What Google Can Teach Startups About Leadership


Even the most powerful company in the world was once a startup. The cofounders of Google met each other in 1995 and gave birth to an idea that was bigger than they ever imagined. Along the way, there were at least three important milestones that provide valuable lessons for startups hoping to follow in Google’s giant footsteps:

Get the best leader, even if it is not you

Since the founding of Google, the cofounders have consistently hired talented people to occupy key positions. But they still reserved the leadership reigns for themselves. In early 2001, they brought in Eric Schmidt as Chairman of the Board. A few months later, Schmidt was elevated to the position of CEO. It is very rare that the founders of a company voluntarily relinquish the reigns of their company and place someone else in the ultimate position of authority.

Page and Brin understood the importance of quality leadership. They put in a master of industry and learned from one of the best. As the leader of your startup, you may not have the opportunity to hire a CEO of Schmidt’s calibre, but you do have the ability to recognize your weaknesses and improve your own leadership skills. If you cannot afford one of the world’s great CEOs, you can probably afford a few sessions with a leadership coach who can help with interpersonal and communications skills, leadership development, and training for managers.

According to ArdenCoaching.com, this will result in the following assets:

  • far higher employee engagement
  • greater productivity and effectiveness
  • more innovation
  • better communication
  • a responsible and proactive culture
  • improved employee retention
  • fewer sick days and employee complaints
  • development of internal leaders

Find a business model that supports your dream

When we are young, we want to change the world. When we get older, we want to make a living. There is no reason why both goals cannot live in harmony. Page and Brin were not looking to become advertising moguls. They wanted to create better search, and make the world’s knowledge accessible. Before Schmidt came aboard, the focus was on search technologies. But that could only take the company so far. After Schmidt, Google started pouring their purchasing power into ad-related acquisitions.

Before long, it was noted of Google that half their revenue came from ads placed near search results, and the other half was from licensing search technology to companies like Yahoo. Google recognized that big dreams have to be financed by a sustainable business model. If a company has a good idea with no business model, their most likely route to success is to sell to another company that does have a business model. After all, if a company wants to stay in control of its own destiny and keep the big dreams alive, it has to make money.

Know when to take control

Eric Schmidt will always be a major part of the Google success story. He led them to global dominance in their field. Today, it would be considered insane to compete with Google in ad-based search. Even Google’s some of competitors use Google’s search technology. But Eric Schmidt is no longer running Google. No one knows all of the reasons for the transition. There is likely some corporate intrigue about which we will never have all the details. But at least part of the answer is that the founders were ready to take over the company and reassert their founding vision.

Read also: 5 Important Business Startup Considerations and Five Common Failures You’ll Find with Startups

There is a time when startup founders need to take a step back and bring in more qualified leaders while they shore up their own skills. There is a time to pair their world-bending dreams with the cold, hard reality of business. But there is also a time when they have to take the reigns of leadership and set their own course. Knowing when those times are is the difference between an average startup and a Google.

Featured image credit: Businessman Brainstorming About Leadership/ShutterStock

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