I received “Multipliers by Liz Wiseman” a month back from my manager as a New Year’s gift. This is probably one of the best management books I have read in recent times. The book is about how to multiply your team’s existing capabilities so that they are able to take on more challenges and deliver much more results. In this post I will share the learning I had from this book.
Problem of under-utilisation
In my opinion, the main theme of this book is how to deliver more from existing people in your team. We are no longer in the era of behemoths like GE, where a company has infinite budget and hence can hire more people to improve delivery. As a result, companies try to hire talented people upfront thinking that they will be able to deliver more and with good quality. I have noticed it first hand that companies have a difficult hiring process to keep away “bad” talent. However, when such talented people join the organisation they find the work not commensurate with the difficulty of hiring process. They feel under-utilised and start looking for other opportunities either within or outside the organisation.
To solve this problem, we need leaders who can increase the productivity of the people around them, be it their peers, managers or team members. Such leaders are called multipliers. Similarly, there are leaders who have the opposite effect of decreasing the efficiency of people around them. Such leaders are termed as diminishers. The book is based on a two years research which studies the working style of both multipliers and diminishers.
Multipliers vs Diminishers
The following infographic explains the findings in a nutshell:
One of the main difference between a diminisher and a multiplier is the way they see people around them. Diminishers are of the opinion that intelligence is scarce and hence they will have to do most of the difficult aspects of a task and show the way to people. On the other hand multipliers think that intelligence is abundant. People are smart enough to figure out how a task has to be done on their own. This fundamental difference in opinion defines the way in which diminishers and multipliers conduct themselves.
Empire builders vs talent magnets
It is seen that multipliers are the best bosses. “A players become A+” under them. They see themselves as a genius maker rather than a genius. As a result they attract the best talent through word of mouth. On the other hand, diminishers look for an all star team. They try to gather genius people only to make themselves look good. Once in the team, talent gets stunted.
Becoming a Talent Magnet
- Become a Genius Watcher: Consider 7–8 people you work with, and repeatedly ask yourself “why are they great at what they do?” until you uncover their raw abilities.
- Remove the blockers: Leaders most often know who the blockers are — the most common mistake is waiting too long to remove them.
Tyrant vs Liberator
Multipliers know the strengths and weakness of their people. They give them space and create a safe environment for them to work. On the other hand, diminishers work like a tyrant. They stifle innovation by calling the shots in every aspect.
Becoming a liberator
- Create space:
- Shift the ratio of listening to talking. Multipliers are voracious listeners.
- Release others by restraining yourself. Give soft opinions which are ideas for people to consider in their own thinking.
- Level the playing field. Multipliers give opportunities to quieter voices in their teams to create a balance.
- Demand best work:
- Multipliers know when people are performing below their standard and stretch them to grow. They ask questions like “Is this your best work?“
- Distinguish work from outcomes. When work is tied up to an outcome, people generally take short cuts. Multipliers set high standard for work, holding their team accountable for execution rather than results. Due to this, teams under multipliers experiments a lot as they know failures will be celebrated.
- Install rapid learning cycles:
- Insist on learning from mistakes.
- Admit and share your mistakes. This gives others permission to make and recover from their own.
Know-it-all vs Challenger
Know-it-alls give directives that show how much they know. They generally try to be the first ones to give solutions to problems. As a result, the team gives up on thinking and looks up to them for answers. This becomes a self serving cycle, reinforcing the know-it-all attitude.
On the other hand, a challenger tries to foster discussion by asking difficult questions. They try to ask the right questions rather than providing the right answers. When teams reach to a solution by themselves they start behaving like owners.
This facet of diminisher vs challenger is the most tricky in my opinion. There has to be balance between know-it-all and know-nothing-at-all. A challenger should strive to acquire knowledge which is important for them to ask the right questions. Teams generally lose respect for leaders who don’t have much context of the problem at hand as they ask irrelevant questions.
Becoming a challenger
- Ask a leading question: Question should lay the foundation of the challenge at hand. It should show the need of the problem. It might probably create a starting point.
- Let others fill the blanks: Even if we know how a problem is to be solved, we should leave out the important aspects to the team to figure out.
Decision maker vs debate maker
Diminishers are of the opinion that they should provide a decision quickly so that team can start with execution. They think that debate is optional and can be ruled out. However, it is a fact that in every decision debate happens. Either it happens before the decision is made or after. I have been part of the meetings where participants didn’t debate during the meetings but when they got out of the meetings informal debates happened. These informal debates generally don’t affect the decisions but lead to resentments among team members.
Multipliers on the other hand make debate part of the decision making process. As a result, they utilise the full capability of their teams by engaging them at every step of the decision making. This leads to well thought of decisions and the team gets a sense of ownership.
Becoming a debate maker:
- Ask hard questions
- Ask for data: Discussion should be backed by data. Avoid letting opinions drive decision making.
- Ask each person: Everyone should participate. The leader ensures the balance of voices is heard.
Micromanager vs Investor
In sports, we see that a team’s coach doesn’t jump into the field and actually play for the team. Similarly, multipliers avoid the temptation to jump in and solve problems for the team. Just like an investor, they give required resources to the team so that they can produce results independent of them. Micromanagers on the other hand manage every detail in a way that creates dependence on the them. The team loses sense of ownership and consider the micromanager as a bottleneck.
Becoming an investor:
- Define ownership: Ownership of the project should be clearly defined by identifying the lead.
- Invest resources: Teach and coach. When people get stuck provide backup, but always “give the pen back” as soon as possible to avoid overstepping.
- Hold people accountable: Don’t intervene to save the day — it makes people feel small, and they’ll come to rely on it. Allow the possibility of failure.
Apart from discussing multipliers vs diminishers, the book also discusses an interesting concept which I relate to a lot. The concept is that of accidental diminishers. What do organisations do to their high performing employees? They either give them more work or promote them to leadership roles. However, throughout their career, such employees have focussed entirely on their own ideas and capabilities. When they get into managing other people, they generally don’t look beyond themselves. They generally miss out on the talent their new team has. Such leaders become accidental diminishers. Following are some of the ways we become accidental diminishers:
- Visionaries: Visionaries or big thinkers try to come up with the most important ideas themselves, since they have been doing that through out their career. However, this leaves little space for others to think.
- Idea people: Idea people have lot of ideas which in their opinion stimulates their team and provides inspiration. However, what actually happens is the team keeps on changing directions which drains their mental energy.
- Answer guys: Sometimes we are quick with answers, we try to solve problems in our head. However, it keeps other people from answering.
My key take away
My key take away from this book is that move from answers to questions.
Early in our careers we are hired to give answers and solutions as the problem we are working on is less ambiguous. We strive to be smart and have answers to almost everything. However, the value of providing answers diminishes over time. It is very difficult for a CEO to know everything in his/her organisation. On the other hand, the value of asking right questions increases over time. We should learn to ask hard questions which causes other people to pause and think. The end goal is to shift the burden of thinking from ourselves to others in the organisation.
I learnt a lot after reading this book. The concept of accidental diminishers was an eye opener for me. This book will help both individual contributors and managers to become multipliers and help their organisations reach the next level.