Monday, February 6, 2012

Multipliers: How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter

In Multipliers: How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, authors Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown outline 5 key disciplines that differentiate "multipliers" (leaders who increase the intelligence and output of the people around them), and contrast these multipliers with "diminishers" (leaders who, although smart, actually decrease the effective intelligence and productivity of the people they lead).

“We’ve all had experience with two dramatically different types of leaders. The first type drains intelligence, energy, and capability from the people around them and always needs to be the smartest person in the room. These are the idea killers, the energy sappers, the diminishers of talent and commitment. On the other side of the spectrum are leaders who use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. When these leaders walk into a room, light bulbs go off over people’s heads; ideas flow and problems get solved. These are the leaders who inspire employees to stretch themselves to deliver results that surpass expectations. These are the Multipliers. And the world needs more of them, especially now when leaders are expected to do more with less."

The 5 key disciplines of the multiplier (and their corresponding diminisher behaviors) are:

Multiplier: Talent Magnet: Attracts talented people and utilizes them at their highest point of contribution
Diminisher: Empire Builder: People must report to me to be useful

Become a genius-watcher. Identify the key talents of the people around you, and then connect them with opportunities.

Identify talent, shine the spotlight by recognizing their specific abilities publicly, remove the weeds/nonperformers publicly, and always trying to understand how, why and when a situation will allow someone to be successful. Use the 5 whys to understand the underlying cause of someone's success, build a hyposthesis, confirm that with the person and their peers, and then give them an opportunity.

People do not need to report to you to be able to contribute. Tap into their discretionary effort, and they will be able to give even more.

Tips for building up your genius-watching skills:

Identify the areas of strength of the 8 or 10 people that you associate with most often. Keep track of the things that they do both freely and well. Build some assumptions, and then get feedback from others, and the talented person as well. Find ways to give them opportunities.

Multiplier: Liberator: Creates an intense environment that requires a person's best thinking and work
Diminisher: Tyrant: Creates a tense environment that suppresses creativity and risk-taking

People can only give their best efforts, it can't be taken from them, so give them space to step up. Free them to think, but expect their best effort. The most critical aspect of the liberator is their ability to build an environment with high expectations, but where people feel safe to explore.

Get yourself out of the way. When talking with others, differentiate between "soft" opinions (areas where you don't care much, but are throwing something out, musings, "feel free to disregard this") and "hard" opinions (areas where you have a strong interest in a particular outcome).

Give people the freedom to succeed, or fail (in a way that is not devastating). Publicize your mistakes, making it known that failures are an accepted part of risk-taking and progress. Consider even creating/sharing the "screwup of the week". Expect that failures are necessary for progress. Strive to fail faster, and to never repeat failures by learning from them. Iterate rapidly.

Demand the very best from people. Don't be afraid to ask "Is this your best work?" and then expect them to rework it until they can answer yes.

Multiplier: Challenger: Define an opportunity that allows people to stretch
Diminisher: Know-it-all: Gives directives that showcase their knowledge

People grow stronger with challenges. Your job as a leader is to ask the biggest questions, to reframe and/or refocus problems and beliefs, to identify a starting point, and to generate belief that the end can be achieved. Present a concrete challenge, but don't be afraid to let other people fill in the blanks.

Ask hard questions, shape the path foward, co-create the plan, and build momentum with early but significant successes. You can "helicopter down", going from the 10,000 foot strategic plan to something concrete and practical to demonstrate that what you are asking is only improbable or difficult, not impossible.

Know-it-alls limit the ceiling of their organization, and refocus organizational energy on understanding what the boss wants to hear. Challengers force an organization to expand beyond its previous limits by asking bigger questions than they can answer by themselves.

MultiplierDebate Leader: Together, we can come up with the answers
Diminisher: Decision Maker: I need to have all the answers
  • Attempt to run an entire debate without answering any questions, only answering them.
  • Ask and/or expect evidence for people to back up their views. Make this a habit rather than a way of putting people on the spot to promote a culture of fact-based decisions.
  • Make sure that all voices (particularly the quiet ones) are represented.
  • Use debate to drive decisions, not to block it, and to use it as a thinking process.
  • Encourage people to switch sides and then argue the other side's point. Drive home the point that the debate is to test the validity of ideas.
  • Give space for other people's ideas to flourish. Limit yoursself to a specific amount of contribution in any discussion or meeting (Try the poker chip challenge. 5 chips, each for somewhere between 30 seconds and two minutes of contribution. Use your speaking time wisely). 
  • Don't be afraid to be a decision maker. Consensus decisions are not always necessary, but be sure to clarify how the decisions get made.
Multiplier: Investor: With guidance and coaching, they'll figure it out.
Dimisher: Micro-manager: I need to drive direction through my direct involvement.
They will never figure it out without my direction

Do not take over ownership of problems from your staff. If you need to step up in a meeting to clarify a point or refocus the debate, be sure to "hand the marker back". Step back out of the spotlight, and turn it over to whoever was leading before. Allow people to own the own solutions to their problem; guide and support them, but don't disempower them or teach them to give up or expect to be replaced when things get hard.

After discussing a problem with someone, turn it back to them with a simple statement like "you're smart,   you'll figure it out" or "I'm sure you can take it from here". Allow people to learn from taking the solution all the way, and don't teach them to quit once they've reached a roadblock that requires escalation.

Train people to come with you not only with a problem, but also with a potential solution: take the time to think about what the right answer is. No "awk" without a "f-i-x".

Don't be a "bungee manager", jumping in to save the day when things are exciting, and then disappearing after claiming victory for yourself and/or losing interest.

Other ideas:
  • The 30 day challenge: Take one of each of these areas, and focus on it for 30 days at a time.
  • The question of the year: Pick one question, and pursue the answer for an entire year
Some stats about leaders from the author's research:
  • Leaders rated strong in none of the five areas were in ~34th percentile
  • Leaders rated strong in only one of the areas were in the 64th percentile, while leaders rated strong in two and three of the areas jumped up to 70th and 84th percentile respectively when they had no strong deficiencies. So concentrate on your strongest area, and your weakest one. 
  • Build your strength, and improve your biggest weakness into the average range.
The critical takeaway from the stats is that having/building strength in only a couple areas can clearly differentiate you as a leader.

Key Ideas:

When you identify and tap into someone's talents, you can engage them in a way that can cross organizational boundaries. Inspire, focus and drive debate to a conclusion, don't control it. Learn to create an intense environment, not a tense one, by setting high expectations AND giving autonomy and freedom to fail. Return ownership of solutions to anyone who comes to you with a problem after providing coaching and support.

The authors also offer an online assessment tools that helps to determine where you fall in the multiplier-dimisher spectrum:

Overall, Multipliers: How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter is an extremely good book full of clear ideas and case studies to clarify the principles. Their recommendations are so concrete that it makes them easy to put into practice and to test.

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