Larry Page, CEO of Google, has an incredible history that has led him to become the leader of one of the most prominent and powerful companies in the history of mankind. Growing up in Michigan in the late 60s, starting his research into the World Wide Web while researching his computer science Ph.D at Stanford University (Carr, 2006). Starting Google with fellow CEO Sergey Brin, Larry Page became one of the most powerful people living today due to his discovery of Google’s backlinking algorithms and software, which permit it to be such an effective search engine (Carr, 2006). From 1998-2001, Page acted as CEO, taking a decade-long hiatus from running the company until returning in 2011. With Page’s unorthodox business comes his unorthodox leadership style, which relates very closely to ideas of transformational leadership and an inclusive philosophy that facilitates creativity and innovation.
When examining the leadership style and philosophy of Larry Page, it becomes clear that his unusual methods fit very clearly with the innovation-centric, youth and enthusiasm-oriented organizational culture of Google. A strong emphasis is placed on fun when working at Google; there is a flat management structure that requires very little hierarchy, choosing instead to emphasize democratic value of employees’ suggestions and a high focus on team spirit. Larry Page’s leadership philosophy echoes these values, and favors innovation over anything else. Crazy ideas must be acknowledged and run with; if an employee has a hunch that might work out, it must be cultivated by the staff.
As a leader and hands-on CEO, Larry Page’s behavior and mandates thoroughly influence the corporate culture at Google. One of the most important and fascinating ways this is enforced is the sprawling, whimsical corporate headquarters, lovingly called the “Googleplex.” Here, employees are treated to business meetings and office spaces that are equal parts playground and meeting room, there is a fully-stocked cafeteria that is completely free, bikes that are used to traverse these varying areas of the complex, and more. Crafting this fun-loving atmosphere is conducive to innovation, which is a hallmark of Page’s leadership philosophy; by giving his employees the right environment to create the aforementioned ‘crazy ideas’, they can stay ahead of their competition (Lowe, 2009).
Looking at the behavior and statements of Larry Page, his personal and organization values seem to be inextricably tied to the corporate culture of Google. In addition to valuing challenges, Page is a strong believer in eliminating bureaucracy in whatever form it may take (Lowe, 2009). This is a big motivator for the creation of the flat management system, where very few people are ‘above’ one another in rank. Page would often oversee every hiring process while at Google, as he believed he needed to know his employees in order to ensure that they succeeded. The point was to build an equal team, not keep people separate from each other by rank or responsibility. By doing this, people are accountable to each other, and there is no management-related resentment.
Page’s values at Google are absolutely an influence on ethical behavior in the organization – arguably, for the better. By trying to eliminate bureaucratic barriers, creating a fun and welcoming environment for employees, and not valuing some employees over others, Page wants to simply create an environment conducive to work, and let the ideas come as they may. There is less of an expectation for quotas or strict productivity guidelines, as the goal is to facilitate inspiration in one’s employees (Caldwell et al., 2010).
Page himself behaves quite ethically in his own organizational behavior – his salary is $1 a year, guaranteeing that the majority of the operating funds of Google go toward the work itself, the employees, infrastructure, and more (Lowe, 2009). This is a highly ethical move, as he places the company’s well-being above his own. Furthermore, he places as the company’s maxim the tagline “Don’t Be Evil,” meaning that they must be ethical at all costs. Granted, there have been instances where the company has not followed that maxim, choosing expediency over ethics (such as when they allowed the Church of Scientology to take down an anti-Scientology website after a request to do so) (Lowe, 2009). However, when it comes to the interior corporate culture, it is clear that Page’s management style wishes to avoid any overtly evil moves, despite their incredibly market share and economic power.
Larry Page’s three greatest strengths lie within his aforementioned focus on unconventional, transformational leadership. Unlike transactional leaders, who look at employees as figures only meant to give them something in exchange for something back, Page is a transformational leader, who simply looks to cultivate positive attributes in his workers to make them better employees (Podsakoff et al., 1990). Furthermore, his emphasis on flat management structure makes it very easy to have high morale in the company, making employees more loyal and productive. Finally, his emphasis on conciseness – finding the fastest ways to make decisions, including weekly executive meetings in which all major choices are made for the short term – is one way in which Google is able to facilitate organizational change in a very productive way.
If there are any flaws in Larry Page’s leadership style, one would be a need for more transparent communication with shareholders. Page has historically avoided important meetings before making big decisions, and one refusal to have a Q&A session with investors led to a decline in earnings that cost shareholders more than 8% of their stock prices (Elmer, 2011). Another weakness is a need to work with adversity more elegantly; anti-trust regulation has been levied against Google many times in the past due to their sheer domination over the market, which is something that Page must deal with (Carr, 2006). Finally, there may be something to be said for the innovative ways he treats his employees, but it is possible that the lackadaisical inability to impose pressure on his workers may be affecting productivity. While it is a nice idea to believe that your workers will come up with great ideas on their own, a little tightening up of the flat management structure might help to put just enough pressure on his workers to make them more productive.
If I had to pick the quality that contributes most to Larry Page’s success, it would be his optimism. Page seems to have endless faith in the talent and abilities of his employees, which explains his lack of desire to have middle management. By focusing on drawing out crazy ideas and emphasizing innovation, he trusts his employees to provide that core base of creativity that fuels the newest product or upgrade. This sense of communication and open collaboration makes the group dynamics of Google very fraternal and open, and Page humbles himself before his employees with his dressed-down, friendly demeanor and practically nonexistent pay. While he clearly has power over everyone he works for, he does not lord it over them, but instead turns it into a resource his employees can use to make further innovations (Podrug, 2008).
In conclusion, Larry Page’s success as a CEO can be attributed to his revolutionary, transformational style of leadership. Page chooses to create a tightly-knit team of individuals, few of whom have any real organizational authority over one another, and lets them loose in a whimsical, fun-centric corporate environment to make sure that their minds are focused on working and innovating. By encouraging employees to swing for the fences on crazy ideas, Page intends to stay ahead of the competition by coming up with new innovations before they do, which is the bread and butter of Google’s success. A further focus on immediacy and transparency within the corporate culture facilitates greater group cohesion, and gives fewer excuses for resentment over power or corporate politics.
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