How to empower others like Larry Page

Lawrence Edward Page was born on 26 March 1973, in Lansing, Michigan, USA. Larry Page had an unusual beginning. His parents were both professors in the field of computing. Dr Carl Victor Page, Larry’s father, taught at Michigan State University as a professor of computer science and artificial intelligence. Gloria Page, Larry’s mother, taught computer programming. This might not be remarkable now, but in the early 1970s, computers were  a new science, not even grasped by the general public. Larry Page’s future might have been set before he was born. 

The house where Page grew up was full of early computers and copies of Popular Science magazines. This strange environment allowed Page to begin tinkering with computers when he was a child, which is exactly what he did. 

Following his school years, he studied Computer Engineering at the University of Michigan, before enrolling in graduate studies at Stanford University. Page had begun working on a project related to the World Wide Web, encouraged by a professor. Page was looking at the ways in which web pages were linked to one another. At first, Page worked on a way to find out how many pages on the Web were linked to any other page. Search engines at that time could only determine how many times any particular word appeared on a certain page. Therefore, web searches produced results simply based on particular words and often returned huge lists of irrelevant searches. 

Page was interested in ranking pages, or websites, based not purely on the frequency of a word, but also on the number of links that led from a site to any given other site. His friend Sergey Brin had expertise in data mining, having already written over a dozen papers on the subject. Brin was interested because of the project’s complexity. At that time, there were an estimated 10 million pages on the Web, any of which could potentially be linked to any other. The two went to work on the complex project, and the result was two papers. 

The second paper, with the mouthful of a title, “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine”, made a splash in tech circles. Soon after they wrote it, the paper had been downloaded more frequently than almost any other scientific document on the Internet. They had developed their new search engine, describing it in that  paper. The program was then called “BackRub”, and it was run on the motley collection of personal computers in Page’s dormitory room. 

Very quickly, the two boys realised that they were onto something. They renamed the page, and the google.com domain name was registered in 1997. The name was chosen as a derivation of the word “googol”, which is the name of an enormous number that consists of a one followed by 100 zeros. They chose the name to represent the enormous amounts of data that would be coordinated by their search engine. 

Fast forward to 2010, when two co-authors and myself released an international best-selling book (Millionaires and Billionaires – Secrets Revealed), which included a chapter on Larry Page, Google employed around 24,400 staff. It now employs over 156,000 staff.  Page doesn’t simply think in terms of providing a quality service to make Google the best search engine. He thinks big and puts that thinking into his business. In everything Page and Google do, he has an eye towards improving the world. He set up his company that way, he makes sure that his employees are empowered to work in that way, and he wants to offer users the tools to work that way, too. He says, “talented people are attracted to Google because we empower them to change the world.” 

The above paragraphs are an excerpt from the chapter on Larry Page, but I am fascinated by one word that Page uses, and that is to empower talented people. So, what does that really mean? Some people that I have asked about empowerment call it enabling, or trusting, or some other derivative of being authorised to make a change, or to make a difference.  

So, how can you empower others, and how can leaders do it like Larry Page and Google?  

To answer this question, let’s first understand what empowerment is. And let’s turn to the organisational psychology definition, which is psychological empowerment.  Psychological empowerment is defined as an “intrinsic task motivation reflecting a sense of self-control in relation to one’s work and an active engagement with one’s work role” (Meng and Sun, 2019) There are four key concepts of psychological empowerment, which include Meaning, Impact, Competence, and self-determination.  

1. Meaning 

Meaning is about how much one’s work helps them achieve one’s personal goals and objectives. It is about how much one’s work lines up with one’s self-identity. How much one’s work is aligned with one’s personal values and how much one’s work can help them express themselves. Meaning is the most personal element of the work experience. It is also perhaps the most important.  

2. Impact 

Impact is different to meaning, in that it is how one’s work helps one contribute to their organisation’s goals and objectives. And how much their work adds value to something bigger than oneself. This is about value proposition and being involved in work that makes a difference to the output of an organisation.  

3. Competence 

Competence is simply how able staff feel at doing their jobs and perform the functions required of them. Feeling competent is related to feeling confident, and capable, and it is developed from skills, knowledge, and experience. People who feel competent feel like they can deal with the demands of their role.  

4. Self-determination 

Self-determination means having a high level of input into how one performs one’s role. It is about a level of autonomy that suits the team member, and that suits the organisation. Having self-determination means having a say in one’s position description, and one’s work in general. And it is about having a level of control over one’s destiny. 

Team members who feel like they are high in the four areas of psychological empowerment would say things like “My work activities are personally meaningful to me” (meaning); “I have significant influence over what happens in my department” (impact); “I am confident about my ability to do my job” (competence); and “I have significant autonomy in determining how I do my job” (self-determination) (Credit: Li, Wu, Johnson & Wu, 2011). 

So, these are the four elements of psychological empowerment! 

And what studies have demonstrated is that psychological empowerment increases employee engagement. And it is linked to increased organisational success. It is also linked to a reduction in emotional exhaustion and burnout. So, employee wellbeing levels increase. While absenteeism reduces. Winning. 

So how do you do it like Larry Page? Put simply, you focus on it, and you understand how important it is to have a psychologically empowered workforce. And you do what it takes to help your team members find meaning, to have an impact, to build their competence, and to have self-determination in their role.  

And you hire staff with those things in mind. Do it like Google! 

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About Anton

Anton has dedicated his working life to helping leaders to upgrade their mindset, upskill their leadership, and uplift their teams! With a focus on helps leaders to better lead under pressure. Anton is an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, bestselling author and founder of The Guinea Group. Over the past 19 years, Anton has worked with over 175+ global organisations, he has inspired workplace leadership, safety, and cultural change. He’s achieved this by combining his corporate expertise, education (Bachelor of HR and Psychology), and infectious energy levels.
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