Multipliers and Diminishers: The Two Types of Leaders

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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What is the difference between a multiplier leader and a diminisher leader? What are the traits of multipliers and diminishers?

According to the authors of Multipliers, there are two types of leaders: Multipliers and Diminishers. Multipliers bring the most out of their team’s abilities and they inspire and push them to do their best. Diminishers only access a small portion of their team’s abilities and prefer to rely on their own intelligence.

Keep reading to learn more about Multipliers and Diminishers

Two Types of Leaders and Their Assumptions

The authors of Multipliers, Wiseman and McKeown, concluded that there are two types of leaders: Multipliers and Diminishers. Below are descriptions of each type, as well as outlines of their behaviors for you to emulate (in the case of Multipliers) or avoid (in the case of Diminishers):

Type #1: Multipliers

Multipliers use their intelligence to bring out the intelligence and ability of everyone else. They do this by assuming that:

  • People can improve.
  • Intelligence and capability are very common.
  • Because these traits are so common, their team should be full of people who have them.
  • Therefore, as a leader, all they need to do is create an environment that lets people use their intelligence and capability and improve their skills.

Multipliers access 70-100% of their team members’ capabilities because their assumptions push and inspire people to contribute as much as they possibly can, including their discretionary energy and effort (energy and effort beyond what’s strictly required to do their job). (In comparison, on average, managers access 66% of their people’s capability.)

Additionally, Multipliers can actually grow people’s intelligence. In surveys, some people reported giving more than 100%—which they had to increase their intelligence to do—when working with Multipliers. 

Multiplier Traits

Most Multipliers have the following traits:

1. They’re tough and have high expectations. They know that people have a lot of untapped potential and expect them to live up to it. While people the author studied who worked with Multipliers all had positive experiences, this wasn’t because the managers were “feel-good” or friendly. In fact, it was because workers found it satisfying to reach their potential.

  • For example, one person described working for a Multiplier as a workout—tiring but invigorating.

2. They still use their own skills and intelligence. Multipliers don’t downplay or suppress their own abilities to amplify others’. They use every available resource, including themselves.

  • For example, when basketball player Magic Johnson was in high school, his coach told him to shoot every time he got the ball. This strategy worked—his team won many games—and the coach and his teammates were happy because they liked winning. However, Magic noticed that his teammates’ parents looked disappointed because they hadn’t gotten to see their sons shoot. He decided that he would lead like a Multiplier—help everyone on the team get better but still use his own skills.

3. They have a sense of humor. Multipliers can laugh at themselves and self-deprecate, possibly because they’re not insecure about their own intelligence (their assumptions apply to themselves as well). 

4. They possess intellectual curiosity. They value imagination and see others as a source of learning. They ask a lot of questions, which is the most effective Multiplier behavior. (We’ll cover the other Multiplier behaviors in later chapters.)

Example: George Schneer

George, a divisional manager at Intel, was a Multiplier. He made everyone on the team feel smart and his team members said that working under him was the high point of their careers. One of his team members, Vikram, said that George got 100% out of him. Every business George ran was profitable.

Type #2: Diminishers

Diminishers rely on their own intelligence. They assume that:

  • People can’t improve.
  • Intelligence and capability are very rare.
  • They are one of the few people who have these rare traits.
  • Because these traits are so rare, it’s unlikely that their team includes very many people who have them.
  • Therefore, as a leader, they need to be very hands-on to make up for everyone else’s lack of capability and inability to improve themselves.

Diminishers access only 20-50% of their team members’ capabilities—half as much as Multipliers—because their behavior drains other people’s energy and shuts them down.

Diminishing is unsustainable—it’s an expensive waste of resources. The author believes Diminishers will eventually go extinct, either because they get fired or because they change their ways.

Diminisher Traits

Diminishers have a huge variety of traits ranging from lacking a sense of humor, to inability to consider different points of view, to overenthusiasm. The traits are so wide-ranging because, interestingly, most Diminishers don’t diminish on purpose. Many Diminishers have good intentions and don’t realize how their assumptions and behaviors affect others. Many of them weren’t trained as leaders and were promoted to management due to their skills or intelligence, so when they took the position, they thought they were supposed to be the smartest and that the people they managed were below them. Or, they’d spent so much time around Diminishers that they unconsciously started to mimic them. 

Example: Fred

Fred (Shortform name), like George Schneer, was a divisional manager at Intel. Unlike George, he was a Diminisher. Fred had initially started as a scientist before being promoted into management, and he was very intelligent. However, he didn’t know how to amplify his team’s intelligence and relied on his own. Vikram worked for Fred after working for George and said that Fred only got around 50% out of him. He also said he never wanted to work for him again. 

Multipliers and Diminishers: The Two Types of Leaders

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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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