How Leaders Become Multipliers

- 6 min read

All members of your team have unique capability and untapped capacity; as a leader, it is up to you to recognise and unleash this potential. But this is actually easier said than done. In fact, the very traits that propel strong performers into leadership roles- their energy, ideas, high standards- can actually make them less effective as leaders. So much so that even their best intentions can end up accidentally diminishing, demotivating and alienating others. Recently our Head of Consultancy Paul Coates sat down with Robert Walters to answer some questions around the need to  mitigate against these diminishing tendencies and become a leader who multiplies your team’s genius.

As a leader, how would you go about identifying your personal diminishing tendencies? 

Start by thinking about your mindset. Because what we found is that mindset drives behaviour, behaviour drives results, and then those results reinforce the mindset you have.

Typically, a diminisher has the mindset ‘people are not going to figure this out without me’, no matter what ‘it’ might be. They might not figure out the strategy, they might not figure out how to operate, they might not figure out how to hire. They just won’t do without me.

A key point is that this mindset usually only applies to certain actions or to certain realms. A leader might be happy to let their team figure out the logistics side of the business, but when it comes to strategy they will think that their team won’t be able to do without their experience and clarity of vision. The result is that the team do not want to second-guess what the leader might come up with, and therefore don’t bother thinking about the strategy at all, even though they might come up with great ideas.

In her book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, Liz Wiseman identifies a number of accidental diminisher tendencies. One is the strategist, as you pointed out. Another is the rescuer, a leader who tries to ensure people are successful and protects their reputation, but by acting so actually makes them dependent and robs them of opportunities to build their problem-solving skills. Having figured out which accidental diminishing tendencies you have, how do you then proceed mitigating these?

“The key is that when you have identified these tendencies, you need to do something about them. If you don’t, they are no longer accidental. In short, there’s four things you can do:  ask better questions, recognise genius, create space for others and offer bigger challenges.

Typically, a diminisher has the mindset ‘people are not going to figure this out without me’, no matter what ‘it’ might be.

You might use those in different combinations. For instance, if you are a rescuer, you would focus on creating more space for others and offering bigger challenges, because your diminishing tendency is to recue people from challenges. As a strategist, you would also create space for others to come up with ideas as well as focus on asking better questions instead of doing all the strategic thinking yourself.

Each of those four mitigating factors requires a shift in the leader’s mindset. For example: recognising genius requires a shift from thinking ‘real genius is rare’ to believing that ‘everyone has their own natural genius, and as a leader I need to find and unlock it’. That leads to the overarching multiplier mindset. Instead of thinking ‘people are not going to figure this out without me’, it changes to ‘people are smart and they’ll figure it out’.

Starting in a new C-level or senior management role, how do you quickly recognise the genius in your team? 

You could intentionally look for it and name it. If your mindset is that everyone has their own natural genius, you might ask yourself the question, ‘How is John smart?’, which is a much more powerful question than asking, ‘Is John smart?’

When you recognise the genius in people, how does it elevate your team and how does it move your team forward? 

Two words: discretionary effort.

I had a leader around a decade ago who hated money and budgets, hated accounting and everything like that. Now, I am not an accountant, but I like working on budgets and spend analyses, so she gave me license to get involved in those and take it on, and even started calling me “The Money”. That was a turning point in my career, because it allowed me to demonstrate that I can manage multimillion pound budgets.

Naming someone’s natural genius, finding and unlocking it, enables people to go above and beyond in a space where they can potentially excel.

Working for someone who is a multiplier isn’t a soft and fluffy thing. If a multiplier sees a lot of potential in their team, than the natural consequence is that they also expect a lot of their teams.

Sometimes as a leader you will have to be decisive and act in a way that might lead to diminishing others. In what kind of situations would that be, and how would you explain this to your team? 

If there is a crisis situation or a regulatory situation, there may be a point where the buck absolutely stops with you, and a decision just has to be made. So be transparent in your intent. Make sure that in this situation your teams knows that you do not want to diminish their intelligence or overlook their input, but that you rely on your experience to make a much-needed fast decision. And make clear that even though you are intentionally not asking for opinions right now, this does not mean you will never ask for opinions in the future.

When you try and find the natural genius in your co-workers and help them reach their full potential, how do you make sure as a leader you don’t ask too much of them?

Working for someone who is a multiplier isn’t a soft and fluffy thing. If a multiplier sees a lot of potential in their team, than the natural consequence is that they also expect a lot of their teams.

A colleague of mine who runs our coaching practice always says: ‘There’s no comfort in the growth zone, and there’s no growth in the comfort zone’. And as a multiplier, you are going to have to pull people out of their comfort zone.

But remember the mindset we talked about. If you are asking the question ‘what if it is too much for my team?’, that comes from the same mindset as ‘people won’t figure this out without me’. Let people prove that they need you before you assume they do. Offer a challenge that requires them to stretch first. People will either step up to it, or they won’t. But if you don’t give them that challenge, they will never have the chance.

Read our guide, 9 Ways Your Leaders May Be Accidentally Diminishing Others, to learn how to help leaders shift from Diminisher behaviours to Multiplier behaviours that bring out the best in their teams.