A recent BuzzFeed profile of Google’s new CEO, Sundar Pichai, suggests that Pichai’s personality is hard to pin down.
Formerly Google’s product chief, Pichai became Google’s CEO in 2015, after the company reorganized its management structure. Google’s then-CEO, Larry Page, became CEO of parent company Alphabet, which oversees Google as well as other initiatives, including Nest and Google Ventures.
“What you’re missing is a level of authenticity,” one former Google employee said to BuzzFeed of Pichai’s management style. “Who could really speak to who Sundar is?”
Even when Pichai offered some thoughts on the recent debate over privacy and encryption, the BuzzFeed article notes that “his words were so cautious, and so few (even after BuzzFeed News asked for elaboration), that despite expressing support it was hard to know where he really stood.”
While this might sound like a bad thing, research suggests otherwise.
A 2012 Washington Post article by psychologist Joyce E. A. Russell highlights the work of another psychologist, Mark Snyder, who studies self-monitoring, or “the ability and desire to regulate your public expressiveness to fit the clues or requirements of the situation.”
In other words, people who self-monitor behave in accordance with other people’s expectations of them, which can vary depending on the specific social context.
Russell says those who are adept at self-monitoring tend to be more successful in management positions because they know how to change their behaviour when they’re with different groups of people. Moreover, Russell says, high self-monitors are better at using impression management techniques to create a positive image among their coworkers, so that they ascend to leadership quickly.
The “level of authenticity” the former Googler told Buzzfeed that Pichai is missing may in fact be indicative of a high level of self-monitoring. Rather than taking a hard-line stance that crosses all borders and applies at all times, a high self-monitor adjusts their behaviour to best suit the situation — and it’s often a good thing.
A growing body of research supports these ideas, suggesting that high self-monitors are more likely than low self-monitors to emerge as group leaders.
Self-monitoring isn’t about being deceitful or slippery. Instead it’s about acknowledging that different situations call for different language and behaviour — and showcasing the qualities of yours that fit the current interaction. For those who aspire to top management positions, it’s certainly worth thinking about how you craft your image among the different individuals and groups you interact with at work.
If Pichai is indeed a high self-monitor, this could be a good psychological skill to have in his arsenal, and could contribute to his continuing success.