While you could focus on building a mini-kingdom, or hoarding all the amazing people both of those things are terrible paths as a manager. I’ve regularly told my coaching clients that your only job is to make sure that those under and above you look marvellous.
Unfortunately, way too many managers take the first two options I provided. They build an empire inside a company. They regularly wonder why people aren’t performing up to their capacity. They may even rule with an iron fist.
Combating all these things is why Liz Wiseman wrote Multipliers. It all started with this single observation.
There is more intelligence inside our organization than we are using
Out of this thought, she embarked on years of research to figure out what it was that got the best out of employees. The original edition was published in 2010 and the revised edition in 2017. I read the revised edition.
Both editions look at this core thought:
Some leaders make us better and smarter. They bring out our intelligence. This book is about these leaders, who access and revitalize the intelligence in the people around them. I call them Multipliers. This book will show you why they create genius around them and make everyone smarter and more capable.
Wiseman’s goal is to help us become that leader that brings out the best in their people. One that builds up. One whom you always look back to and think of all the hard work, and how valuable it was for you.
Where the revised edition majorly deviates from the original is in three new essential insights Wiseman has found with more years of working with organisations to build multipliers.
3 Essential Insights of the New Issue of Multipliers
Early on Wiseman gives us the three key things that are in the revised edition.
1. The need for Multipliers is Universal
The need of Multiplier leadership spans industries and cultural boundaries; it’s not just for innovation centers like Silicon Valley
2. Sometimes the good guys are the bad guys
…I’ve come to see that the vast majority of the diminishing happening inside our workplaces is done with the best of intentions, by what I call the Accidental Diminisher — good people trying to be good managers.
3. The biggest barriers are contextual and cultural
To build organizations where intelligence is richly utilized, we need both an offensive and a defensive plan. Most leaders who read the book aspire to lead like Multipliers and find “the better angles of their nature,” as Abraham Lincoln once said. However, their efforts are stymied because too much of their mental energy is spent dealing with the devils around them.
Each of these three insights has a chapter devoted to dealing directly with the issue.
The structure of the book looks at where a Diminisher and a Multiplier differ in accomplishing the same goals. Take Chapter two as an example. It looks at how the Multiplier is a Talent Magnet, and the Diminisher is an Empire Builder. We’ll dive more into each opposing thought later on.
The book starts with defining what a Diminisher and Multiplier are so that readers are all on the same page with the terms. At its most basic, Wiseman defines a Multiplier as:
Multipliers are genius makers.
Multipliers recognise that while they may have the most experience, that doesn’t mean they have the best ideas. They don’t flaunt their intelligence over the people they work with. They look to challenge them and build up their thinking, knowing that this will make the whole organization better. Even if they don’t get the direct credit for success.
To contrast that, Diminishers feel that they’re the smartest people in the room.
Diminishers appear to believe that really intelligent people are a rare breed and that they are of that rare breed. From this assumption they conclude that they are so special, other people will never figure things out without them.
They ask questions that only they can answer to show how smart they are. Their intelligence is a weapon they use to continue to show their superiority. They make sure that if anything goes well, they get the credit even if most of the work was done by the team.
If it sounds like you want to be a Multiplier, then let’s look at the core ideas in the rest of the book, chapter by chapter.
Multipliers have a rich view of the intelligence of the people around them. They don’t see a world where just a few people deserve to do the thinking. In addition, Multipliers see intelligence as continually developing.
The Talent Magnet vs The Empire Builder
Diminishers don’t look to build teams; they look to build kingdoms inside an organization. They try to hoard all the great resources, even if they never plan to use them well.
The goal is ownership, not what’s best for the company or the people they’ve hoarded.
Contrast this with Multipliers, who attract talent. They build talent up, and talented people know that so they tell friends about it. Those talented friends want to work for the Multiplier.
This creates a virtuous cycle of talent building.
According to Wiseman, there are four practices of a Talent Magnet.
