This last bit, identifying and measuring the best leaders, is especially tricky, but smart people at Google have found a spot-on way to separate the wheat from the chaff (as the saying goes).
Employees are regularly surveyed about their managers with 13 specific questions. Interestingly, the polar questions fall into three general categories: nurturing growth in others, operating excellence, and emotional intelligence, all intended to discern the strength of a manager.
Here are the questions, with my take on each:
1. I would recommend my manager to others.
This is the ultimate test, no? It means as a leader you must win employees’ heads and hearts.
2. My manager assigns stretch opportunities to help me develop my career.
This requires you to care about your employees’ careers as much as you care about your own. Find out what they aspire to (what they actually want, not just what they’re supposed to want), discuss what realistically has to happen to get them there, and then leverage your network to help make things happen for them.
3. My manager communicates clear goals.
These goals should meet the three C’s rule: common, compelling, and cooperative.
The commonality ensures everyone’s working toward the same end. The goal must be compelling enough to create energy on its own and draw each person toward it. Finally, it should be cooperative in nature — lofty enough that the only way the goal can be accomplished is by the team working together.
4. My manager regularly gives me actionable feedback.
Ensure the feedback is specific and sincere (if it comes from the heart, it sticks in the mind). Be calibrating, letting them know that their feedback is “not unusual at this point” or that it means “you’re off track at this point.” Don’t overstate or understate the impact of the outcome you are praising or pushing on. Keep a ratio of about five pieces of affirming feedback to one piece of corrective feedback.
The truth is most of us stink at giving feedback, but nothing is more appreciated by employees than leaders who do this well.
5. My manager provides the autonomy I need to do my job (doesn’t micromanage).
Manage by objective, give decision space and room for the empowered to operate without interference and oversight. Nothing I did as a leader was as powerful, productive, and appreciated as being liberal with the autonomy I granted.
6. My manager consistently shows consideration for me as a person.
People need to know you care before they care about what you know. The worst bosses I ever had were always people who I could tell really didn’t give a flying damn about me as a person.
7. My manager keeps the team focused on priorities, even when it’s difficult (e.g., declining or deprioritizing other projects).
The easy thing is to do everything. Nothing burns out an organization faster than a leader treating everything as a priority and choices as something left for someone else.
8. My manager makes tough decisions effectively.
A close second on what burns out an organization is an indecisive manager. Indecision is paralyzing to an organization. It creates doubt, uncertainty, lack of focus, and even resentment. Multiple options can linger, sapping an organization’s energy and killing a sense of completion. Timelines stretch while costs skyrocket.
9. My manager shares relevant information from his or her boss(es).
Information should flow downhill, not be horded. Managers who withhold information to boost their own sense of control and power will soon be met with an organization that feels out of control and powerless.
10. My manager has had a meaningful discussion with me about my career development in the past six months.
As in question two, you must care enough to invest here. Think of how you’d feel if you knew you were working for someone who viewed themself as your career champion. You’d run through walls for them.
11. My manager has the expertise required to effectively manage me.
Google is specifically measuring technical expertise here, but the concept holds true more broadly. Stay worthy of leadership by investing in your own continued learning and personal growth that feeds your specific area of expertise required.
12. The actions of my manager show he or she values my perspective (even if different from his or hers).
Everyone wants to know they’re heard, to feel valued and valuable. No exceptions.
13. My manager effectively collaborates across boundaries.
I once had a boss who blew up every cross-team or cross-organizational relationship in a misguided effort to establish our unit’s independence. All the behavior did was put us on an island, cutting us off from valuable resources that would have helped us be more effective at our job.