The best bosses raise the leadership capacity of those around them. They motivate direct reports to deliver more than they thought possible and help them grow to be more effective doing so. These multipliers also work up and across the organization to spread their impact.
On the flip side, there are bosses who diminish others’ contributions and reduce their commitment and engagement. These leaders drain intelligence, energy, and capability from the people around them. They always need to be the smartest ones in the room, according to Liz Wiseman, author of the book Multipliers: How the best leaders make everyone smarter, who calls these people diminishers as they diminish talent and commitment.
While diminishers say “People will never figure this out without me,” multipliers say “People are smart and can figure it out.”
Apple’s co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs may have been speaking of multipliers when he stated: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
If you are fortunate to work for a multiplier, count yourself lucky and do what you can to continually nurture this relationship. These people amplify the intelligence and capabilities of others and inspire employees to stretch themselves to deliver results surpassing expectations. Multipliers multiply their impact on others. You would be wise to follow their example.
Even if you don’t report directly to a diminisher, you probably know some inside your organization. They are likely more interested in building an empire than building the talent in others. Rather than attract talented people and use them to their fullest capacity, diminishers make big promises, but underutilize and reduce their engagement.
Working for a diminisher can be difficult but it doesn’t have to diminish your career. You just need a plan for how to work with them.
According to Wiseman, diminishers want to be valued for their intelligence and ideas. Many are desperate for it. In many ways, diminishers need multipliers to help them be successful. When diminishers feel smart, valued, heard, included, and trusted, they are more likely to trust in return.
Wiseman suggest the following ways to help move your contribution forward with those otherwise good people who fail at being a good boss. When you work for a diminisher, you can multiply up.
- Exploit your boss’s strengths. Instead of trying to change your boss, focus on trying to utilize his or her knowledge and skills in service of the work you’re doing. Don’t give up ownership but use his or her capabilities at key milestones and in ways they can be helpful.
- Give them a user’s guide. Broadcast your capabilities and help your colleagues pick up the signal. Or you can simply tell people what you are good at and how you can be best used. If you want to work at your highest point of contribution, you need to let people know your value.
- Listen to learn. Diminishers want to be heard and remember you can learn something from anyone. Look for common ground and ask questions that help your boss weigh both the upsides and downsides of his or her ideas.
- Admit your mistakes. Talk frankly about mistakes and what you’ve learned from them. This demonstrates accountability, which can bring greater trust.
- Sign up for a stretch. Let your boss know when you’re ready and able to take on a new challenge above and beyond the scope of your role. Or ask your manager what work you can take off his or her plate.
- Invite them to the party. Invite your diminisher boss to your team meetings to witness your brilliance as well as to contribute while not allowing them to take control of the meeting.
Rather than continually battle with your diminisher boss, seek ways to improve the relationship so that it works better. This is about exercising your multiplier behavior by multiplying upwards.