Multipliers: Liz Wiseman on Leadership

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What is Multipliers by Liz Wiseman about? How can Wiseman’s advice help you improve your work culture? What leadership qualities should you be avoiding?

Multipliers, Liz Wiseman’s book about the two styles of leadership, has helped countless businesses improve their work cultures and raise their employees to the next level. This book teaches readers how to avoid being an Accidental Diminisher and how to make a positive and productive workplace.

Keep reading to learn more about Liz Wiseman’s book Multipliers.

Multipliers by Liz Wiseman

In Multipliers, Liz Wiseman and researcher Greg McKeown tackle the question: How do leaders perceive and use intelligence? For two years, they studied 150 leaders in four continents by interviewing them, assessing them quantitatively (using a survey that addressed 48 leadership practices), and talking to their team members. 

Two Types of Leaders

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 everyone is:

Talented. Multipliers assume that if they can figure out what someone is naturally good at, they can guide this person towards projects and roles in which they can contribute their fullest. Multipliers remove obstacles (such as Diminishers) that are getting in the way of people using their genius.

  • For example, camp director Marguerite runs a girls’ camp in California. All of the camp counselors are volunteers and Marguerite studies all 59 of them to figure out their genius. Once she figures it out, she tells the counselors what their talent is and how it will make the camp better. Likewise, when she introduces counselors to each other, she mentions their genius, and she publicly praises people when they do good work. 

Full of ideas. Multipliers assume that people have to choose to do their best work and come up with good ideas—performance can’t be forcibly squeezed out of them. They encourage people to willingly give their all by creating a safe yet intense atmosphere, expecting the best of people, addressing mistakes (especially their own), and demanding people learn from failures.

  • For example, pharmacy manager Quynh Vu once made a small mistake with medication and told her team about it. She also runs a daily meeting in which everyone on duty is invited to share their mistakes or near misses. The meeting serves two purposes: Everyone can learn from the mistakes, and everyone can suggest ways to troubleshoot so they don’t happen again.

Knowledgeable. Multipliers assume everyone can improve if encouraged and challenged. As a result, Multipliers can pursue any project because they believe their team can do anything anyone knows (or learns) how to do, not just things the Multiplier personally knows how to do. Multipliers challenge people to learn and create execution plans, and they convince people that they can achieve what seems impossible.

  • For example, the CEO of an electronics company told his management team that he wanted to become the top company in the market. Then, he asked them, as well as founding family members, key executives, and consultants, to figure out how to do that.

Capable of making decisions. Multipliers assume that two (and more) heads are better than one and consult as many voices as possible when making important decisions. They explain the debate’s question and why it’s important, prepare debaters, monitor the debate, and are clear about the decision-making workflow.

  • For example, Allison tells her team exactly who will make a decision and by when. This lets people know that their work in the debate will be used.

Independent. Multipliers assume people are intelligent enough to figure things out without them. They coach, help people learn, and provide resources and support, but they leave accountability with the team and never take over. 

  • For example, when Stacey and Jim were working with students to organize a theology showcase, they outlined the task and available resources. The students had ideas but kept turning to Stacey and Jim for approval. Stacey and Jim left the room to emphasize that the students were in charge. When they returned, the students had taken ownership and come up with great ideas.

Multipliers access 70-100% of their team members’ capabilities because their assumptions push and inspire their team members 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. 

Type #2: Diminishers

Diminishers rely on their own intelligence. They assume that most people aren’t very smart or capable and need a leader’s help to get anything done. They assume that most people are:

Untalented. Because Diminishers assume people need their direction to get anything done, they don’t use or develop talent. Instead, they collect it, slot it into an organizational chart, and use it to make themselves look good.

  • For example, an Intel Diminisher divisional manager hired intelligent people to make his department appear strong, but he ignored everyone else’s opinion and didn’t let anyone use their intelligence.

Full of bad ideas. Diminishers assume that they’re the only ones with good ideas and as a result, they’re disinterested in other people’s ideas and demand people follow theirs. They’re judgemental and assume they can increase performance and generate good ideas in their team by creating stressful, critical, high-pressure environments. (In fact, this kind of environment stifles performance—team members spend all their energy trying to avoid upsetting them, instead of directing this energy towards their work.)

  • For example, when chief marketing officer Garth is in a meeting, he dominates. When new staff start, everyone warns them that the first thing they have to learn is how to tiptoe around Garth.

Unintelligent. Diminishers assume that their job is to be the most knowledgeable person on their team and have all the answers, since everyone around them is unintelligent. They show off their knowledge, test others’ knowledge, micromanage, and become bottlenecks. If they don’t know something, then they go learn it themselves because they don’t trust anyone else to already know or be capable of learning it. More often, though, Diminishers tend to only pursue things they already know, which limits the organization’s progress and innovation. 

