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 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.
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!