Make Everyone Around You Smarter: An Interview with Liz Wiseman, Bestselling Author of “Multipliers”

Renowned leadership thinker Liz Wiseman has just released a revised, updated edition of her bestselling book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. Wiseman does much more than just write about leadership: she is also President of The Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development center headquartered in Silicon Valley that has helped companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple. She was formerly an executive at Oracle Corporation. I recently caught up with Wiseman to discuss leadership in the middle market, how some leaders drain capability from their people (“diminishers”) while others unleash it (“multipliers”).

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. For the full version, access the podcast embedded below.

How do you define a “multiplier” and a “diminisher”?


Wiseman: Let's start with the diminisher. Unfortunately, most of us have worked for these kind of leaders. A diminisher is smart and capable, but they work in a way that stifles the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. They drain intelligence from their team. Often these are leaders who are so focused on their own capability, their own ideas, their own contributions, that they don't look to see what the people around them can contribute. 

A multiplier uses their intelligence in a very different way. These are leaders who are smart and capable themselves, but who use and invite, and even provoke, capability in others around them. As my book’s subtitle says, the best leaders make everyone smarter. They use all of people’s capabilities and they grow intelligence and capacity in others.

Can we measure the different impacts multipliers and diminishers might have on middle market employees?

Wiseman: We’ve found that diminishing leaders get less than half of people's full capability. So across small businesses, middle market businesses, and large businesses, these diminishing leaders get 48 percent of people's capability on average. This means 100% of someone's intelligence, knowledge, skills, insights, and capability walks through the door every morning, but not all of that is getting used. Employees describe working for these diminishing bosses as frustrating, exhausting, soul sucking and often people end up quitting. Or worse, people quit and stay.

Whereas these multiplier leaders get virtually all of people’s capability. Two times of what diminishers get from people, which is 95-97 percent of people’s capability. The bosses in any organization that everyone wants to work for are the ones that people grow and succeed around. Who doesn't want to go work for someone who sees your unique genius, puts it to work on something visible and important, challenges it and stresses it, and then shines a spotlight on it?

What are the different mindsets that shape leaders as multipliers or diminishers?

Wiseman: The diminishers seem to hold the belief that nobody is going to figure it out without them. Sometimes, it's an egomaniacal thing: “I’m surrounded by idiots and nobody here is going to figure this out and I really am the smartest guy in the room." This mindset causes them to operate in essentially a “central intelligence model” for their business, where everything has to go through them.

Multipliers have a very different logic and it's almost embarrassingly simple, but has a profound impact on others. Multipliers believe that the people who work for them are smart and are going to figure it out. They just need the space to be able to figure it out. 

You describe multipliers as “liberators” and “challengers” of talent. Can you explain?


Wiseman: The liberating leader manages the work climate or culture, while the diminisher tends to be a tyrant creating an environment of stress where people feel like they’re being asked to do things out of their control and aren't sure what is going to set the boss off. 

The multiplier gives people space to think, but It's not like, "Hey, have free reign." It's more like “I’m giving you space to think but in exchange I want your best thinking.” Multipliers define the challenge. They provide the vector [direction] and the people around them provide the thrust: They let people around them find the answers. 

In what ways do multipliers manage debate among their team?
                                                 
Wiseman: The diminishing leader tends to be the decision-maker. They typically are making fast decisions and often consulting only a few trusted advisors. They tend to leave their team debating: “What was he thinking?” But more often than not, the team asks: “Do you know what she wants? I don’t know because I wasn’t in the meeting. I don’t really know what we’re doing.”  So diminishers tend to create confusion.

Multipliers, at least on the most vital decisions, lead their team in hard hitting debates. They’re debate makers. They frame the issue, they pose the questions. They assemble a debate team -- people who have vital information, and insight, and diverging points of view. Multipliers create safety for people to think, to speak up, to have a point of view, to be smart. And then they stretch people. They ask people to do something hard. And it’s that stretch that actually creates the brilliant work, and it’s why people like to work for them. 

What’s a simple step that a middle market leader might take today to become more of a multiplier?
                                                   
Wiseman: If you’re an idea guy, or you’re quick to rescue people who are struggling, a very simple but profound thing that you can do today is to switch from answering, or telling, and operate in the mode of asking. Great leaders have mastered the art of questions -- they ask the questions that focus people’s energy and intelligence on a problem.             
           
When the leader asks a question, it gives space for other people to step up, ideas start to flow, engagement goes up, people take ownership, and thinking gets deepened. That’s probably the most powerful shift you can make, from telling to asking questions. 

What else would you like to say to middle market leaders about “Multipliers”? 

Wiseman: Being a multiplier is not about minimizing your own contributions, becoming somehow invisible, it’s about bringing all of your own genius to the table, but then using your intelligence to provoke the intelligence of others. It’s recognizing that at the top of the intelligence hierarchy is not the lone genius, it’s the genius maker. 

Listen to "Interview with Liz Wiseman, author of "Multipliers"" on Spreaker.


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