Multipliers: A book review by Bob Morris

Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter
Liz Wiseman with Greg McKeown
HarperBusiness (2010)

How to increase or diminish human capabilities…including your own

Note: I read and reviewed this book when it was published (2010) and recently re-read it while preparing questions for an interview. Given the scope and depth of growth of social media in recent years, its in formation, insights, and (especially) its counsel are more relevant now than ever before.

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In this book written with Greg McKeown, Liz Wiseman juxtaposes two quite different types of persons whom she characterizes as the Multiplier and the Diminisher. Although she refers to them as “leaders,” suggesting they have supervisory responsibilities, they could also be direct reports at the staff  level or workers at the “shop floor” level. Multipliers “extract full capability,” their own as well as others’, and demonstrate five disciplines: Talent Magnet, Liberator, Challenger, Debate Maker, and Investor. Diminishers underutilize talent and resources, their own as well as others, and also demonstrate five disciplines: Empire Builder, Tyrant, Know-It-All, Decision Maker, and Micro Manager. Wiseman devotes a separate chapter to each of the five Multiplier leadership roles.

Wiseman cites dozens of real-world examples that suggest how almost any organization (regardless of its size or nature) can plan, implement, accelerate, and sustain a human development program that strengthens participants’ leadership and management skills that (a) will enable them to multiply the intelligence and capability of the people around them and (b) avoid behaviors that can diminish people’s ability and enthusiasm

As Wiseman clearly realizes, people combine some of the best and worst traits of both the Multiplier and Diminisher. Strengths can become weaknesses or vice versa if carried to an extreme. A Talent Magnet, for example, could be especially effective recognizing and attracting high-potentials and then hoard their talents, exploiting them to her or his advantage. A Micro Manager could be especially alert for significant details that others ignore but deny other people’s professional development by refusing to delegate tasks to them. In the healthiest organizations, there are constant efforts to increase (multiply) positive and productive engagement while reducing (diminishing) waste.

In Appendix B, this is one of the FAQs that caught my eye: Are people either Diminishers or Multipliers or are there people in the middle? Here is Wiseman and McKeown’s response: “We see the Diminisher-Multiplier model as a continuum with a few people at the extremes and most of us somewhere in between. As people have been introduced to this material, they almost always see some of the Diminisher and some of the Multiplier within themselves. One leader we worked with is illustrative. He was a smart and aware individual who didn’t fit the archetype of a Diminisher, and yet when he read the material he could see how he sometimes behaved in a Diminishing manner. While we studied this leadership phenomenon as a contrast, we see the model as a continuum with only a very few people at the polar extremes and the majority of us somewhere in the middle.”

Most supervisors need to increase some behaviors (e.g. providing clear explanations of performance expectations and how performance will be measured) and avoid other behaviors (e.g. withholding information others need). The same is true of those whom they supervise. The challenge is to do more of what will add value and less of what diminishes it.

To me, one of the most valuable insights in this book suggests that, especially during the current economic recession/depression/whatever, the total cost of what must be done (in terms of dollars and hours) is probably much less than what would be saved by doing it. According to Wiseman, Multipliers extract so much more from their people that – in effect – they essentially double the workforce at no additional cost. If that isn’t doing more with less, I don’t know what is.

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  1. […] Liz Wiseman is president of The Wiseman Group, a management research and development center in Silicon Valley and author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. To read my review of Multipliers, please click here. […]

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