Lead International

Warning: “Diminishing” Can be Dangerous to Your Health

January 25th, 2011 by ITAdmin

Steve Collins
©Lead International

Is there anything new that can be written about Leadership? Liz Wiseman’s book, Multipliers, illustrates the challenge of trying to frame solutions and concepts in new and creative diagrams and terms. On one level, she seems to have largely rediscovered Jim Collins’ “Level 5” Leader. Although, Collins was not the first to unearth a leadership model built around commitment to a greater goal and investing in others so they feel a part of the journey. Reading leadership books can produce the feeling of watching reruns of your favorite childhood TV shows. You know all the punch lines and plot twists and viewing the shows is just to provide some background noise as your mind processes the more important issues of the day. But all of a sudden, you find your attention drawn into the story line and you begin laughing at a line of dialogue or character’s reaction that you have seen a dozen times.

I experienced several such moments in reading Multipliers. Not so much fits of laughter as much as times of reading something so familiar, and so true, you pause to appreciate the power of the concept. Wiseman basically lines up leaders on a scale between “Diminishers” and “Multipliers.” Not much new in this distinction. Like many models, the two descriptors represent the extremes, with most leaders falling somewhere in between but moving in one direction or the other.

The question, of course, is “Why would anyone choose to be a ‘Diminisher?’” It is a bit like asking “Why would anyone smoke?” Most smokers will stipulate the health risks, but clearly, the power of the nicotine habit, peer pressure, and the enjoyment of the moment guide the daily decision to light up. Wiseman describes the “Accidental Diminisher,” who never quite realizes the effect they are having on those they are supposed to be leading. Often these are bright individuals who have risen through the ranks primarily because of their intelligence. Being the smartest kid in the class or the smartest engineer in the room can easily be as addictive as nicotine. After a few years of being the one everyone else looks to for the solution, you pretty much forget how to pass the ball and let some else score.

Wiseman accurately contrasts some core practices that naturally flow from the leader’s self identification, as either the one answering all the questions or the one mobilizing everyone towards finding the answers. Not surprisingly, multipliers are “talent magnets.” If you think you have all the answers yourself, you certainly don’t waste time recruiting and developing other people to answer the same questions. Perhaps most leaders don’t overtly tell this to themselves, but that hidden belief is a primary driver in how a leader prioritizes their time.

Next, Wiseman contrasts the multiplier role of “liberator” with the diminisher role of “Tyrant.” I don’t know that I have ever seen a CEO interview on CNBC where they used the term tyrant to describe their leadership role. A liberator is described as someone who “creates space, listens more than talks, admits and shares mistakes, and demands best work.”  Most leaders, whether diminishers or multipliers, would probably find themselves somewhere in that description. Wiseman notes a key difference is that liberators create an intense work climate, while tyrants create a tense one. Most tyrant leaders don’t know the difference, but their followers surely do.

The third multiplier role, “challenger,” has much to do with a leader’s communication skills, but even more to do with their imagination. Asking the big questions, the questions without current answers, requires vulnerability. The “smartest kid in the class” syndrome creates artificial boundaries that reinforce the need to only ask questions where you can be the first to raise your hand and supply the right answer. Wiseman terms this the “Know it all” role where the scope of the project is determined by what the leader already knows. Working alongside a leader who is also on the same journey to discover a solution to a great problem is one of the most motivating experiences of your work life.

How multipliers make decisions is found in the contrast between the “Debate Maker” and the “Decision Maker.” Not surprisingly, the diminisher frames issues purely from his perspective, dominates the discussion, and swiftly forces a decision. No doubt, the diminisher applauds himself for including others, getting everyone on board, and most importantly, ensuring that the right decision was made. The organization is lucky to have her in this position or the whole enterprise would be doomed. It is easy to see that once this pattern is established, it is unlikely to change and it is the natural progression from the faulty leadership practices highlighted above.

The final multiplier role presented by Wiseman is the “Investor.”  Successful leadership is more than creating a positive work environment, it is giving people ownership. For the multiplier at heart, the concept that you are always working yourself out of job comes naturally. Creating space, sharing mistakes, facilitating a debate, and asking the big questions are not management techniques you think about, it is who you are. For a number of reasons, you have recognized a simple, powerful truth that the best people to work with and for you are similar to you. They bring an owner mentality to work everyday.

Wiseman correctly points out that all of us have “diminisher” tendencies from time to time, but some of us have fully ingrained diminisher habits. Like any recovery program, Wiseman says it starts with recognition of the problem and resolve to change and then move step by step towards your goal. My guess is that like many recovery programs, the success rate may not be that high. Not because we lack the appropriate understanding of how to move towards a multiplier leadership style, but we enjoy being the genius rather than enabling others to bask in the glory of that title.

Unfortunately, the diminishers can only make the intellectual connection between people and results and, therefore, continue to reach for their next unilateral decision like it is one more cigarette. To be a multiplier, requires a somewhat selfish calculating realization that the achievement of my most treasured goals are only possible by developing others whose shoulders I will ride on to victory. And, also a fairly large dose of wisdom is most helpful. Wisdom to see that developing other leaders and helping people reach their potential is inextricably linked to the process and the outcome for the issues they care most about. They fail to see that their greatest legacy will be their people.

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