Multipliers and Diminishers

A friend recently pointed me to a new book, Multipliers by Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown. I didn’t have to read far before my mind sped off in all directions. I have had the privilege of working for and around both Multipliers and Diminishers. One leads to fulfillment and confidence. The other leads to stagnation and frustration.

Multipliers are talent magnets. They get more from people than the people knew they had to give. Their people actually get smarter as they work for them. Their people are engaged. Their opinions matter. They are encouraged to bring their ideas and debate to the table. They are liberated to be the best they can be. The Multiplier is confident and secure in their own skin and does not need to be the center of attention. They don’t believe they have all the answers. That is why they hired the talented people, to get better answers, ideas and solutions. They are not afraid of mistakes; their own or those they lead. They continually raise the bar, challenging their people to achieve more than they dreamed possible, and celebrate with them when they pull it off.

Multipliers have created organizations like Wal-Mart, Google and Whole Foods. Their efforts have led to things like Wikipedia and Open Source development where the brightest and the smartest are engaged and unleashed to contribute their best efforts. Others are making the transition, like IBM, once the stalwart of the “buttoned-up” are embracing a new cultural environment that is more conducive to releasing the power and competency of the highly talented.

If you are a part of a large organization, you know who the Multipliers are. You know where to go so you can contribute, grow and develop. You also know where the Diminishers are, the places to avoid if at all possible.

Diminishers also attract talent. They lure them with great promises, but then underutilize them. They actually drain intelligence by stifling contributions. They are critical of the ideas and opinions of others by always having a better answer. Talent either leaves their organization or they stay and become the walking-dead. Diminishers are also a drain on the organization, always asking for more people to get the job done; the jobs that could easily be done with the talent they currently have, but which they have diminished.

Why do Diminishers do what they do?

There are probably a lot of reasons for such behavior, but the following are some that I have witnessed through my experience in coaching, consulting and executive leadership.

Some of it stems from their desire to be recognized for their empire. They hire great people but never show they have confidence in them or release them to contribute their very best.

Some of it stems from their own insecurity about having really smart people surround them. They know that these people are as good as or better than themselves, and their insecurities quickly surface. They become fearful for their own jobs and begin to pull back to total control. They overtly or inadvertently communicate to the person they have hired and to others in the organization their lack of confidence, further diminishing a talented hire and their potential for success.

Some of it stems from the new person coming into their new role and making the typical errors or mistakes that come with acclimating to a new organization. The Diminisher, in their insecurity sees these mistakes as a reflection on them as the hiring manager, and immediately sees this as a level of incompetence, leading them to devalue the person. As they devalue the person, they don’t challenge the person to take on greater responsibility for fear that they will make more newbie errors, errors that may embarrass them. Again, their own insecurities surface and the talented are stifled and begin to deteriorate.

Some Diminishers do their diminishing unintentionally. They actually believe their reigning in and controlling behavior is a good thing for the organization. Most will never know what could have been because they have never allowed for a fully empowered environment of unleashed high performers.

Unfortunately, the majority of Diminishers are convinced they are not. People tend to frustrate Diminishers. They subscribe to the philosophy that it is easier to control a box full of caterpillars than a room full of butterflies. They never actually get to see what those caterpillars could become, or how much nicer life would be with them functioning at their full potential and capacity.

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