By Theodore Kinni
Theodore Kinni has written, ghosted, or edited more than 20 business books. He was book review editor for strategy+business for 7 years.
I took a free online leadership assessment created by the Wiseman Group the other day. The good news: I got a near perfect score. The bad news: the assessment measures the degree to which I would diminish people if I were leading them!
Leaders who are “diminishers” weaken employee performance by draining their momentum, sapping their energy, and otherwise feeding on them, according to Liz Wiseman, who, with Greg McKeown, is the author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. Many of the behaviors that diminishers exhibit are self-aggrandizing and simply do not take into account the welfare and interests of employees. But, sometimes, diminishing behaviors can actually be well-intentioned—such as when a leader acts as a buffer between their people and the larger organization, or is overly eager to leap to the rescue whenever people are struggling. Such behaviors can diminish accidentally: For example, by rescuing employees too quickly, a leader can cut them off from learning and empowerment opportunities.
The managerial opposite of diminishers is what Wiseman calls multipliers. Leaders who are multipliers, explains the former head of HR development at Oracle, amplify the efforts of their people, enhancing overall output and allowing their employees and their companies to flourish. Multipliers, she writes, “access and revitalize the intelligence in the people around them.” They “create genius …and make everyone smarter and more capable.”
How can you become a multiplier? Wiseman and McKeown say that any leader can achieve multiplier status by practicing five disciplines.
1. Attract and optimize talent. Multipliers are talent magnets, who attract people by offering them opportunities to grow and succeed. After Meg Whitman, eBay’s former CEO, earned her MBA at Harvard, she had many job offers. She chose to work for Mitt Romney, then at Bain & Company, because he had a reputation for developing and enhancing his employees’ careers. Diminishers, on the other hand, are empire builders. They lure good people into working for them for their own gain.
2. Create intensity that requires best thinking. Multipliers liberate employees by positively encouraging them to think for themselves and providing them with the tools necessary to succeed. For example, Steven Spielberg’s enviable success record in the movie business is partially attributable to his top-notch crew, which he challenges to contribute ideas to every project. Diminishers are more like tyrants—they seek to extract people’s best work through bullying and fear tactics.
3. Extend challenges. Multipliers help employees set stretch goals that are achievable through dedication and hard work. Gymboree CEO Matt McCauley encourages his staff to articulate and share personal and corporate “Mission Impossible” goals by giving permission to “rethink the business,” as well as by allowing employees to pursue those goals without fear of failure. Diminishers set unilateral goals for their people that only benefit their own agendas.
4. Debate decisions. Multipliers insist that decisions be vetted verbally and publicly before they are implemented. When Microsoft executive Lutz Ziob was charged with jumpstarting a floundering division, he empowered his staff to hash out the myriad ways to accomplish a turnaround, decide on the appropriate course of action, and then pursue it as a team. As they do with goals, diminishers mete out decisions without providing opportunities for discussion or buy-in.
5. Instill ownership and accountability. Multipliers ask for commitments from their employees and hold them responsible for living up to their promises. SAP executive vice president John Wookey offers his expertise, guidance, and insight before turning design teams loose in their labs, but then he leaves them to their work and holds them accountable for results. Diminishers, in contrast, are micromanagers, who constantly look over the shoulders of their employees and keep a tight grip on project ownership.
As it turns out, my innate talent for diminishment didn’t come as a huge surprise to me. Thanks to the Boy Scouts, I learned many years ago that I wasn’t born to lead platoons—or collective human endeavors of any kind. So, I don’t. But if you do, you might want to take a closer look at Multipliers.