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E93 | Identifying The Accidental Diminisher with Liz Wiseman

Do you drain your team or engage them? Are you wondering how to make your leadership team even greater? You need to listen to Liz Wiseman, author of New York Times bestseller Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter.  

Liz is a researcher, executive advisor and author, writing Multipliers over 10 years ago. She’s recently updated it, although its core ideas still very much apply today. 

In it, she identifies two types of leaders – multipliers and diminishers. The multipliers get twice the output from their teams than the diminishers do. So you might be thinking, then why don’t we all strive to be multipliers? Because, Liz says, most of the behaviours exhibited by diminishers are completely accidental – only 20% of diminisher behaviours are deliberate.

“About two thirds of diminishing behaviour that we see is what we would call accidental diminisher behaviour, meaning it’s done with the best of intentions.”

In this episode Dom chats to Liz about what these diminisher behaviours are – maybe you’ll recognise yourself in some of her descriptions. So if you think you could be holding your team back accidentally, preventing productivity and the only thing standing between your team and greatness is an awareness and desire to do things differently, then this fantastic conversation is not to be missed. 

On today’s podcast:

  • How teaching programming led her to becoming a researcher
  • Not every smart person creates a smart team
  • The limitations of diminisher leadership
  • The behaviours of a diminisher
  • Why perfectionists are the bottlenecks


The Accidental Diminisher with Liz Wiseman

Liz Wiseman credits her success with luck – lucky she was raised in Silicon Valley, lucky she landed a great role in an emerging tech company (Oracle) that was breaking all of the rules, lucky she got to cut her own detail and make it up as she went along. It allowed her to spend the first part of her career passively observing what it takes to grow a hugely successful company from scratch. 

“One of the things I learned about leadership in this, is that most of these leaders in these tech companies are woefully under qualified for their jobs. And every day, they’re learning how to do a bigger job.”

It was this work at Oracle that led her to write her first book, Multipliers. She kept encountering really smart people (after she left Oracle) who kept on shutting their teams down and she realised she’d seen the behaviour repeatedly at Oracle. 

“Oracle hires these really, really freakishly smart people into the organisation. And I felt so lucky to work with all of these people. And I noticed that not everyone who was really smart, once they were in a leadership role, not all of those smart people created smart teams.”

Which led her to study leadership and the different styles of leadership, and what behaviours great leaders exhibit (multipliers) versus those behaviours diminisher leaders exhibit. 

Some people are multipliers, some are diminishers – there is no ratio between multipliers and diminishers, no steadfast rule as to what percentage of the population is one or the other. But what is apparent is that approximately two thirds of diminishing behaviour is accidental, but done with the best of intentions. 

The limitations of the diminisher

The overarching idea of ‘strong’ leadership has, for a long time, been that the best leaders were the ones who were the smartest, the strongest, the more courageous kind of people. That strong man model of leadership has dominated for so long. 

But Liz says these personality traits don’t make anyone a good leader. In fact, leaders with these traits go on to hurt their organisation. Despite these people being highly competent and capable leaders, they cast a shadow over their teams, dragging them down, inhibiting growth. 

“It becomes this threshold that the organisation can’t get past because they like these diminishing leaders. One of the things I’ve noticed is multipliers ask good questions, whereas diminishers tend to tell people what to do. But when diminishers venture into question asking mode, they’re usually asking questions that they already have answers to. And what it means is that an organisation can’t grow beyond the things that the leader knows him or herself.”

The accidental diminisher

A big learning point for people, says Liz, is not how to be a multiplier, but all the ways they’re accidentally diminishing their team. 

They might be the ideas guy, frothing with ideas meaning the team doesn’t have to be creative and come up with anything because they have more than enough creativity for everyone.  

“What happens is their ideas become kind of the end of the conversation, not the beginning.”

Then there’s the overly optimistic leader. You’d think this person would be a multiplier, but because these people are so focussed on the upside, it forces the rest of the team to look on the downside. 

“We become so convinced that things are possible that we don’t see the struggle that people are going through.”

There’s the pacesetter who’s an achievement oriented leader who loves accomplishing hard things – they tend to lead by example. 

“What it taught me is that when people can’t keep up, they just give up because it’s easier to not be in a competition than to be losing to your boss all the time.” 

The rapid responder is a ‘see a bear, shoot a bear’ leader, the one who doesn’t give their people time to figure things out for themselves. 

The rescuer just loves their team and wants people to be successful and helps them when they struggle. 

You might not think these types of leaders are damaging to a company’s growth, but they are, says, Liz:

“[Ask yourself] ‘How fast can the company grow if I continue to do this?’ And you know, if anyone has been a parent there’s kind of a magic question that you ask as a parent, which is, ‘if I continue to do this, will this child be a fully functioning adult?’”

The same question needs to be asked as a leader – if I continue to do this, will we have a successful outcome? If I continue to give all the ideas will we have a creative company?

So which type of leader are you? Do you accidentally diminish the people on your team, despite your best efforts, or do you grow your team by engaging them?

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