New Google Study of 900 Founders: All Effective Leaders Do These 7 Things

Google is famous for its love of data, not only when it comes to designing its products, but also when it comes to designing its business. The company has conducted much-discussed internal research on what makes a successful manager, a high-performing team, and even a successful interview process.

Now, Google for Startups, the arm of the search juggernaut dedicated to supporting high-growth startups, has turned its attention to founders. Given that more than half of startups fail due to staffing issuesGoogle wanted to know what makes an effective startup leader.

To figure this out, the company’s researchers spoke to more than 900 startup executives in more than 40 countries. The results of the massive data collection effort are now available in the form of the new Google for Startups Effective Founders Project Report. The detailed document is well worth a full read, but the key takeaway is that all successful startup leaders share seven essential traits.

1. They treat people like volunteers.

If you want to attract and retain top talent, count on mission rather than pay or benefits alone, the report suggests. “Whether they are new graduates or experienced world-class talent, the best people want to do a great job for a challenging and meaningful assignment,” says Google in a blog post summarizing the results. “For example, many talented engineers want a unique challenge, rather than another old project that is just trying to squeeze out the market.”

2. They shield the team from distractions.

Is it easy to focus on the fast-paced, open world of startups? Absolutely not, but Google insists that if leaders want to be effective, it’s a skill they need to learn. “While CEOs are often seen as distracted by new ideas, the best ones create focus and clarity on what really matters,” Google says. “Set clear goals and priorities to build momentum for your team. This in turn fuels better performance and morale.”

3. They minimize unnecessary micromanagement.

It’s no surprise that micromanagement isn’t good management in many contexts, but new research from Google underscores this point: “Our data suggests that micromanagement can be a major derailer, especially for CEOs. Identify which teammates need to be watched closely and which ones you can empower to make good decisions and act independently.”

4. They invite disagreement.

On this point, Google aligns itself with a whole series of super-successful founders. “Our data suggests that founders consistently undervalue inviting opinions that are different from their own, while co-founders and teammates rate them highly,” Google notes, noting that “disagreement between various teams actually leads to more effective results.

5. They preserve interpersonal fairness.

Successful co-founder relationships, like successful marriages, rely on open and clear communication, so be sure to discuss expectations with your co-founders ahead of time and stick to what you’ve agreed to.

“Broken expectations are the main source of conflict between co-founders,” warns Google. “Our data suggests that many founders keep track of their co-founder’s tasks, but unknowingly set their expectations more minimally.” Be sure to check in regularly to make sure you feel your tasks and rewards are balanced.

6. They keep pace with expertise.

Interpersonal skills are essential for success, but don’t be lulled into thinking that technical chops don’t matter. Google found out they did. A lot. “Ninety-three percent of the most effective founders have the technical expertise to effectively manage work and take the time to stay ahead of their industry,” the research found.

7. They overcome discouragement.

Good news for aspiring founders who worry about not having the confidence to succeed in the startup game: the most successful founders feel exactly the same way. Everyone (who is not delusional or extremely uninformed) struggles with self-doubt. The best founders simply use their self-doubt as an incentive to learn and try more.

“Our data suggests that the most effective founders aren’t as confident as the least effective founders,” Google says. “This observation joins what is called the Dunning–Kruger effect, where overconfidence early in the journey helps founders get started, but discouragement and self-doubt set in soon after. This in turn can give you the inner challenge you need to go further.”

What do these discoveries boil down to? A quote from VC and former Google SVP Bill Coughran in the report sums it up nicely: “Engineering is easy. People are tough.”

This new study from Google reaffirms how important so-called “soft” skills are for the success of a startup. Founders need to master those above unless they want to see their company among the half of startups that fail due to “people issues”.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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