1. Look for talent everywhere
Talent Magnets are always looking for new talent, and they look far beyond their own backyard. Multipliers cast a wide net and find talent in many settings and diverse forms, knowing that intelligence has many facets.
2. Find people’s native genius
A native genius or talent is something that people do, not only exceptionally well, but absolutely naturally. They do it easily (without extra effort) and freely (without condition).
3. Utilize People At their fullest
A Multiplier finds where someone’s zone of genius is and helps them operate inside it. Talent Magnets are not threatened by the genius around them. In fact, they thrive on helping others succeed.
4. Remove blockers
They remove impediments, which quite often means removing people who are blocking and impeding the growth of others.
Individual genius can be deceptive. At first look, it would appear costly to remove one supersmart player, even if she has a diminishing effect on the team.
Finally, a talent magnet realises that they are a steward of a resource for a time. They don’t hold it with an iron grip keeping it away from everyone else in an organization.
Talent Magnets encourage people to grow and leave. They write letters of recommendation and they help people find their next stage to perform on. And when people leave their group, they celebrate their departures and shout their success to everyone.
Multipliers look for ways to help their people move on to the next level of success, even if that means they lose the talent.
The Liberator vs The Tyrant
Tyrants create a tense environment that is full of stress and anxiety. Liberators like Robert, on the other hand, create an intense environment that requires concentration, diligence, and energy. It is an environment where people are encourage to think for themselves and also where people experience a deep obligation to do their best work.
Most of us have worked for a tyrant. Someone that was sure everyone that worked for them was a slacker. That they couldn’t do their job well, so they needed constant badgering and monitoring on every little thing.
The thing is that tyrants expect mistakes and are ready to pounce in with accusations and punishments. Liberators also expect mistakes; they just look at mistakes as a scenario for learning.
Liberators are ready to jump in and help people learn from mistakes so that they don’t happen again.
One builds an organization where mistakes are feared and hidden. The other creates an environment where mistakes happen, and accountability for them happens.
The Challenger vs The Know-It-All
Diminishers operate as Know-It-Alls, assuming that their job is to know the most and to tell their organization what to do.
This is that person that asks some esoteric question that only sort of relates to the topic at hand or is so detailed no one can reasonably be expected to know the answer. The thing is, they did study down to the last tiny detail, so they knew and could ask the question.
The Multiplier challenges. They ask people to go deeper. Get more information, in a way that will make the decision better.
Instead of knowing the answer, they play the role of the Challenger. They use their smarts to find the right opportunities for their organization and challenge and stretch their organization to get there.
The Debate Maker vs The Decision Maker
By assuming there are only a few people worth listening to, Diminishers operate as Decision Makers: when the stakes are at their highest, they rely on their own knowledge or an inner circle of people to make the decision.
I also just finished reading The Seven Day Weekend which explains how a company called SEMCO works. Essentially SEMCO is all about debate. There are spots on the board table for any employee at all who signs up first. They readily admit that some of the great challenging questions have come from employees that cleaned the toilets. Decisions that had an impact on their global business.
When Multipliers are faced with a high-stakes decision, they have a different gravity pull toward the full brainpower of their organization. In harnessing this knowledge, they play the role of Debate Maker.
SEMCO also has a bizarre rule that all meetings are optional. Even meetings that the owner calls. If people don’t show up to the meeting, it means that the idea doesn’t move forward. It has no buy-in.
Both of these ways of working are inline with the Multiplier and opposed to the Diminisher.
Too many leaders exhaust themselves trying to garner buy-in across the myriad of stakeholders in their community. Instead of building support, their work often builds resentment as people reluctantly surrender to the inevitable.
The Investor vs The Micromanager
There are times in any business where the manager/boss needs to jump in and help solve a problem. The difference between a Diminisher and a Multiplier here is that the Multiplier looks for a way to jump right back out. A Diminisher takes over and ‘saves’ the day.
