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Google CEO’s 1-Sentence Response to Getting Called Out by Employees Is a Master Class in Leadership

While video calls and real-time messaging are convenient, they make meaningful communication a challenge. Google's fix is brilliant


In the hullabaloo that often marks the holiday season, Google CEO Sundar Pichai took time at an all-hands meeting to address a critical employee concern. The question was piercing:

It seems like responses to [employee questions] have gotten increasingly more lawyer-like with canned phrases or platitudes, which seem to ignore the questions being ask. Are we planning on bringing candor, honesty, humility and frankness back … or continuing down a bureaucratic path?

Pichai’s response may not be what you’d expect, but I believe it’s an example of effective leadership. First, however, some context:

In the mammoth and frenzied pivot to WFH models, many companies are still struggling to figure out effective communication models. Direct human interaction, replaced in many cases by messaging platforms, no longer provides critical nonverbal nuance.

As Tricia Jones of Temple University called out in a spotlight article on communication during the pandemic, nonverbal communication “is so rooted in how we understand the other person that if we have a difference between what we’re saying and how we’re behaving nonverbally, we almost always trust the nonverbal.” And when the nonverbal is absent? Nuance is lost — and in some cases, like those highlighted in the Google example above, honesty is questioned.

Pichai acknowledged this, however — including the tendency to lean on massive digital forums to address employee questions and concerns. This is not uncommon; even smaller companies take advantage of easy-to-use platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom to bring more people together than would ordinarily happen in person.

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