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Larry Page And Google: Individual Empowerment Requires Forceful Leadership!

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Larry Page And Google: Individual Empowerment Requires Forceful Leadership!

The two things sound contradictory.  Individual empowerment conjures up the kind of freewheeling atmosphere of invention and curiosity we heard about in the earlier days of Google. On the other hand, forceful leadership sounds like the famous Apple ad of the mid-eighties’ with lemmings being marched off a cliff.

The seemingly chaotic style in the early years of Google eventually led to a fair amount of dissatisfaction in Google’s overall progress, and was the reason that co-founder Larry Page was named CEO about a year ago.

After studying Google’s problems and talking to successful leaders like Mike Bloomberg, Page moved quickly to reorganize Google around seven specific areas where he wants Google to make big progress: search, ads, You Tube, Android, Chrome, commerce, and social networking. Ram Shriram, a long time Google board member, commented “He had a very clear sense of the organization he wanted to have and handpicked people to run large areas of the company and set their objectives.”

After selecting those seven areas of focus, Page worked on defining clear short- and long-term goals for the leaders of each group. “In some ways we have run the company as to let 1,000 flowers bloom, but once they do bloom you want to put together a coherent bouquet,” said Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder.

Related: How Well Do You Know Google?

Empowerment for the employees?

So which of the Google worlds (pre-Page and post-Page) really represent individual empowerment for the employees.  It somewhat depends on how you define empowerment.  Webster says empowerment is “to give authority or power to.”  That sounds like post-Page.  Too many free-spirited HR wizards would put the word empowerment right up there with enlightenment and finding some kind of inner joy and satisfaction from doing what you want.  That sounds like pre-Page.

Personally, I think most people who select to work in industry are primarily interested in seeing things happen and being part of a group of people who are successful in the marketplace. Gutsy leaders make the decisions that define where the big impact is desired and assign individuals to make it happen.  To me, that is empowering to the individuals involved.  They are given the authority to do what needs to be done to achieve a specific result.

One thing the leader does not want to do is define the area of impact too narrowly, and I fear that is happening with at least one area of Google, namely Google +, their social networking service which is a very Facebook-like product. If the leader of Google+ defines the task as generating a viable competitor to Facebook, all that will happen is a continual chase to catch up with a very dominant leader. The task needs to be defined as developing and launching a very unique, new social networking service that far surpasses Facebook and has numerous new features that cause those under 20 years of age to realize Facebook is no longer cool.

Related: Google+ Just ‘Another’ Social Network?

In summary, businesses exist to generate profitable growth via products that make competition seem outdated. To achieve these results, some forceful leadership is needed to define the areas of where impact is desired, and empowerment (i.e., like Webster, give authority to) is needed in charging specific individuals to create and make it happen!

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Bob is an author, public speaker and retired executive vice president and chief operating officer (COO) of Microsoft Corporation. Before joining Microsoft, he spent twenty six years at Procter & Gamble, the last five of those years as senior vice president of advertising and information services. Since retirement, Bob has divided his time between working as a consultant for his own Herbold Group LLC and as writer and public speaker focusing on leadership. Bob has written three books. His latest, "What's Holding You Back? 10 Bold Steps That Define Gutsy Leaders" was released February 2011 by Wiley/Jossey-Bass.

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  • Connor Keppel

    Good post Bob. Particularly good point on Google’s lack of innovation in the social sphere with +.  I just did a post for TYB on Facebook releasing the app store with a somewhat similar slant: .  They seem to cover up for a lack of innovation and a justifiable valuation by putting a transparency of information spin on it.  Google is one company that while true innovators, you could argue they lack focus. What do you think is the future of plus?

  • Money and access to finances can cover up a lot! Organisations also seem to think at times, big money can replace innovation. Mediocracy is rife, CEOs need to look at breaking from the pack, and stop using buzzwords like Empowerment to represent what they don’t really believe in.

    I enjoyed your comment on empowerment – “They are given the authority to do what needs to be done to achieve a specific result.” It needs to stop there, so that autonomy can shine through!
    Interesting post, thank you Bob

  • Bob – I’m one of those believers in leaders setting the dynamic for innovation and change through, as you indicate, embedding empowerment to employees and other leaders within the company. New ideas come from encouragement to take initiative – and prosper within a culture that can convert those ideas into profitable actions.  Great post. Thanks for the insights.

  • Bob Herobld

    And thank you for your insight, Warren. 

  • Bob

    Predicting the future of Google+ is a tough one, Connor. I did, however, find this recent Gigaom piece of interest:

  • Great article, Bob. I think you make some very salient points. The first thing I ask myself about Google is ‘why do they exist’? The answer doesn’t seem to align with their publicly stated mission ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’, which I find to be somewhat arrogant and open to wide interpretation – much of which is very unhealthy. They are certainly not there to democratize information, and I can only see their shiny organization through a lens of deep cynicism given the algorithms they employ and the totally commercial attitude they have (as per the g+ mission re Facebook). Added to that, a friend of mine here in Vancouver was told by Larry Page recently that 99% of all websites make no difference at all. So where does that leave us in terms of empowerment and the authenticity of the company? I think ‘leadership’, in this case, is purely about control, competition and profits, with a spin on empowerment to make the employees feel good about what they are being encouraged to do.

  • Great first post Flor – it’s interesting to know the actual law regarding recording calls. Looking forward to your next posts 🙂

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  • Well done everybody, great posts here and as always on the blog – looking forward to plenty more in 2013 🙂

  • Kevin Drahos

    When did googles employee empowerment Program Start

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