Google analyzes data on what it takes to be a leader, and finds the blindingly obvious

Leave it to 21st century analytics to discover what many managers have known about managing intuitively for decades, if not centuries. But now, there's data to back it up.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Leave it to 21st century analytics to discover what many managers have known about managing intuitively for decades, if not centuries.  But now, there's data to back it up.

A few years back, Google launched an effort which it called "Project Oxygen," sifting through and ranking data from performance reviews, feedback surveys, nominations for top-manager awards, phrases, words, praise and complaints.

The goal was to identify, for its own internal purposes, what it takes to be a great manager.  The conclusion of all this data mining?  As reported in The New York Times, great managers are team-builders and leaders -- and don't necessarily have to have as high levels of technical knowledge as their underlings. In fact, technical expertise ranked last on its list of successful management traits.

This may seem like a "well, duh" finding to many. But now it's borne out by the data. As the article observed, Google went about discovering this in a very scientific way:

"In Project Oxygen, the statisticians gathered more than 10,000 observations about managers — across more than 100 variables, from various performance reviews, feedback surveys and other reports. Then they spent time coding the comments in order to look for patterns. Once they had some working theories, they figured out a system for interviewing managers to gather more data, and to look for evidence that supported their notions. The final step was to code and synthesize all those results — more than 400 pages of interview notes — and then they spent much of last year rolling out the results to employees and incorporating them into various training programs."

So, managers, now you don't have to feel bad that one of your reports may be much more knowledgeable than you, at least in a technical sense. Be the facilitator, and give them the resources they need to keep on doing what they do best.

Other conclusions: great managers lay out a vision and strategy for the team, and help employees with their professional development. Again, blindingly obvious to the great managers and great companies that already bake these approaches into their corporate cultures, but now backed up by data.

Armed with data, the Google findings are helping to make managers better managers -- from mitigating the effects of biases ("halo/horns" effects) in performance reviews, to even managing lunchroom resources.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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