Lessons from “Multipliers” by Liz Wiseman 

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. Ask hard questions
  2. Ask for data: Discussion should be backed by data. Avoid letting opinions drive decision making.
  3. 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:

  1. Define ownership: Ownership of the project should be clearly defined by identifying the lead.
  2. Invest resources: Teach and coach. When people get stuck provide backup, but always “give the pen back” as soon as possible to avoid overstepping.
  3. 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.

Accidental Diminishers

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


Further reading:

  1. https://insomanic.me.uk/leadership-lessons-from-multipliers-by-liz-wiseman-book-summary-b3de98e3e2d2

Thoughts on being a senior engineer

Having worked for almost a decade in software engineering, I generally pause and reflect on my journey. Have I produced enough value? Have I gained enough knowledge? Am I considered an expert in the field I work in? If I start over will I end up in the same position as I am now? What do my fellow engineers expect from me?

I have noticed that all these questions have a common theme. These questions are with respect to what others see me as. Such questions have no straight forward way of measurement, unless you have a mentor who can give unbiased opinions.

At times it becomes difficult to proceed in our careers without getting answers to these questions. Some engineers end up switching roles and move to management. However, I am of the opinion that they take some of these questions with them in the new role.

Although I don’t have answers to many of these questions, I do follow some practices which have helped me perform well in different roles through out my career. I wish to share some of them here:

  1. Always take out time for others: As a senior engineer, I have observed that fellow engineers want to bounce ideas off me. At times it’s for validation of an idea or to get a different perspective. I find such exercises really helpful. Even if I am in the middle of something, I try my best not to miss out on such opportunities. These small discussions are full of energy and enthusiasm. And I have seen otherwise introvert people opening up to me. Such exercises not only help others but help me as well. I can reach out to anyone when I need to bounce off ideas without the awkward small talk or ice breakers.
  2. Always do the right thing: A recurring thing which I have learnt from experience is that deep down, my subconscious knows what is the right thing to do in any situation. To meet a deadline, I have known that it is right to work on weekends or stretch yourself couple of hours in office. I have known that it is right to report or fix a glaring bug rather than waiting for quality analyst to do so. However, many times I have done the wrong things in such situations, may be out of laziness or out of pride and regretted in most of the times.
  3. Adopt a growth mindset: I have always wanted to work on the most challenging aspect of any project. Earlier in my career, I used to feel a bit disappointed when I was not approached first for such complex items. As a result, I either distanced myself too far from these items or prayed for them to fail spectacularly so that I can give a go at them and come out victorious. In almost all the cases, it used to be the former. I have realised that distancing myself from such situations help nobody. I miss an opportunity to contribute on something complex and people miss on my inputs. Now, I try to adopt a growth mindset by just asking if I can be involved in these projects. This has allowed me to be involved in challenging projects and people find me quite approachable as well.
  4. Create a schedule and stick to it: Early in my career, I didn’t have any schedule in place. I didn’t know where my time goes. I generally had the complaint that I don’t have much time to do the important stuff, even though I didn’t have much roles and responsibilities outside of work. To fix this, I started creating a schedule on my calendar by allocating time for things like reading blogs, reading news, watching an online course. This worked well till the moment I found a new activity which should be part of my schedule, for eg. solve one algorithm/ds problem daily. This involved rethinking about the schedule, removing some activity or reducing time from another activity. These iterations happened quite frequently, sometimes every other day. This led to frustration and confusion. I have realised that each schedule should be given a chance of almost 4 months to figure out if it works or not. This allows me to know with certainty what is feasible and what is not.
  5. Take care of your health: Software engineering is a profession which involves creativity and problem solving. This requires one to be alert and active throughout the day (at least during office hours). I have observed that my level of enthusiasm is directly proportional to how I am feeling health wise. I need energy to implement any new ideas I have in my mind. Hence, it is important to keep tab on what I am eating and have physical exercise every day.

These are some of the things I keep in mind in my everyday. Following these keep the nagging questions at bay for some time!

Thanks for reading!