  • For example, when Richard, founder of SMT Systems, thought his general counsel didn’t know enough about a legal code, he gave him a pop quiz. The general counsel answered as best he could, but he didn’t have all the answers to the most specific and obscure questions. After the meeting, Richard bought a 600-page book that covered the legal code, spent all night reading the whole thing, and the next day called a meeting and listed everything the general counsel had gotten wrong the day before.

Incapable of making decisions. Diminishers assume that most people aren’t worth hearing from and make quick decisions by themselves or with the help of only a few others. This limits their ability to capitalize on the organization’s collective intelligence (usually the people closest to the issue aren’t consulted) and overworks the decision-makers. Additionally, they cut debates short or prioritize their opinion to come to decisions faster.

  • For example, Jonathan amassed a team of smart people to help him make a decision, but he used them to give him information, not to help make the decision. In meetings, he talked constantly.

Dependent. Diminishers assume no one’s smart enough to figure things out without their help, so when they see something going wrong and they know how to fix it, they take over and “rescue” people. Sometimes, they do this randomly—then, after taking over a task, when it becomes boring or deprioritized, they abandon it.

  • For example, chief marketing officer Garth does all the work himself on projects that the CEO will notice because he thinks his team isn’t smart enough to do the work themselves and will thus embarrass themselves in front of the CEO. On less visible projects, however, he doesn’t help at all, and his team can’t get the work done without him because they’ve learned to depend on him.

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.

Becoming a Multiplier 

Now that you’ve learned about the advantages of multiplication and the disadvantages of diminishment, the question is: Can you become a Multiplier? The answer is a resounding yes. Multiplier and Diminisher aren’t either-or identities; they’re two extremes on a continuum. Most leaders fall somewhere in between and can move in either direction, and even the strongest Diminisher can change. 

To aid your transformation into a Multiplier, use the following five accelerators to speed up your adoption of the behaviors outlined above:

Accelerator #1: Change your assumptions about your team’s intelligence and capability. Behavior stems from assumptions. (Conscious assumptions are stored in the same part of the brain that stores unconscious habits.) Therefore, you can’t just copy the actions of Multipliers; you need to change your thinking to make the habits really stick. 

Accelerator #2: Strengthen your strengths and weaken your weaknesses. You don’t need to be good at everything to be a Multiplier. Instead, strengthen an area you’re good at and neutralize one you’re bad at.

Accelerator #3: Do 30-day experiments. You have to practice Multiplier behaviors before they become habit, and your practice will be most effective if you experiment with individual behaviors for short periods. This is because you’ll quickly receive feedback and get regular opportunities to reassess, and small successes will encourage you to keep experimenting.

Accelerator #4: Ask someone else to choose your experiment. Someone else can more objectively identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Accelerator #5: Anticipate difficulty. While the Multiplier concepts are easy to understand, they’re not as easy to implement. Accept that changing habits is hard, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and seek support from colleagues. 

Reducing Your Diminishing Qualities

Interestingly, most Diminishers don’t diminish on purpose—they have good intentions and don’t realize how their assumptions and behaviors affect others. 

Likely, you have some inadvertent diminishing tendencies you’re not aware of. There are three steps to uncovering these tendencies:

Step #1: Reflect on Your Intentions

If you see your own intentions in the following list, reflect on the unintended consequences and try the suggestions for avoiding diminishment:

Intention #1: Inspiration. To inspire your team, you might share your ideas or vision of the future. 

The consequences: People stop thinking for themselves because you’re doing it for them.

To avoid diminishing, keep ideas to yourself until you want people to pursue them. Additionally, outline a strategy but let everyone else flesh out the details, encourage people to use their talents, ask leading questions, give people ownership, and challenge your people to think.

Intention #2: Rescue. To keep your team safe, you might step in when something goes wrong, or even hide problems from your team. 

The consequences: People become dependent, don’t experience ownership and accountability, and don’t learn from their mistakes. They also get an unrealistic sense of their own abilities because they always get good results, even if it was the manager and not them who was responsible for the outcome.

  • For example, when Sally, a high school principal, gave her colleague Marcus ownership of a data-compilation project, she knew that he was new to both the school and spreadsheets so she tried to be extra helpful. She was careful and clear about the hand-off and she offered to go over things again or provide extra training multiple times. Finally, Marcus told her that he needed less help—Sally wasn’t giving him enough space to figure it out by himself.

To avoid diminishing, you should let some of the small dangers through so people can learn to deal with adversity. Additionally, challenge your people, delegate, ask questions, and give people ownership.

Intention #3: Perfection. To encourage high standards, you might set the bar as your own performance, or point out picky errors in people’s work. 

