This post is a transcription of a session I led as part of a corporate mentorship program. The session discussed how to increase your impact by being a multiplier.
Multipliers vs. Diminishers
Many of the ideas in this session come from the book Multipliers by Liz Wiseman, who explored why some leaders create genius all around them while other leaders drain intelligence and capability from an organization.
The research outlined the five key differentiators between Diminishers and Multipliers. A multiplier is someone who uses his or her intelligence to amplify and bring out the smarts and capabilities of those around them. A diminished is the multiplier’s evil counterpart who always needs to be the smartest guy in the room and shuts everyone else down.
There is a big difference in how each of these types sets the direction. Diminishers tend to be know-it-alls in how they set direction. They base strategy on their insight. They only see what they know and then never ask their company to do something other than that. In this way, they limit what’s possible in an organization because their business can only take on something they have an answer to or know how to do.
In contrast, multipliers play the role of challenger. They ask big strategic questions and contribute what they know about the markets and trends to frame the organization’s challenge. They ask questions that make the organization stretch and take on something that seems impossible but frame it in a way that makes it possible.
Take a second to reflect on your own experience with Multipliers – those leaders who made you feel smart – and with Diminishers – those leaders who drained your intelligence. How did their actions, assumptions, and results differ?
So what makes a multiplier?
- Know How You Show Up
Multipliers have a strong sense of self-awareness. They act in line with the organizational culture and values. They develop high levels of emotional intelligence, create psychologically safe environments, use tools like 360-degree feedback instruments, and recognize when they are falling into Accidental Diminisher traps.
- Know Your Business
Multipliers are strong business people in addition to strong leaders. They understand their markets, their customers (and their realities), the global stage in which they operate, and how we keep score (financial acumen).
- Liberate Talent
Talent liberators attract, engage, and inspire others while creating an intense environment that requires their team’s best thinking and work. They use systems and processes to set clear expectations, manage performance, and provide the proper resources for their team’s success.
- Develop Talent
Multipliers understand the native genius of each team member. They coach, influence, and provide feedback to maximize performance and growth. They also create opportunities that cause people to stretch.
- Make Quality Decisions
Multiplier leaders understand the situational nature of decisions and know the tools and traps that are inherent to a successful resolution. They align with the priorities of the organization and, when appropriate, empower others and encourage rigorous debate.
- Navigate Complexity
Multipliers see the “big picture,” and they can create a line of sight for their teams. They adeptly lead and manage others through organizational change. They foster and inspire others to innovate while staying agile.
So, I’m saying that technical acumen alone does not make you a multiplier. Take a critical look at your own actions and try to identify where you are on the Multiplier / Diminisher spectrum. How can you move more towards being a multiplier?
The next couple of sections are intended to be a bit of activity. I picked four areas (technical, collaboration, communication, flexibility/adaptability), and I want to hear from you – which of these do you think is most critical? What qualities are missing from each?
Important technical qualities include:
- Writing good quality code
- Writing reusable code
- Giving meaningful code reviews
- Having a strong understanding of the tech stack
- Resolving bugs
- Breaking down complex work
- Using good architectural practices and patterns
- Learning new technologies quickly
- Writing clear documentation
Important collaboration qualities include:
- Resolving conflicts within a team
- Resolving conflicts across teams
- Creating healthy feedback loops
- Brainstorming and knowledge sharing
- Sharing wins
- Building trust
- Asking for assistance
- Efficient delegation
Important communication qualities include:
- Clear documentation
- Bringing up blockers early
- Responding to customers
- Asking why and understanding context
- Informing stakeholders
- Stating ideas clearly
- Resolving conflicts peacefully
- Sharing knowledge
Important flexibility qualities include:
- Staying calm
- Accomodating new requirements
- Planning for interruptions
- Solving challenging problems
- Considering other options
- Accepting feedback
- Accepting change
How to be a multiplier
- Be proactive:
- Anticipate blockers – This can be challenging to figure out. It involves fleshing out the problem space quite a bit and being aware of the surroundings. Do a spike, dig into the code or the problem space.
- Leave it better than you found it – Something annoying you? Are old feature flags hanging around? Some refactoring that needs to be done? How can you solve these issues now instead of continuing to kick the can down the road?
- Know your team:
- What are your team members’ skills? What do they “own”? Who wants to grow, and in what areas? What are they working on? What scares them, and what are they confident in? What motivates them?
- Knowing this and keeping it in your mind can help unblock other team members and other teams. It lets you bridge gaps and can help you become recognized as a point of contact for your area of the organization. It can also help you to delegate tasks.
- For example, I worked with someone at my last company who was scared of taking the initiative to make decisions. If you give them a clear directive, they can take action and knock it out of the park. But they don’t trust their own decision-making process. Helping them build their confidence in their thought process and ability to make decisions is key to helping them be as productive as they can be. Sometimes this is just giving them a thumbs up on a suggested approach; sometimes, it’s digging into why they’re concerned or scared to help them build or find contingency plans.
- Improve processes in and around your team:
- It’s easy to complain about things that aren’t useful or aren’t working – but you’re also allowed to change them!
- Your team – is there something not working well in standup, planning, or the way you are working together?Your department – are you aware of what’s happening across the department? Are the department rituals working, eg demos? How could your team work better with other teams?
- Get shit done (as a team):
- Diminishers are the decision-maker. They are quick to determine what should happen and isolate themselves within an inner circle of trusted advisers. Their point of view is that the smart people in the know should make the decisions, and the rest of the company should execute them. The problem with this is that the diminisher thinks they are being effective and agile because they are making rapid decisions. But the rest of the company is struggling to understand why these decisions were made, so they are slow to execute.
- Multipliers tend to be debate makers. They frame a decision with, “Here are the key questions,” and then assemble brainpower and key players to weigh in on the topic. It may take longer to make the decisions, but because everyone has had their voice heard and has insight into why something is being implemented, the decisions are executed more intelligently and rapidly.
Reflect on what it means to be a multiplier and complete the following exercise.
- Identify one thing that you can do in the next week or month to be a multiplier.
- Come up with a concrete next step.
- Share this with someone on your team and hold yourself accountable.