From the Pointy Haired Boss of Dilbert to Michael Scott in The Office, examples of comedically bad leadership abound in our culture. Characters such as these resonate because most people have had to suffer under the tyranny of an overbearing, micromanaging, or otherwise ineffective boss. From time to time, particularly bad bosses mishandle their operations to such an extent as to make national news. In Multipliers, Liz Wiseman focuses on the opposite, on what qualities make for truly exceptional leadership and how to attain them.
Good leaders are Multipliers, in Wiseman’s word. They are able to take their vision, drive, and other strengths and multiply these positive qualities in their employees and colleagues. Multipliers are charismatic and inspiring, but also generous and humble. They set clear, bold goals and challenge their employees to meet them. They also have a collaborative mindset. They don’t make unilateral snap decisions, but rather listen to the people at all levels of the organization, give them reasons to be invested, and make deliberate judgements. Wiseman describes basketball legend Magic Johnson as the archetypal Multiplier. While he was an incredibly talented player, he also had the wisdom and humility to see that his teammates got demoralized when he was the only one allowed to perform. He changed up his approach and started sharing the ball, working as a team player. This led the whole team to another level.
On the other hand, there are the Diminishers. These are the sorts of leaders who make their employees groan at the thought of going to work in the morning. They can be highly capable and intelligent, but they keep all those strengths to themselves. By being greedy with the talents they have, Diminishers reduce the net productivity of their teams. Further characteristics of the Dimisher include arrogance, lack of communication, and an excessive need for control. They are constantly breathing down their employees necks, micromanaging even the tiniest of tasks. Often times, this is also matched with an inability to actually consider others’ ideas.
A key insight from the book is that most people operate in the grey area between the extremes of Multiplier and Diminisher. Wiseman returns to anecdotes about Steve Jobs at several points in the book. Clearly, he was a dynamic and revolutionary business leader. His vision and ability to Challenge others led to a lot of success for himself and his company. But he could also be critical and overbearing, unwilling to put up with people who failed to meet his standards. Learning to become a true Multiplier requires the humility to listen, collaborate, and improve your approach to leadership.
Another pitfall is that of the Accidental Diminisher. These are people who mean well but tend to fall into patronizing or micromanagement because they don’t take either the project or their colleagues seriously. Often times, when someone attempts to assuage feelings and please everyone, this does more harm than good. Workers need to know what’s at stake in their work and what they are aiming for. The Accidental Diminisher removes this element and can deaden motivation, even if they do so with the best of intentions.
Multipliers is finally an exhortation to improve your mindset now. Anyone can listen, respect their coworkers’ agency, and improve their collaborative mindset. By adopting a humble, team-focused attitude, you can multiply your success and the success of those around you.
Multipliers can be purchased here.