Multiplier Leadership: Creating a Multiplier Culture

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Multipliers" by Liz Wiseman. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to implement Multiplier leadership practices into your workplace? How do you foster a Multiplier culture?

It’s one thing to have one Multiplier Leader, but when you implement Multiplier leadership practices on a large scale, you create a Multiplier culture. Here is what to do and what not to do when creating a Multiplier culture.

Keep reading for advice on how to implement Multiplier leadership on a large scale.

Multiplier Leadership

Effective Multiplier leadership can create a Multiplier culture in which every member of an organization holds Multiplier assumptions and engages in Multiplier behaviors. 

First, we’ll look at ineffective forms of Multiplier leadership, and then we’ll look at what does work.

How Not to Create a Multiplier Culture

Most companies try to change their culture by inspiring managers to encourage new behavior and often, the focus is on sharing new ideas—for example, via a keynote speech—rather than executing them. Not only is this ineffective, since nobody will actually adopt the new culture if they don’t put it into practice, but aborted attempts to change culture can also make people resistant to change in the future.

  • For example, a software company asked its managers to read Multipliers and start using the practices. They tried, but when the company hit a rough spot, many leaders reverted to their initial leadership style because it was easier.

How to be a Multiplier Leader

Elements of Culture

The better way to change to a Multiplier culture is to focus on its key elements, starting with the shallower aspects and then moving deeper. Here are five elements of culture, in order of surface-level to deep, and some practices to help develop them:

Element #1: Vocabulary

In strong cultures, everyone in the culture uses the same words and phrases to describe the same concepts and values. This allows them to name, and therefore discuss, good and bad behaviors openly and concretely.

  • For example, members of Alcoholics Anonymous all know what the “Twelve Steps” and The Big Book are.

There are two practices to develop Multiplier vocabulary:

1. Discuss Multipliers. Ask leaders to read the book and then talk about it, using the terms “Multiplier” and “Diminisher” in the discussion. Ideally, use Multiplier practices in the discussion. You might discuss some of the following questions or use the facilitator guide:

  • If a Diminisher is getting a lot done, should they change anything? Why or why not?
  • What’s one way you could share your ideas without diminishing anyone?
  • What’s the balance between giving people space and being too hands-off?
  • At what point does detail-orientation become micromanaging?
  • When should you search widely for new talent and when should you focus on the people who already work for you?
  • If you only have half an hour to make an important decision, should you call for a debate? Why or why not?
  • What similarities do you see between all five disciplines?
  • Could you use the multiplying approach outside of work—for example, with your family?

For example, Bamboo HR’s Ryan knew that people who weren’t giving 100% could easily be overlooked in high-growth companies, and that bad leadership exacerbates this. He asked his senior leadership team to read Multipliers. They discussed multiplication in weekly meetings.

2. Talk about Accidental Diminishers. Ask leaders to take the Accidental Diminisher quiz, honestly discuss their weaknesses with team members, and celebrate their Multiplier moments. This conversation should be ongoing, not a one-time meeting.

  • Bamboo HR’s leaders compared the results of their quizzes and spoke so honestly and productively about what they’d learned that some people cried.
Element #2: Conduct

In strong cultures, every member of the culture responds a certain way in a certain situation. They learn the appropriate response from the Multiplier leader and it becomes instinct.

  • For example, when AA members are struggling, they go to meetings or talk to their sponsors.

To change the default conduct to Multiplier behavior, you need to make people aware of their Diminisher behavior and then encourage them to consciously choose Multiplier behavior until it becomes habit. You can do this using the following practices:

1. Spread the word about Multiplier assumptions. Don’t just tell the top leaders; talk to everyone in the organization, to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

  • For example, the CEO of AT&T held seminars for company officers that taught them how to be Multiplier Leaders themselves (as opposed to teaching them how to encourage those below them to become Multipliers). As the senior managers used the practices and exercises, others noticed and started adopting their behavior. AT&T also gave all its general managers (almost 7,000) a copy of Multipliers and held webinars. Most people in the company work at their diminishing tendencies, and it’s appropriate to call people out.

2. Train people in Multiplier practices. Hold workshops, discussions, and so on.

  • For example, Eastman Chemical held two-day workshops to teach Multiplier skills.

3. Simulate real-life scenarios in training. Learning about a Multiplier approach in training is different than applying it to real life, so instead of just teaching concepts, use simulations.

  • For example, when Intuit was training Multipliers, teams managed a simulated business that was similar to Intuit. This allowed them to practice applying a Multiplier approach to problems and decisions that would likely come up in real life.
Element #3: Convictions 

Conviction means every member of a culture agrees on what is true and shares assumptions. 

  • For example, AA members believe that they need help.

When it comes to multiplication, the goal is for everyone to know what makes a good leader. There’s one practice to help develop this element:

1. Define the expectations for leaders—their primary job is to multiply others and get them giving 100%.

  • For example, Nike established a manager manifesto that explained that managers were expected to multiply.
Element #4: Myths

In a strong culture, everyone admires the same people as heroes based on their accomplishments, behavior, or traits. 

  • For example, AA members are all heroes with epic stories.

When it comes to business, the role models should be Multiplier Leaders, and their heroics should inspire others to behave similarly. The heroes can be Multipliers who have had a major impact on the organization, or people who are still on the journey and working hard. To develop this element of culture:

1. Publicly celebrate Multiplier moments. Acknowledge notable Multiplier behavior, make announcements about successful Multipliers, host events to honor Multipliers, and so on.

  • For example, when Nike’s Casey won the Multiplier of the Year award, Nike held a ceremony in her honor and gave her a custom-designed pair of sneakers.

2. Assess leaders. Measuring how well leaders use the Multiplier practices encourages them to improve. You can use the Multipliers 360 Assessment or integrate the evaluation into your existing performance metrics.

Element #5: Customs

In a strong culture, everyone adheres to the same customs and behaves the same way. 

  • For example, AA members pray together.

In the context of multiplication, customs mean that the Multiplier concepts spill into every area of the business from financial incentives to operational practices. To strengthen this facet of culture:

1. Run a pilot program to implement a particular Multiplier practice. This will help spread Multiplier concepts across an organization.

  • For example, after Salesforce ran Multiplier workshops, one team focused on the talent discipline and created a new transfer policy that made it easier for software developers to change jobs within the company. Once the program had proven its effectiveness for developers, it was implemented for everyone.

2. Connect Multiplier practices with existing business practices. This will also help Multiplier customs seep into every area of the organization.

  • For example, Leadership Natives linked Multiplier practices with their performance indicators and goals as well as corporate strategy. This helped them see that leadership behavior directly impacted the achievement of business goals.

Where to Start?

The development of Multiplier culture doesn’t have to start at the top. While this approach does work, the author found that most organizations that successfully changed their culture actually started in the middle. This is because when a middle manager starts acting as a Multiplier, their team or department is far more successful than the surrounding teams. Senior leaders are always on the lookout for standout behavior (good or bad), and when they see something that’s working, they support and spread it.

Maintaining Momentum

Most new ideas start out large and strong but then peter out. There are two ways to avoid this happening to your culture implementation:

1. Start small by taking baby steps. For example, try to implement just one Multiplier Leadership practice in a pilot program before changing to change things across a whole company. Each small win will create momentum for the next challenge.

2. Join a community. Community members can support each other, create an experimental space, and peer pressure each other into not giving up.

Multiplier Leadership: Creating a Multiplier Culture

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  • Why multipliers make better leaders than diminishers
  • How multipliers increase the total intelligence and capability of a team
  • The 3 steps to follow if you want to reduce your own diminishing qualities

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