Success Begins At the Top—But Maybe Not the Way You Think!

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On April 1, 2013

It’s hard to argue with the success that Google has enjoyed over the last ten years. As a matter of fact, it’s kind of hard to imagine life without Google today. While they may not be the only game in town when it comes to Internet search, they have unquestionably shaped the way business is done around the world.

Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Eric Schmidt, and the rest of the Google gang are true innovators. But their most significant innovation may not have been in the areas of search, mapping, applications, or even their highly-touted-top-secret algorithms.  As important as those things are, the real genius of Google lies in how the company has been led.

What they introduced was a multi-generational leadership style that tapped into the strengths of different generations. Eric Schmidt was brought into Google to provide “adult supervision” for the young—and inexperienced—genius of Page and Brin.  But it wasn’t a “Father Knows Best” arrangement. Schmidt had knowledge and experience that his two younger cohorts hadn’t had time to develop. And the young guns had knowledge, skills, and “native” abilities that Schmidt would never be able to develop.

That mixing of generational abilities and knowledge is what has enabled Google to thrive while many companies flounder as they try to find their way in the “new economy.”

Eric Schmidt had plenty of background in high tech from his days at Sun Microsystems. But he—and the others at Google—realized that they weren’t just dealing with technology. They were dealing with massive shifts in lifestyle. Gen-X and Gen-Y individuals are digital natives. They grew up with technology. It’s part of their social DNA. And so is rapid change. People of Schmidt’s generation sometimes find themselves struggling to keep up with things that are second nature to a younger generation.

The leadership style for most businesses today is still firmly entrenched in patterns established in the last two centuries: a single, top-down, CEO style that simply won’t work in a changing society and economy. Google, on the other hand, recognized the contributions both generations can make. And they structured their leadership to reflect that. That was truly innovative because almost nobody else was doing things that way.

Is your business struggling to keep up with the changing demands of the marketplace? Do the pace of change and the constant evolution of technology sometimes overwhelm you? Maybe it’s time to bring some different leadership to the table. That doesn’t mean “abdicating” leadership or responsibility. But it might mean sharing the burden with others who have their finger on the pulse of the market.