A long time back, I read Multipliers: How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman. It’s a great book worth reading for any person who is considering taking a leadership role. In this article, I will share my perspective of Multipliers, and their opposites, the Diminishers.
The Two Types of Leaders
The book describes two types of leaders. There are the Diminishers, who drain intelligence, energy and capability from the people around them. I have seen a lot of these types of people over my career. You can spot them as the person who has to have the “right” answer or like to say something to make it sound like they are smart.
Then you have the Multipliers, who use their skills to amplify the abilities of those people around them. I have found fewer of these people in my career, but all of them are memorable in their way. You can spot these types of leaders by watching people’s skills and experiences accelerate around them. Multipliers are people who seem to accomplish much more than what others think they can because they see and multiply the potential in their team.
Diminishers are what people imagine when they say, “We don’t need an Engineering Manager!” If you think of negative stereotypes of leaders or managers, you are thinking of Diminishers. Perhaps it’s the managers from the TV show “The Office” or the movie, “Office Space.” Maybe you are visualising the pointy-haired boss from the Dilbert cartoon.
We will explore two types of Diminishers – those who don’t know they are negatively impacting others, which I call the “Unintentional Diminisher.” The other type acts purposefully, and thus I call them the “Intentional Diminisher.” Let’s look at them both.
The Unintentional Diminisher
A lot of first-time leaders act as an Unintentional Diminisher. The book also calls them Accidental Diminishers. They are unaware of the consequences of their actions. A lot of people fall into this trap because their organisations fail to support them in their transition to a leadership role. Behaviours there were reasonable or tolerated as a team member now have a diminishing impact as a leader.
The Story of Robin, the unintentional Diminisher
Robin was a talented software engineer. Robin would get excited every time a piece of intricate work arrived. Each piece of work meant a new puzzle to be solved. When Robin found and delivered a simple, elegant solution, their team would offer praise and Robin was proud to have been the key to the solution.
One day, Robin found themself leading a team. Remembering how much their team appreciated someone providing simple, elegant solutions to challenging problems, Robin decided they would take the most challenging issues first. “It’ll be easier and less stressful for the team,” thought Robin.
Several weeks passed and Robin was profoundly unhappy. There never seemed to be enough time. Countless meetings competed for deep-thought time Robin needed to craft elegant solutions. Robin was tired from working weekends and nights to find time to work on the problems. In addition to this, a team member just quit, with the reason, “We only have unchallenging work.”
Robin didn’t realise by taking all the challenging problems Robin also took all opportunities for team members to grow. What always worked before as an individual contributor doesn’t always work well in a leadership role.
Unfortunately, a lot of Diminishers, like Robin, don’t realise how their actions constrain people, their teams and ultimately their ability to accomplish anything.
The Intentional Diminishers
I think there are more Unintentional Diminishers through ignorance, but I have certainly met many Intentional Diminishers. These leaders know that their actions limit the abilities and potential of people and still choose to do it.
But why? There are many reasons why Intentional Dimishers act the way they do. A few common ones I’ve seen include:
- Insecurity – Some Intentional Diminishers want their peers or other leaders to see them as capable and confident. They diminish those around them to make them look better. An example might be shouting at a team member for an outage to “show” others they are “in control.”
- Conflicting Objectives – Some might call this greed or politics. Other Intentional Diminishers choose to act because they want to achieve personal objectives over team or organisational goals. An example might be choosing to ignore a request for help because it doesn’t further their goals.
- Poor Role Models – A lot of people replicate behaviour they have seen in others. For a person who’s only role model has been other Diminishers, the Intentional Diminisher may think this is how they should act. An example might include micromanaging others, based on how their previous leaders treated them.
It’s unfortunate if you work with an Intentional Diminisher as I have found they are often much more resistant to adapting their leadership style.
The 5 Types of Multipliers
Unlike the two types of Diminishers above, Multipliers draw on the team strengths and bring out each person’s potential. The Multipliers’ actions improve a team’s output and group intelligence.
The book describes five types of Multipliers:
- The Liberator fosters an intense work environment that allows team members to reach their peak. The Liberator sets high expectations and gives the team space to do their best.
- The Challenger finds stretch goals for team members that will challenge and expand their potential. The Challenger connects them to opportunities and motivates them to reach their goals.
- The Talent Magnet appreciates the unique strengths that each person has. They can recognise it, find it, and attract talent. They are also able to name a person’s unique talent and connects them to opportunities to use their talent in the environment around them.
- The Debate Maker creates a safe and inclusive environment where all team members contribute to solving problems. They recognise the best solutions come from dialogue, debate and combining the best attributes from many perspectives.
- The Investor is satisfied when people around them succeed and when people feel full ownership of their work. The Investor provides the necessary resources or environment to allow people to be as successful as possible.
How will you choose to act as a leader?
The good news is that every leader chooses how they act.
For Unintentional Diminishers, feedback, guidance, and opportunity may be enough to lead them to the path of being a Multiplier.
For Intentional Diminishers, you must address their primary motivation for diminishing others. It might require a change in environment, a reset of their goals and consistent direct feedback. But they can still choose to take the Multiplier path.
In today’s world, more organisations and individuals need Multipliers. Multipliers create a win-win environment for everyone. Under a Multiplier, individuals grow faster and remain more engaged with their work. More engaged individuals have greater satisfaction and happiness. Companies benefit from the individuals applying their strengths, finding simple solutions to increasingly complex problems. Greater engagement reduces employee turn over that is costly for businesses in hiring, onboarding and retraining costs.
Will you choose to act like a Multiplier or a Diminisher? Find out more about Multipliers in the book with the same name.
Want to become a Multiplier and level up your technical leadership skills? Discover self-paced courses at the http://techlead.academy, join a guided online workshop, “Shortcut to Tech Leadership“, or subscribe to Level Up, a free curated newsletter for leaders in tech.
4 thoughts on “Multipliers”
Wow that was interesting! I hope to become a lead dev some day and will try to keep this in mind! I’m also really grateful that I can name a few diminishers from my previous jobs and that now I truly recognize my current boss as a multiplier.
Hi Florence. I’m glad you found the article interesting. I am also very happy that your current manager is a multiplier. I wish you a lot of success on your journey to be a lead dev!
Thanks for sharing this, Pat. This is a great article! I’m wondering what’s your take on Multipliers vs Diminishers if you’re not leading a team? If one’s just a contributor then it does make more sense to use a mixed approach where one contributes towards overall team success/knowledge yet fights more actively for challenging tasks to excel in their role.
Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you like the article. Since I believe that anyone can be a leader, everyone can find an opportunity to be a Multiplier (or sadly a Diminisher too). I can see individual contributors both contributing to overall team success and taking on more challenging tasks at the same time.