This is one in a series of leadership profiles drawn from our new book, Leading with Strategic Thinking, highlighting what the most strategic leaders do differently.

Brian Fitzpatrick joined Google in 2005, founding the engineering team in Chicago and leading numerous initiatives regarding the transparency and openness of Google’s products. One of those initiatives was Google Takeout, a revolutionary product that enabled any user to easily export their personal information from Google at any time. 

His ideas and approach were controversial at times—he was making it easier for users to leave Google if they want—but they ultimately gained the enthusiasm of his fellow engineers and the support of Google CEO Eric Schmidt. 

Brian’s success relied on what we call collaborative leadership. Brian couldn’t have accomplished his goals alone, as he advocated ideas that went beyond his area of responsibility and the resources he controlled. That didn’t limit his impact, as he built relationships among his peers, listened to understand their goals and needs, found common interests between product owners and his own area of focus, shared his own resources to make others successful, and established a track-record that earned the trust of others.

Brian’s reputation and influence among his peers is widely recognized, earned through his understanding of how engineers want to work: 

I don’t know how it works at other companies, but Google is half engineers. Most engineers are brilliant creative types, and rather anti-authoritarian. They do not respond well to someone hitting them with a stick. If someone comes in and says “You’re going to have to comply with this” they’re going to say “Yeah, whatever.” Instead, the better way is to get people to buy in, show them why this is important and then make it easy for them. I like to say “speak softly and carry a large engineering team.

Brian’s approach is rooted in collaboration, a leadership style that you don’t have to be an engineer to appreciate. We explore this idea and three other leadership types in our book.

Leading with Strategic Leadership comes out on April 13, 2015.

Find out more about Brian and Google Takeout:

@therealfitz (Brian on Twitter)

Google Takeout



AuthorAaron Olson