Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (2010)
by Liz Wiseman with Greg McKeown (Amazon link)
Multipliers is the culmination of two years of research by the researcher-authors Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown. The introductory chapter summarizes their main idea: “multiplier” leaders raise confidence, drive and effort and get much more from people, while “diminisher” leaders create climates of fear, feelings of inadequacy, and get much less from people. They emphasize that leadership crosses many areas of our economy - government, education, business, non-profits - any place we have leadership. “Multipliers” see the potential and capabilities in people. They nurture ideas and debate, and tend to use a “logic of multiplication”, that is to better leverage existing resources and group knowledge. This is in contrast to “diminishers”, who tend to throw more resources at a problem, and micromanage. They point out that their book is not a guide to ‘feel good leadership’, but rather how to identify our own “diminisher” tendencies when we lead, and steps to take to become a multiplier.
*I myself would suggest that a leader has elements of both. The authors do note that these are extremes, but don’t suggest that a leader can have qualities from both leadership styles, which in my experience is usually the case. The authors discuss two cycles. The first is one of the “talent magnet”. They draw in skilled people to their team and utilize their talents to maximum capacity (and beyond) so that they grow > they recognize the achievements of groups and individuals > “market value” increases and along with it comes opportunities for individuals > the organization gains a reputation as a “place to grow” > individuals are supported when they move on, but new talent is attracted by the reputation of the organization. Conversely, a cycle of decline with weak “diminisher” leadership begins with skilled individuals coming along but are boxed in and limited in their ability to contribute and solve problems > they lose confidence and recede > “market value” decreases as individuals (who stay) stay and wait > the organization’s reputation becomes that of a “place to wait and end your career” > the organization attracts lesser and lesser skilled individuals as time goes on in a cycle that spirals downward. “Diminishers” acquire resources, let people “languish”, and put people in boxes. Wiseman and McKeown identify four ways to become a “talent magnet”.
I. Appreciate all types of genius. (not just your own) Identify abilities and strengths; ignore “title” boundaries and allow people to work in different areas if they are suited to them.
II. Identify native genius - question why they are good at something you’ve identified. Ask others; ask the individual.
III. Utilize people at their fullest. Connect people with appropriate opportunities, and follow up by recognizing their achievements.
IV. Remove “blockers” by getting rid of prima donnas, and foster an environment that allows people to test, fail, test, succeed.
(Identify it. Test it. Work it. Get rid of blockers.)
A comparison that I like is the tense vs intense environment. Liberating leaders establish intense environments in which members have the space to contribute, work and make mistakes. The “leader” steps back and listens, speaking not to push their ideas through but to get to the root of problems and advance problem solving. They restrain themselves from talking and forcing through an agenda. They ask deep questions and gain knowledge from the people around them. They create a level playing field so all have a voice and can make a contribution. Although it’s tough to know if someone is giving their absolute best, “multipliers” demand it. The nurturing of intellectual curiosity and the challenge to work at one’s best.
- Ideas are generated with ease
- People learn rapidly and adapt
- People collaborate
- Complex problems get solved
- Difficult tasks get accomplished
I liked the anecdotes in Chapter 4 and the focus on helping others find their “mission impossible” - finding the challenges that face them and identifying what they will do to achieve success, and how to implement a plan. The authors extend the discussion on “diminishers” as potentially being “Know-It-Alls”, as opposed to “multipliers” as “Challengers”. To be a ‘challenger’ Wiseman says you need to develop “a serious case of intellectual curiosity” and an overactive imagination. I would agree that creative thinking leads to creative problem solving. She suggests leaders need to stop answer questions and start asking them; see what practices affect or impact people (find a need); and get the entire organization involved in a project. (starting small)
It’s not surprising that the authors note how an effective leader will encourage debate, rather than simply raise issues, dominate discussions, and make the decisions. A deliberate “multiplier” in fact plans for it. They lay out the challenge(s) and only jump into the debate when it begins to spiral out of control, and quickly steps out again. The process facilitates deeper thinking, avoiding solo decisions and understanding that the collective knowledge may be better than an individual’s. The leader knows what they know, and also tap into what others know that they don’t - with enough minds the problem can be figured out. The leader provides resources to succeed. The final decision may by a group or an individual, but the effort to achieve it is recognized. How is this done?
- Frame the issue - define the question, determine the initial. challenges, find the existing facts, and get an appropriate team with the appropriate skills together.
- Spark the debate - have an engaging question or challenge, with comprehensive data, and ignite a fact-based debate that leaves people thinking more deeply rather than about winning or losing.
- This requires creating a safe environment for best thinking, deeper and harder thought
- Drive a sound decision - keep the process clear throughout, asking questions: Do we need more information? Is it a team or leader decision in the end? How do we resolve issues if it’s a team decision? Has any new information arisen that changes things?
Rationale has to be explained when the decision is made. (I’d add that reflection is necessary, too, and any issues identified)
I’d say that becoming a debate maker takes some degree of self restraint for most of us. The leader only asks the questions, and jumps in only when things are spinning out of control or focus, and quietly slips out of the scene. They do have to be sure evidence is provided - not merely opinions, and find strategies to keep everyone involved in the discussion. They know how to ask the hard questions, get facts over opinions, and get high quality thinking.
Wiseman continues on to discuss multiplier leaders as “investors”, infusing others with the support needed to succeed, and support when there is the inevitable failure. They also require accountability. They:
- Define ownership - a capable team is put in charge, a “head” is named, and roles are stretched rather than assigned
- Invest resources - they teach and coach, helping the team know what they need to know, and provide mentorship when necessary
- Hold people accountable - stepping in periodically expecting thorough work, creating a respect for consequences of actions and decisions, while letting people know where their strengths and weaknesses are
There is no maintenance of ownership by the leader. They don’t micromanage, and don’t take back leadership (particularly when a problem or roadblock arises). To become an “investor:
- Let the team know in the end the leader is indeed in charge
- Let things happen naturally, rather than forcing a project in a predetermined direction (I think this is also a suggestion that mistakes are to be learned from)
- Ask people to fix problems: “What are potential solutions?” “How do you propose we solve this?” “What would you like to do to fix it?”
- Step back after stepping in
The book’s final chapter discusses a plan for people to become “multipliers” in their leadership approaches. In a nutshell, Liz Wiseman summarizes with the following:
- Overall, people who see leaders and / or huge workloads as the two main obstacles for being unable to develop and grow
- Two get over this keep it simple: choose two things to focus on (1) weakest skill and (2) your best skill (take it to the next level)
- Neutralize the weakness, make a strength stronger
- Make new assumptions - everyone can contribute, so prepare them to contribute (before called upon in a meeting): the leader becomes the challenger
- Identify talent within a group to get a project done - allow members to naturally determine what they can do, empowering them with tasks they are suited to
- Debate as the process of a project evolves
- Concentrate on building layer on layer of skills in the team
- Give it time (a year, Wiseman says)
- Build a community of positive peer inspiration
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