The consequences: People step back and watch rather than emulating the leader’s performance (they assume that because the leader is doing something, it’s an executive task and beyond their scope), or they become so discouraged by criticism or the distance between themselves and the leader that they disengage and give up. 

To avoid diminishing, you should be clear about the criteria for excellence and completeness and check your own progress so you don’t get too far ahead of anyone else. Additionally, be clear about when failure is okay and when it’s not, talk about mistakes, ask questions, delegate, and challenge people.

Intention #4: Energy and optimism. To motivate people, you display your energy and believe you and your team can achieve anything. 

The consequences: People become exhausted and think the leader is disconnected from reality or won’t accept failure.

  • For example, when the author was working on a difficult project with a colleague, she often asked him how difficult the task could be. The colleague struggled with this sentiment—the project was objectively very hard and he did think they could do it, but hearing this phrase over and over again minimized the challenge.

To avoid diminishing, you should express your optimism or energy only once and encourage others to talk, and acknowledge when tasks are challenging. Additionally, encourage others to use their talent, talk less, ask questions, delegate, be clear about when failure is acceptable, spark debates, and talk about mistakes.

Intention #5: Agility. To create an agile organization, you might respond quickly to emails and problems that are actually other people’s responsibilities. 

The consequences: People become less responsive because they know you’ll finish things before they can even get started.

To avoid diminishing, you should wait a certain amount of time (perhaps 24 hours) before responding to emails that are someone else’s responsibility. Additionally, ask questions and spark debates.

Step #2: Take a Quiz

Take one or both of the following quizzes:

Step #3: Get Feedback From Those You Lead

Ask the people you lead the following questions:

  • Am I shutting people down?
  • Am I doing any diminishing behaviors?
  • Are my actions being interpreted the way I think they are?
  • How do I change?

Surviving Diminishers

Even once you’ve gotten a handle on your accidental diminishing tendencies and worked at improving them, you’ll still face challenges—most of us aren’t the only leaders in our organizations and have to work with others who may be Diminishers. 

The good news is, there are three strategies for surviving (or even transforming) Diminishers:

  1. Survival strategies. To survive Diminishers: Tune them out occasionally, connect with other people who can support you and help you see the situation objectively, reassure Diminishers that you can do the job and that you’re smart, and/or ask for information and use it to tailor your work accordingly. If necessary, quit and find a Multiplier boss instead.
  2. Multiplying strategies. You can be a Multiplier even if your boss isn’t because Diminishers are most concerned with their own smarts and need their intelligence validated. As Multipliers, by nature, validate people’s genius, acting like a Multiplier towards your boss will make them feel comfortable and more likely to give you more trust. To multiply a boss: Invite them into the loop, harness their knowledge, learn from them, tell them how to best use you, ask for a challenge, and/or share your mistakes to encourage them to do the same.
  3. Transformation strategies. These only work if your boss wants to become a Multiplier—while every Diminisher has the potential to do so, you can’t force anyone to change. To encourage them: Lead by example, teach your boss about Multipliers and Diminishers, only bring up one piece of feedback at a time, and/or reward baby steps towards multiplication.

How to Create a Multiplier Culture

You can use your knowledge to do so much more than just get rid of Diminishers and become a Multiplier yourself—you can create a Multiplier culture in which every member of an organization holds Multiplier assumptions and engages in Multiplier behaviors. 

There are five elements of culture to apply Multiplier assumptions, behaviors, and ideas to:

Element #1: Vocabulary. In strong cultures, everyone in the culture uses the same definition for words and phrases. This allows them to name, and therefore discuss, good and bad behaviors openly and concretely. To develop Multiplier vocabulary: Discuss Multipliers. Then, ask leaders to take the Accidental Diminisher quiz, honestly discuss their weaknesses with team members, and celebrate their Multiplier moments. 

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 leader and it becomes instinct. 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 unconscious. To do this: Tell everyone in the organization about Multiplier assumptions and train people in Multiplier practices using workshops and simulations.

Element #3: Convictions. Conviction means every member of a culture agrees on what is true and shares assumptions. When it comes to multiplication, the goal is for everyone to know what makes a good leader. To develop this conviction: Define the expectations that a leader’s primary job is to multiply others and help them to give 100%.

Element #4: Myths. In a strong culture, everyone admires the same people based on their accomplishments, behavior, or traits. When it comes to business, the role models should be Multipliers, and their heroics should inspire others to copy their behavior. To mythicize Multipliers: Publicly celebrate Multiplier moments. Additionally, assess how well leaders use the Multiplier practices, which will encourage them to improve to heroic levels.

Element #5: Customs. In a strong culture, everyone adheres to the same customs and behaves the same way. 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: Run a pilot program to implement a particular Multiplier practice, and connect Multiplier practices with existing business practices.

Multipliers: Liz Wiseman on Leadership

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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

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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