How to develop Google's top 7 leadership competencies

A leadership team is one of the company’s most important assets. Leaders motivate, inspire, make important decisions concerning the company’s future, and drive change. In order for change to be sustainable, it has to start from the top.

So how can you ensure these qualities trickle down through the company, to department heads, team leads, and individuals? In Project Oxygen, Google identified the top 8 qualities needed to be a successful team leader, and surprisingly enough, technical skills came in last.

This revealed an interesting disconnect between the way we have traditionally promoted leaders based on technical expertise, versus the soft skills needed to lead a team effectively.

Below is a list of the 7 leadership skills Google identified (excluding the last one - technical skills), as well as recommended readings to share with your managers.

1. Be a good coach

Increasingly, managers need to apply coaching skills in their role to support team members’ development. Part of developing a coaching mindset is to show openness to growth through feedback. Managers should encourage and ask for upwards feedback to help learn in which areas to improve.

In addition to being open to growth, a key coaching skill that will help managers in their role is active listening. By learning to listen at a deeper level, managers will gain a better understanding of their team members and the challenges they may be facing. In turn, they will be better positioned to support them.

Recommended reading: Mindset by Carol Dweck and Active Listening 101 by Emilia Hardman.

2. Empower the team and do not micromanage

Good managers are able to give direction and autonomy all at once. By setting team goals, managers provide people with clarity on what they’re working towards and align with how they are contributing to the team and business success. At the same time, they cultivate trust in giving employees the freedom to work on their tasks with minimal hand-holding. Part of empowering people is helping them to uncover and focus on their strengths, encouraging professional development.

Recommended reading: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink.

3. Express an interest in team members' success and personal

For many managers, this may seem outside the realm of responsibility. And yet, it plays a key role in employees feeling engaged and recognized in the workplace. While revenue and profit is important, we should also remember that people are the ones helping us achieve our targets.

Managers should be attuned to their team members’ wellbeing, demonstrating that they are valued members of the team. Being able to sense when people are not doing well, are overworked, stressed, or are in a conflict, are key qualities that help managers delegate and reprioritize tasks, to help their team be more effective. Showing an interest in people’s wellbeing also helps to develop a greater sense of trust.

Recommended reading: Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves.

4. Be productive and results-oriented

Whilst having high emotional intelligence is an important skill, it’s natural that managers are expected to be results-oriented. As leaders, they have a responsibility to ensure their teams are delivering on key results and they are achieving the goals set out at the beginning of the quarter or year. They also need to ensure these results are contributing to the company’s overall success. In this scenario, the ability for managers to strategize, organize, execute and delegate is extremely valuable.

Recommended reading: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen.

5. Be a good communicator: listen and share information

Good communication skills are a must for anyone, but particularly once you find yourself in a leadership position. The ability to give feedback effectively is a key part of this. Managers need to be able to communicate when there’s room for improvement, but also know how to provide recognition when it’s due.

While being comfortable giving feedback is important, managers also need to show an ability to listen. This could be receiving upwards feedback on their skills, or listening to a team member who disagrees with them. No matter what the situation, managers should practice their listening skills, which in turn will help them get a better understanding of the team dynamics and interactions.

Other than being good listeners, managers are often the bridge between senior management and team members. This puts them in a pivotal role to communicate information across the company and ensure the message is understood. Sharing information can help remove bottlenecks and also keep everyone feeling like they are in the loop and empowered to make decisions. As the saying goes "knowledge is power".

Recommended reading: How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age by Dale Carnegie

6. Help with career development

As mentioned before, managers have to play many different roles and one of those is supporting their direct reports’ professional development. Gallup found that people who use their strengths at work are 6 times more likely to be engaged, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit. Learning how to identify and leverage strengths in the workplace is the main differentiator between high performing teams and those underperforming.

However, not everyone is naturally aware of their strengths, and even for managers, it can be difficult to pinpoint an individual’s key qualities. Luckily there are many books and tests out there to help. Once identified, managers can help employees set professional development goals.

As HR, make sure you support managers in this activity through processes and tools. For example a list of books they can use to help identify strengths, books they can recommend to their direct reports, and also the opportunity to upskill through courses/ workshops.

Recommended reading: Strengths Finder 2.0 by Gallup

7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team

It’s extremely important for leaders to have a vision of what they want their team to achieve and how they plan to do so. This helps give focus and direction to everyone on the team and also to the rest of the business to know what each team is doing to contribute to the business strategy.

Each team is composed of individuals with their own unique talents, and leaders need to coordinate and guide these individuals to work together. Simon Sinek’s TEDTalk covers some of the basics. This competency calls on many of the skills mentioned above and is the glue between them all.

Recommended reading: Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for you and your team by Simon Sinek


While managers today are faced with many new challenges from providing continuous coaching to managing remote workers, it doesn’t have to be complicated. With the right support system in place, you can ensure your managers are ready to take on their new responsibilities. These 7 reads are a great starting point to provide managers with the tools they need to become effective leaders.

For further insight, download our free whitepaper How to Develop your Managers.

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