Can Managers Double Their Workforce for Free?

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Liz Wiseman

Kate Dailey began her career as an intelligent, driven and creative collaborator. She was promoted into management and moved quickly from front-line manager to Vice President, and she is now running a large organization. She still sees herself as an open minded, creative thought leader, but in a recent 360 feedback report, she was shocked to find that her people don’t seem to agree. As she read the report, she could see that her strong ideas were hampering the creativity and capability of her people. And, her drive for results was making it difficult for people to be truthful and take risks. One of the comments read, “It is just easier to hold back and let Kate do the thinking.” Kate was stunned.

In the corporate world, smart, talented people like Kate quickly get promoted into management. But, many of these leaders never look beyond their own capabilities to see and use the full genius of their team. They are smart leaders, but they shut down the smarts of others. For them to be big, others have to be small. Their need to be the smartest person in the room means that the ideas and intellect of others get diminished.

Diminishing Returns. These Diminishers can get the job done, but they come at a very high cost. They waste talent and intellect that sits right in front of them. In the research my colleague Greg McKeown and I conducted for the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter we studied 150 leaders in 35 companies across 4 continents in pursuit of this question: Why do some leaders drain intelligence while others amplify it? Our research has shown that these Diminishers get on average only 48% of the capabilities of the people who work for them. Why? Because, despite hiring smart people, they put others in the background. And they create stress and anxiety that shuts down creativity and innovation. Organizations trying to do more with less simply can’t afford managers who pay full price for human resources, but only redeem intellect at 50 cents on the dollar.

The Multiplier Effect. On the other side of the spectrum are leaders who use their own intellect to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them. These leaders have contagious smarts that create viral, collective intelligence. When these leaders walk into a room, light bulbs go on over people’s heads; ideas flow, and problems get solved. These leaders are “Multipliers.”

We suspected that Multipliers got more capability from their people than Diminishers, but we were surprised to learn that these leaders don’t get a little more, they get vastly more. When we asked scores of successful professionals to quantify how much of their intelligence and capability each type of leader got from them (on a scale from zero to 100 percent), we were amazed to find that Multipliers got 1.97 times more than Diminishers. That represents an almost two fold increase or a 2X effect!

Why is this? When people work for Multipliers, they hold nothing back. They offer their very best thinking and ideas. They give more than their jobs require and hold themselves to the highest possible standards. They give 100 percent of their ability, and then some more as they stretch and grow further. In essence, Multipliers have figured out how to get so much from their people that they effectively double their workforce for free.

The Five Multiplier Disciplines. In the second phase of our research, we conducted intensive 360-degree analysis of many of these leaders’ behaviors and practices. We found that these Multipliers not only got twice the capability from their people but that they saw the world in profoundly different ways, and they did five things very differently.

The Diminisher’s view of intelligence is based in elitism and scarcity. They see a binary world where there are a few really smart people, and they find all others lacking. Because of this, they seem to assume that other people simply won’t figure things out without them. If the Diminisher’s view is in black and white, the Multiplier’s view is in Technicolor. Multipliers see diverse intelligence in abundance and believe smarts can be cultivated through challenge and hard work. They believe people are inherently smart and will figure things out. Their role, therefore, is to bring the right people together in an environment that unleashes their best thinking, and then stay out of the way.

Multipliers and Diminishers do many things alike, but differ sharply in the following five leadership disciplines:

Five Disciplines of the Multiplier
The Empire Builder: Hoards resources and underutilizes talent
The Tyrant: Creates a tense environment that suppresses people’s thinking and capabiity
The Know-It-All: Gives directives that showcase how much they know
The Decision Maker: Makes centralized, abrupt decisions that confuse the organization
The Micro Manager: Drives results through their personal involvement

The Multiplier
The Talent Magnet: Attracts talented people anduses them at their highest point of
The Liberator: Creates an intense environment that requires people’s best thinking and work
The Challenger: Defines an opportunity that causes people to stretch
The Debate Maker: Drives sound decisions through rigorous debate
The Investor: Gives other people the ownership for results and invests in their success

Multipliers are leaders like Lutz Ziob, General Manager for Microsoft Learning. One of Lutz’s direct reports said of him, “Lutz creates an environment where good things happen.” He hires smart people, and then lets them do their jobs–including taking risks and making mistakes. His work environment is equal parts pressure and learning. Ziob is clear about the business pressures that require Microsoft Learning to grow its revenue by 20% each year. But Ziob is also the first to own up to his mistakes and shamelessly share stories of his own blunders and learning. And, he allows his employees the same latitude. When a direct report proposed a risky sales promotion—offering users a deep discount on a core certification product—Ziob let him run with it, despite his own reservations about discounts being good incentives for learning. When the promotion failed, Ziob didn’t need to point it out: The sales leader came to him outlining why the decision had been a mistake, what he had learned from it, and how he planned to use the knowledge to improve the certification product. Of Ziob, the sales leader said, “You’re free to make mistakes—so long as you learn fast, and you don’t make the same ones twice.”

Multipliers like Lutz Ziob come from all walks of life—from corporate boardrooms to our school’s classroom. And, although people feel great working for them, they aren’t feel-good managers. They are hard-edged leaders who see capability in the people and want access to all of it. They are the leaders who cause us to think a little harder, stretch a little further, and find hidden reservoirs of intelligence and capability. And, their leadership is based in a set of mindsets and practice that can be learned by anyone who aspires to lead like a Multiplier.

However, the path of least resistance in many organizations is the path of the Diminisher. Many well-intending managers are unaware of the restrictive impact they can have on others. Some have continually been praised for their intellectual merit—and thus assume they’re supposed to have all the answers. Others have worked for Diminishers so long that they’ve gone native. Accidental or not, their effect on their team is the same--they are not tapping the full brainpower that is available to them. Managers concerned that they might be prone to diminishing others can take a quick self assessment at: to discover their vulnerabilities and learn how to lead more like a Multiplier.

Leaders who invite people’s best thinking will get more from their teams--more discretionary effort and more mental and physical energy. As companies shed excess resources, the need for leaders who can multiply the intelligence and capability of their teams is vital. Leaders who are weighed down by enormous challenges and work demands might just find that their new challenges can be met, not by re-hiring more resources, but by better utilizing the brainpower that sits right in front of them. Imagine what your organization could accomplish if you could double the brainpower in your workforce without adding a single new person.

About the Author(s)

Liz Wiseman is president of The Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development center headquartered in Silicon Valley. She advises senior executives and leads strategy and leadership forums for executive teams worldwide. A former executive at Oracle Corporation, she worked as the Vice President of Oracle University and as the global leader for Human Resource Development for 17 years. Liz is the author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter