Liz Wiseman and the Multiplier effect

Liz Wiseman |

“When you lead like a multiplier, people around you get smarter because they are working with you.”

Multipliers, as Liz Wiseman’s book is called, use their intelligence to amplify and grow the intelligence of others. Wiseman is the president of The Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development firm that has identified the importance of the amplifying effect of leaders on their teams.

Wangari Maathai began working with a small group of women in her  village in Kenya. She saw the devastating effects of deforestation in her area and, starting with seven seedlings, founded the Green Belt Movement that has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya since 1970.

Someone said of KR Sridhar that he created a cultural environment with lots of pressure but no stress. To illustrate this distinction, Wiseman took an apple and placed it on the shiny head of a man in the audience, another man posing as an imaginary William Tell.

“Which one is feeling stress?” Wiseman asked.

Tell’s son. The apple-holder. He had no control. Tell was the one under pressure; the result of this experiment depended on his input. But he had some control–he could have an influence on the outcome. His son could not.

Pressure, Wiseman reminds us, is good. Pressure helps us get the job done. Stress renders us powerless.

Wiseman talks about people in the workplace as either diminishers or multipliers. The difference here is simply that multipliers believe that other people are smart and diminishers believe that nothing can be done without them. People who fall into the “diminisher” category micromanage, are controlling, did not listen or delegate, and were selfish. The “multipliers” had vision, communicated clearly, trusted and empowered their employees. And in the surveys done by Wiseman with folks from the Willow Creek Association, we saw that, when working with a diminisher, their employees got an average of 43% of a person’s capability. Multipliers? 91%.

The diminishers spend a lot of time running around trying to get buy-in for decisions they’ve already made. The multipliers ask people to weigh in, ask for counsel–and this builds in the process of buy-in very naturally.

What do you do when you believe people are smart and will figure things out? Multipliers invite people into the difficult and the challenging; they debate and work hard to figure things out, but they create owners, not hirelings. Working for diminishers, people said they were exhausted and frustrated. Working for multipliers, people said they were exhausted and exhilarated.

A lot of us fall into the realm of being “accidental diminishers.” We have a diminishing effect without knowing it, and even despite having good intentions. “Is it possible,” she asked, “that we do our greatest damage when we hold our most noble intentions?”

There are, Wiseman pointed out, several kinds of diminshers who tend to look pretty great to outsiders–The Optimist, the Idea Guy, the Always-On Leader, the Pace Setter, and so on. These people may not be aware at all of their diminishing effect, but they are not concerned with defining reality, they are concerned with saying the right things and achieving their goals and spreading their own, small, personal gospel.

So on a small scale, Wiseman took this lesson home. She was describing her kid’s bedtime routine to a colleague, and found herself frustrated by how much she was telling her kids what to do. “Well,” said her colleague, “what if you went home tonight and only spoke to them in the form of questions?” So, she did.

“Who’s ready for dinner tonight?” She asked.

“What do we do after dinner?”

“Put away our food!” the kids yelled.

“Who needs help putting on pajamas?”

The two year-old did. The other kids helped themselves.

“What do we do after we read our books?”

“We pray!”

And on and on until they were in bed and she had left them there without one directive. After three nights of this, Wiseman began to wonder if this wouldn’t be a helpful technique with her management team. Where she had been diminishing, she could now multiply.











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