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Google's Project Oxygen Pumps Fresh Air Into Management

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Go to Amazon.com and search for books under "leadership." You will find more than 101,000 books -- each with a unique theory. Ironically, too much leadership knowledge often creates confusion.

Maybe it's time to simplify.

As a young PhD student, I read thousands of academic articles on leadership. But one day a friend asked me a simple question on how to coach a struggling manager. I was baffled. I could compare and contrast almost any prominent leadership theory, but I had no idea how to fix the simplest management problem. I realized that I was lost in a sea of knowledge. The more I learned, the less I knew. Maybe you feel the same.

Let's make leadership simple again.

Google's (GOOG) Project Oxygen was designed to identify what successful Google managers do. Too often, training departments try to help managers improve their competencies -- traits of good managers. But changing traits rarely works. Instead, Google chose to teach managers what to do.

The Project Oxygen team spent one year data-mining performance appraisals, employee surveys, nominations for top manager awards and other sources. The result was more than 10,000 observations of manager behaviors. The research team complemented the quantitative data with qualitative information from interviews.

The interviews produced more than 400 pages of notes, which were coded using standard behavioral science methodologies. The final result was eight behaviors -- things great managers do that make them great. They are, in order of importance:

1. Be a good coach.

2. Empower; don't micromanage.

3. Be interested in direct reports, success and well-being.

4. Don't be a sissy: Be productive and results-oriented.

5. Be a good communicator and listen to your team.

6. Help your employees with career development.

7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.

8. Have key technical skills so you can advise the team.

Notice that the behaviors have one thing in common -- a manager who is deeply committed to short- and long-term employee success. As they say in the military, "Love your soldiers."

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