level. They are the poster boys and girls of emergent leadership.

How can we make grassroots leaders visible?

Unfortunately very few senior managers seem to understand that these ambitious, low ego leaders could be the key people in transforming 20th century organisations into 21st century organisations. They don’t even realise what potential is hiding under the surface of their organisation’s hierarchy and bureaucracy.

How would you make the work these people do visible to senior management in companies that are not Google? How could we make them see what these people could do, if they were given a bit more freedom?

Any thoughts on practical ways of showing the amazing work enterprise social champions are doing? Should we collect stories? Get testimonials from staff?

What would Google’s people boss do?

– Virpi

Future of work according to Google HR boss Laszlo Bock

McKinsey and HR - Laszlo Bock's career



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