How to Make Your Employees Smarter

Last Updated Jun 15, 2010 1:21 PM EDT

Book Review
Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman (with Greg McKeown)


The Big Idea
Author Wiseman, a former Oracle executive, starts with the premise that leaders who act as "multipliers" make others smarter and more able, while "diminshers" reduce their abilities and make them act less capably. Multipliers builds on the decades-old thinking of scarcity vs. abundance; research on organizational connectors, such as Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point; and advice on making managers more humane, such as Bev Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans' Love 'Em or Lose 'Em. Here's what Wiseman found:

  • Multipliers attract and unlock talent, and diminishers build empires
  • Multipliers inquire into mistakes, while diminishers assign blame
  • Multipliers set direction by challenging assumptions, and diminishers act as know-it-alls
  • Multipliers spark debate, while diminishers tell people what to do
  • Multipliers invest for the long term, and diminishers micromanage
The Source of the Big Idea
Wiseman, who now heads an R&D/consulting firm, interviewed 150 executives and determined that some have the ability to make others smarter -- sometimes, much smarter. A self-described "genius watcher," Wiseman offers ideas about how genius works, and how average people can unlock the genius of others. She goes so far as to say these actions of multipliers make people smarter, resulting in dramatic gains to IQ. If you take IQ as a metaphor of performance, you'll see value in her findings. (Actual IQ is very difficult to change in adults.)

Keys to Remember

  • The actions of a multiplier are easy to agree with, but hard to implement. Above all, stay focused on unlocking people's potential, not telling them what to do or blaming them for mistakes.
  • At the heart of her research is the ways in which people see the world. See abundance and growth, and you'll act as a multiplier. See scarcity, and you'll diminish others.
Apply This One Idea Now
I'd encourage readers to pick one of the following three actions, and apply it right away:
  1. Ask yourself: what can I stop doing so that people become smarter than I think they are? Good leadership makes individuals smarter than many managers realize.
  2. Instead of trying to do all five of the multipliers actions that the book sets out, pick one that comes naturally to you, and double how often you do it. This approach will get you better results than focusing on your weaknesses.
  3. When recruiting new people, hire those with proven abilities to multiply the talent of others.
Take It to the Next Level
What the book misses is that multiplying can itself be multiplied by high-performing cultures. Weave Wiseman's advice into the norms of behavior in your workplace and your results will grow exponentially.

Overall, the book offers a good set of reminders about how to develop others, spark new discussions, and avoid the pitfalls of 20th-century management.

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    Dave Logan is a USC faculty member, management consultant, and the best-selling author of four books including Tribal Leadership and The Three Laws of Performance. He is also Senior Partner of CultureSync, a management consulting firm, which he co-founded in 1997.