Lead Well

The Multiplying Leader

January 8, 2016

What type of leader are you?

I’ve always secretly believed, no matter what people say, that there is a right answer to this question. Certainly there are other styles of leadership—but one style is the best when the stakes are high and you need to get something done. The really great leader will fit a certain mold.

But a book called Multipliers has me rethinking this.

Multipliers BookThe first page is graced with a quote from Bono,

“It has been said that after meeting with the great British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, you left feeling he was the smartest person in the world, but after meeting with his rival Benjamin Disraeli, you left thinking you were the smartest person.”

This quote was an intriguing start for me because at my job, everyone has a one-liner reputation. It’s always awesome and always exaggerated. Mine is “That’s Dena, she’s the smartest person at Bayside.” It’s not true—not by a long shot. But what a fun thing to hear every day at the office? So reading this quote, I had to ask—when people meet with me, do they think I’m the smartest person, or do they leave feeling better about their own intelligence and capability?

My concept of a great leader was built on the idea that you had to be the smartest person in the room (otherwise why wouldn’t the actual smartest person be leading?). Even if you manage to keep your brilliance at bay for the sake of a lively debate, surely at the end of the meeting you’ll pronounce the correct opinion to end the discussion…and all will marvel and know that they are lucky to work for such a great leader.

But there’s a different way to lead. There’s a way to lead that multiplies the intelligence of those around you. This is what Liz Wiseman has to say about Multipliers:

Some leaders make us better and smarter. They bring out our intelligence […] they create genius around them and make everyone smarter and more capable.

The opposite types of leaders are Diminishers. They are jokingly referred to as black holes.

They create a vortex that sucks energy out of everyone and everything around them. When they walk into a room, the shared IQ drops and the length of the meeting doubles.

I had to smile at that description. I have been that leader before.

Wiseman studied a group of Multiplier leaders and a group of Diminisher leaders. She studied the effects they had on their teams and projects. Perhaps the most interesting finding of the study is that multipliers get at least two times more from their people than diminishers.

There is something intuitively correct to me about this theory. Something that resonates with me because that’s how I want to lead. I know great leaders that are not like this—they certainly are the most brilliant person in the room and their teams are better for their brilliance (just rent The Imitation Game). But that’s not the leader I want to be, that wouldn’t be me at my  best.

This book has me rethinking my approach to leadership. It has me coming to meetings with questions rather than answers. It has me calling out brilliance in others. It has me demanding the best of people and refusing to rescue them when they are struggling.

I hope one day to earn the reputation of someone who is not just smart, but also makes everyone around me better.

Are you the smartest person in the room, or is everyone smarter because you’re in the room?

Who are the multiplier leaders you know? What’s it like working with them?

Have you worked for a diminisher? What did they fail to see in you?

All quotes from Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman with Greg McKeown.

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