A book review of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter By Liz Wiseman
Review by Jon Bircher
I am starting this review with the same simple observation that Liz Wiseman opens within her book.
"There is more intelligence inside our organisation than we are using."
I have experienced this 'tension' and observed it with my clients. Our role as leaders and decision-makers is to tap into the collective intelligence of teams, to support, champion and unleash the talents of others. But let's be honest, there are times, even with the best intentions when we diminish rather than multiply. Where we drain energy and capability, kill ideas too quickly, rush to decision-making and sap energy.
That said, we may celebrate moments in our leadership (or have worked with other leaders) when we have amplified the voice of others and spotlighted talent, where we have stretched and energised, and where by tapping into the wisdom of the team we have committed to better decisions and achieved greater results.
Multiplers is a hugely credible and well-researched book, jam-packed with rich case examples of Multiplier and Diminisher Leaders and their impact on individuals and organisations. Each chapter is clearly summarised and the tools and experiments draw you towards application – this is a fantastically motivating, practical and action-orientated book that I will refer back to time and again. As Stephen Covey says in his preface “Don’t just read this book; pay the price to really become a Multiplier”.
3 key insights
Insight #1 We each have the opportunity to become a Multiplier rather than a Diminisher leader.
Multipliers extract people’s full capability and intelligence, they are genius-makers who bring out the best in others, delivering twice the capability and results of others, whilst making everyone smarter in the process. Diminishers become absorbed in their own intelligence, draining teams of their energy, intelligence and motivation. Have you experienced these different types of leaders?
💡 Top Tip - Be intentional, and pick experiments from the book that nudge you towards becoming a multiplier. Personally, I have found this starts with shining a light on people’s genius. Call out the genius of others, appreciate them, and provide them opportunities to stretch and to soar.
“It isn’t how much you know that matters. What matters is how much access you have to what other people know. It isn’t just how intelligent your team members are; it is how much of that intelligence you can draw out and put to use” (p10)
Insight #2 Becoming a Multiplier starts with a shift in our assumptions around five core multiplier practices.
Talent magnet - Shine a light on people’s genius rather than being a diminishing empire builder, hoarding resources for your own gain.
Liberator - Create a climate where people can do their best thinking and maintain an intensity that demands their best work. Contrast this with the dominating tyrant, creating tension and diminishing thinking and work.
Challenger - Define opportunities that stretch and support people to go beyond what they know how to do, rather than being the know-it-all who gives directives and sucks up all the oxygen in the room with their own ideas.
Debate-Maker - My personal favourite. Access breadth and depth of thinking honed through rigorous debate rather than the more common decision makers – efficient with their inner circle but leaving the wider organisation in the dark.
Investor - Inspire independent results by giving ownership, investing in resources and holding people to account instead of the micro-manager, managing every detail to keep control and dependency.
💡 Top Tip - Identify an area that you want to work on for the next 3 months, read and re-read that section of the book. Review the experiments, pick 1-2 that will allow you and those around you to see real progress. Consider building personal reflections, journaling and/or coaching into the process.
“When a decision is high stakes, Debate makers require everyone’s best thinking. They know people will do their best thinking if the issues are framed well and defined, and if the questions of the debate are clear. They know that the debate will be richest if it is based on facts, not opinions and that it takes foresight to gather the right information.”(p.141)
Insight #3 Most diminishers are not tyrannical bullies – the majority of us can be accidental diminishers
Leaders with the best intentions, try to do their best for their organisations and people. Tackling our diminishing tendencies starts with an awareness of our vulnerabilities through coaching, reflection, seeking feedback, challenging assumptions and leading with intention. The author offers a series of practical multiplier experiments to help leaders tackle vulnerabilities such as being the ideas guy, the always-on leader, the rescuer, the pacesetter, the rapid responder, the optimist, protector, strategist or perfectionist.
💡 Top Tip - Identify your diminishing vulnerabilities and consider asking 1-2 people in your team, peer group, or coaching group to hold you to account here. The first step is about developing an awareness. Experiments will follow.
My best next step(s)
My top takeaways are very personal. However, they point to an important insight - enduring change (individually and organisationally) comes through small, successive experiments- testing new behaviours, getting feedback, adjusting and repeating.
For me, there are a couple of areas I want to press into, reflect on, and experiment with first – your takeaways, and experiments triggered by reading this book will look different.
Here are a couple of insights that are leading me to become more of a Multiplier leader, looking to tackle some of my diminisher vulnerabilities - an always-on, strategist, and perfectionist with know-it-all tendencies. I hope this will give you a flavour of the impact and practicality of this book:
Identifying and shining a light on others’ Genius – I intend to dial up my curiosity and find the native genius in people I lead, coach and interact with. This could be game-changing with my teenage boys! The practice starts with a Multiplier mindset – everyone is brilliant at something and experiments walk you through identifying genius, labelling it, putting it to use and shining a light on it; calling it out in front of others.
Framing and facilitating debates – I love this, it builds on some areas of personal strength but as someone with a tendency to drive decisions, there is power in the intention of this process. It starts with bringing the right people together and framing the issue and the logic. It is critical here to define good/ hard questions and ensure people have time to prepare the information, evidence and data to support their views. Then the leader or coach’s role is to spark debate, encouraging people to weigh in on their views and switch sides and positions. The team is then better equipped, having looked at the challenge from all angles to make better, often quicker, intelligent decisions.
Extreme Questioning – At a personal level, one of the main reasons I turned to coaching was to get better at asking questions and deep listening. Therefore, this experiment is fantastic for me, and for all leaders and coaches alike. It starts by staying curious, slowing down, and having a mindset of learning from everyone. The challenge is to experiment with differing types of questions from leading and guiding questions to those that challenge assumptions and discover new ideas. Can you lead a conversation by only asking questions?
I ❤ this book and recommend it to all leaders who want to lead in a better way.