An article entitled, "The Surprising Trait Google Looks For To Identify Potential Leaders," recently caught my eye.
Walter Chen wrote: "At Google, they're obsessive about looking at data to determine what makes employees successful and what they found in the numbers was surprising. The most important character trait of a leader is one that you're more likely to associate with a dull person than a dynamic leader: predictability. The more predictable you are, day after day, the better."
This is important but, to me, not necessarily surprising. First, Google thrives on predictability – its algorithms suggesting web sites based on your input is a prediction of what’s needed to satisfy your query. And they sell predictability to advertisers, helping to assure the right message gets to the right target.
Second, leaders must have strategic vision. Strategists look ahead, they turnover ideas, they conduct research and think through scenarios all so they can minimize risk and predict outcomes.
And third, people would rather have predictable results than uncertain ones. We may enjoy a nice surprise when it comes to parties or presents, but we’re really creatures of habit and of known risks.
I had a boss years ago who was very charismatic but also erratic. “Who would I get today?,” I would ask myself. “The nurturer, the screamer, the back-slapper, the recluse?” It was unsettling and burned emotional energy unnecessarily.
Indeed, Chen quotes Laszlo Bock, senior VP-people operations at Google in his article: "If your manager is all over the place, you're never going to know what you can do, and you're going to experience it as very restrictive." So, without a sense of continuity and comfort, the office is doomed to poor productivity from ceaseless speculation and worry.
As I wrote in Camelot, Inc., people want to work, support, and do business with people who are predictably responsive and ethical. This also means staff, investors or donors can rely on the leader to communicate the expectations for the business and the conduct of the organization. The boundaries and goals are clearly defined – not wavering, not ambiguous. This is the path to trust and reputation building.
People respond to predictable, consistent leaders, but they also need the same when they choose brands, friends, medicines, transportation, and foods. (Franchise operations bank on this fact. A particular franchise may not have the best-in-class service or product, but we know what to expect; we know what we receive will be consistent no matter where or when we make the purchase.)
But predictable does not mean plodding or unimaginative. Google is proof that serious purpose and process can go hand-in-hand with creativity and excitement.
* * *
Paul Oestreicher is a veteran of both agency and corporate public relations and public affairs groups. He now runs Oestreicher Communications and is an Adjunct Professor at NYU's M.S. Program in Public Relations & Corporate Communication. Oestreicher is the author of Camelot, Inc.: Leadership and Management Insights from King Arthur and the Round Table. You can follow him on Twitter @pauloestreicher.