Multipliers - How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman is a book filled with MBA self-help lingo. I read it on the recommendation from a colleague and in between the narrative case studies got some real value out of it. The book’s premise is that a leader can act as either a Multiplier or Diminisher. Multipliers amplify those around them, encourage, and enable those with growth mindsets. Diminishers micromanage, don’t trust colleagues to execute, and write pithy blog posts.
I read Multipliers through the lens of Staff Engineering at a Big Tech company. This isn’t a book review, rather some of my thoughts that got spurred from reading the book. I’ve re-framed the book’s ideas from generic management situations into those more specific that I see at work.
How should you act to get the most effective decision from a group? How do you bring people along with you? Chapter 5 frames these as debates, but terms that generic make it difficult to apply. Instead we consider a meeting or discussion where a decision must be made. A simplified runbook for these situations:
Start by framing the meeting.
- Outline how the meeting is going to work. The agenda, how long will be spent on each item, and the decision that needs to be made.
- State that ideas shared within the meeting are ‘safe’. It’s the outcome (decision) that will be shared wider.
- State when and how the decision will be made. Whether it be group vote or an individual’s decision.
The book talks about share your own viewpoint last, and encouraging others to share it. We can get more specific than this. In framing the decision we should state who we need to hear from. We should be explicit in asking those people, and leaving room for other thoughts and ideas.
Once the decision is made, communicate it quickly, and detail the rationale behind it.
Catchy quote that I’ll remember for a few months:
[In a meeting] A leader’s greatest contribution isn’t their knowledge. It’s in asking questions that produce the most rigorous thinking and answers.
I use a mental model where meetings are funnels. At the beginning of a meeting the scope should be wide and ideas should be thrown around. As time goes on ideas should be filtered out, resulting in a few valid options that are considered for decision-making. If ideation is still happening ten minutes from time, then something is going wrong.
Coaching and Enablement
Chapter 6 talks about Multipliers being Investors in those around them. In Staff Engineer speak, this is Coaching, Sponsorship, and Enablement. The underlying premise is that those you’re working with are capable of executing anything, and that you (the Coach) does not need to intervene - even when you think you do.
A simplified coaching runbook:
- Define ownership of the initiative. Make it clear they own execution of the initiative, “You own 70% of this”, and how much that you will be involved.
- Stretch the role. Give them more responsibility and scope than they were initially asking for. This gives them a challenge to grow, not just operate in their comfort boundaries.
- Invest in them through teaching and coaching and providing backup. Act as Socrates. When they present a problem, require them to propose a solution with it. “You’re smart, you figure it out”.
When the thunderclap of failure threatens to strike, let it. Feedback is how one improves. Be available, stand by them, and don’t let them (or you) second guess the situation. Focus on next time; what have they learned and how will they incorporate it.
Quote that someone else probably came up with:
With ownership comes responsibility
Eliciting Feedback on Leadership
Asking for feedback is easy. Asking the right questions to get meaningful feedback is difficult. To date I’ve settled on the “Start doing, stop doing, keep doing” framework coupled with situational prompts “When I proposed this technical initiative”, “When I lead this project”, etc. It’s no worse than the alternatives I’ve tried.
Multipliers offers a few other questions, specifically around leadership. They’re framed around the Multiplier and Diminisher model the book promotes. I haven’t tried them out yet. I’m writing them here to save them.
- How might I be shutting down the ideas and actions of others, despite having best intentions?
- What am I inadvertently doing that might having a diminishing impact on others?
- How might my intentions by interpreted differently by others? What messages might my actions actually be conveying?
I got a lot out of the book and I recommend reading it. The biggest negative don’t come from the ideas, rather the repetitiveness of each chapter that is common in these wide audience business self-help books. Rather than reading cover to cover, you could watch one of Wiseman’s talks on the book and read the intro and conclusion of each chapter.