This saving means that employees don’t have ownership over outcomes. Employees feel like they still hit the mark while their manager feels like they had to jump in and save everything, so the mark was widely missed.
If you want to become an Investor give ownership over big things.
When people are given ownership for only a piece of something larger, they tend to optimize that portion, limiting their thinking to this immediate domain. When people are given ownership of the whole, they stretch their thinking and challenge themselves to go beyond their scope.
Back up the ownership of the outcome with resources. Don’t make them come back to you hat in hand all the time. Let them make decisions.
When leaders teach, they invest in their peoples ability to solve and avoid problems in the future
Hold them accountable. Don’t let people shunt their responsibilities back to you. Tell them “That sounds like a problem. What are you going to do about it?”
These leaders have a natural leaning to give accountability to others and keep it there. When their people push problems over to the manager’s side of the table, by the end of the conversation, those problems slide right back to where they came from.
They don’t give out participation ribbons. They hold people accountable to the good and the bad things that come from their effort. It’s only through having people face up to their mistakes (and remember Multipliers know mistakes happen) that they can learn from them and avoid them in the future.
When we protect people from experiencing the natural ramifications of their actions, we stunt their learning.
The Three other Insights
Starting in Chapter 7, we get the three new insights for the revised edition, starting with The Accidental Diminisher.
While narcissistic leaders grab the headlines, the vast majority of Diminishing happening inside our workplaces is done by the Accidental Diminisher — managers with the best of intentions, good people who think they are doing a good job leading.
One great example of this is The Idea Girl/Guy. They head home for the weekend and have a great new idea for a company direction. They bring it to the table on Monday, and everyone is jumping again to keep up with the changes.
This jumping limits your team and frustrates them.
Chapter 7 on the Accidental Diminisher is the best chapter of the book. If you’re in charge of people, read chapter 1 then 7. Then, go back through the book to grab the rest.
Not all of us are in positions of leadership. There will be Diminishers that we just have to deal with, and that’s where chapter 8 comes in.
Too many well-intended managers are stuck beneath diminishing leaders. They aspire to lead by bringing out the best in others but find themselves being sucked down a Diminishers vortex.
It tells us that the most popular reactions to Diminishers are the worst reactions. These reactions are:
- Confront them (tell them they are a Diminisher)
- Avoid them (they just chase you for control)
- Quit (doesn’t solve anything)
- Comply and Lie Low (you die slowly)
- Ignore the Diminishing behaviour (again they chase you for control)
Wiseman gives us three levels to work through to deal with a Diminishing boss. Level 1 reads like a Harry Potter magic class — “Defenses Against the Dark Arts of Diminishing Managers.”
Level one is seven tactics to minimise the damage a Diminishing boss can do to your motivation to be awesome at work. Most of them line up with research found in The Happiness Advantage and Broadcasting Happiness.
Level 2 is about Multiplying Up. Here we find the strengths of our boss and ask them to invest specifically in our project. We tell our boss how they can best help us succeed. We listen to the feedback they give, even if it’s given poorly, and build on it.
Using level 2 will help us build credibility with our boss and thus get out from under their thumb.
Level three is where we try to inspire those around us to be Multipliers by…acting like a Multiplier. There is one story Wiseman uses of a Diminishing boss who had someone under them start being a Multiplier. In a few months, the boss came to them to find out what was working so much better and started to work on becoming a Multiplier as well.
You don’t have to be at the top to be a change catalyst.
Becoming a Multiplier
The final chapter is all about becoming a Multiplier. To do this, pick one of the core assumptions of a Multiplier that comes the easiest, and focus on making it better.
Sure, note the other areas that need work, but go for a win first. Then take the other core values and put them up on your computer screen, or on your wall. Remind yourself daily what the traits of a Multiplier are if you want to be one.
Yes, I think that you need to read this book if you want to be awesome at business. This book extends far past just work even. Being a good parent means being a Multiplier. It means giving your kids responsibility for things and then letting them deal with consequences.
If you can become a Multiplier, you’ll be a better father.