Good Leaders Don’t Buy and Sell People. Even Hypothetically

3 min readMar 16, 2022

A Google Senior Vice President and one of Google’s first 10 employees recently tweeted:

And while this has gotten a lot of press and been rightly criticized, my experience with this person in 2018 at Google eerily echoed this tweet.

At Google almost all hires have to be signed off on by an SVP. Most SVPs I know at Google would rubber stamp all but the most senior of hires. However at one point a new hire on my team was down-leveled by Urs, overruling the hiring committee. This person was down leveled from an L2 to an L1, effectively moving this person who had >2 years of experience into an entry level position. Also moving them from a salary position to hourly one. The most obvious question in my mind was why is Urs, an SVP in charge of billions of dollars in P&L looking at L2 positions? The second most obvious question I had was how does he even know what L1-L2 does for this particular role?

Now we know why. He was doing the ‘buying’ and he was setting the worth for this person.

In my opinion that tweet has to do with the power dynamic shifting from the employer to the employee as well as the classist/racist overtones of white privilege. Google is under immense pressure from competitors and well capitalized unicorns in the war for talent and people with this Urs mindset see the power shifting where they will no longer be able to set the price and maintain a take it or leave it posture. They will have to negotiate in good faith and begin to pay what the market is paying. Not what Urs think people are worth.

Some people may be of the mindset that this is what leaders do to prevent lowering of the bar. People may also applaud his willingness to stay focused on the P&L even at entry level roles. IMO good leaders trust the people in their orgs to make the right decisions when it comes to hiring. And in an organization such as Google with so many gates, doors, hurdles and mine fields to navigate to get past Hiring Committee, an SVP overruling a decision that was made and agreed upon by dozens of people is all about power.

Senior leaders who intervene at that level run the risk of creating an environment based on fear, uncertainty and doubt. It signals that you are not trusted and that all of your decisions can be questioned and overruled.

Instead of making hypothetical tweets about buying and selling people, Urs and those who think like him would do best to listen to what the people who are doing the real work are saying and treat them with the respect and consideration and meet them where they are at instead of at the hypothetical slave market.