Maker vs Multiplier

In my coaching sessions with first-time leaders, I listen carefully to uncover their default operating mode: Maker or Multiplier. Both of these modes are important in the realm of software development. Each has its strengths, weaknesses and appropriate context. The wrong mode applied in the wrong context will result in a bad outcome. It’s also hard to recognise and transition from one mode to the other.

This article will help you understand the difference between these modes and where they’re useful.

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What is Maker mode?

Maker mode is the default operating mode for engineers. It’s one of the reasons many people start in tech. The pleasure of making. It sounds like:

  • I solved this problem by writing some code
  • I found a really elegant solution
  • I’m proud of the code I just wrote

Maker mode is important because work needs to be done. Things need to be made. Actions need to be taken. However the Maker mode focuses very much on the person doing the making. The person takes satisfaction out of the making or creation process.

Limitations of the Maker mode in a leadership role

Maker mode centres on oneself, or the person doing the making. Engineers spend a lot of their time in Maker mode. When they transition into a leadership role, it’s hard to turn off this default mode. Leading with Maker mode creates undesirable behaviours. Some examples I’ve seen include:

  • Feeling like they always having the right answer – Makers receive constant praise for solving problems, and take pleasure in being the expert. Leaders in Maker mode go out of their way to show they have the right answer. They need to have the first and last say. They over invest in their own solutions and don’t create space for others to contribute.
  • Solving all the hard problems – Makers get the thrill from solving increasingly difficult problems. What does this translate into when a leader continues to seeks this out? It means the leader takes all the “hard work”, leaving the “boring” or “repetitive” work to others. Would you want work on that team? Probably not.
  • Taking on too much work – Leaders spend a lot of time in meetings and conversations that don’t produce visible output like code. A leader operating in Maker mode feels guilty for not “making”. They compensate by taking on the same amount of coding work as another engineer. Doing the work of two full-time roles is unsustainable and will lead to burn out.
  • Neglecting relationships – Relationships are the building blocks for high performing teams. Yet you can’t measure them and you are never “done” with them. You can’t “problem solve” your way into a better relationship. Like trust, relationships take time to develop. Leaders operating in Maker mode don’t see any concrete output, and thus don’t see value in building and investing in relationships. So they don’t focus on building relationships until they need something and when it’s too late.

When you were an engineer, it’s the Maker mode that made you successful. When you transitioned to a leadership role, no one told you what was expected, or how different the role is. No one outlined the skills you need and the responsibilities you need to focus on. More importantly, no one told you that you need to shift to Multiplier mode. A natural consequence for many first time leaders is they continue leading with Maker mode 😱.

What is Multiplier Mode?

Multiplier mode is described well in the excellent book, “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter”:

Multipliers amplify or multiply the intelligence of the people around them. They lead organisations or teams that are able to understand and solve hard problems rapidly, achieve their goals, and adapt and increase their capacity over time.

Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (Liz Wiseman)

Multipliers Book

Although not all leaders draw upon Multiplier mode instinctively, it’s the key to effective leadership. A person operating in this mode thinks like this:

  • The team can accomplish much more than I could as an individual. I need to find out how I can help them.
  • The team can handle significantly more complex tasks than I could. I need to find the best way they work together.
  • The team is much more resilient than a single person. When one person falls ill, or goes on holiday, the team can keep moving towards its mission. I need to make sure we constantly share knowledge and learning.
  • My role is to cultivate psychological safety. Psychological safety enables team members to trust each other. Trust enables people to use and multiply each other’s strengths and abilities.
  • My role is keep growing others to help them improve and achieve more as they learn and grow.

Do Multipliers need to be Managers?

There’s a school of thought that talks often about Makers vs Managers. Although a useful comparison, I find the Makers vs Multipliers much more useful. Not everyone who is a Multiplier will have a Manager title. A Maker sharing their knowledge generously multiplies other people. A Maker recommending another person for a particular task creates the opportunity for that person to grow; to multiply their potential. Anyone can take an act of leadership, thus multiplying others. You don’t need a Manager title to do so.

Everyone can be a Multiplier

Effective technical leadership is hard. It’s hard when engineers first transition into a leadership role. They default to operating in Maker mode. Many roles, like a Tech Lead, oscillate between being a developer (Maker mode) and leading the team (Multiplier mode) on a daily or at least weekly basis. These oscillations make it difficult to change modes rapidly. However it helps to be deliberate in which mode you operate in.

Reflect on which mode you’re currently using and if it’s fit for the current context. Maybe you need to adopt a different mode?

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