Learning and Emergent Leadership at Google

Two themes I have discussed here for a number of years are: 1) work is learning and learning is the work; and 2) leadership is an emergent property of networks. Helping people work on complex problems in networks is one of our management challenges for this decade. Learning has to be part of the workflow. In addition, leadership in networks does not come from above, as usually there is no top. This challenges the practice of management by hierarchical position. Leadership is an emergent property, not something bestowed from on high. Some companies understand this, but most do not. Google seems to get it. Gideon Rosenblatt highlights a conversation in the New York Times that Thomas Friedman had with Google’s VP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock.

Work is Learning:

For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information.”

Leadership is Emergent:

The second, he added, “is leadership — in particular emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don’t care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”

connected leadershipFurther Reading:

Work is Learning & Learning is the Work

Learning is the Work

Connected Leadership is not the Status Quo

Connected Leadership is Helping the Network Make Better Decisions