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The Multiplier Effect

Tuesday, December 9, 2014  
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By Liz Wiseman

Reviewed by Holly Chesser
{Headlines} March 2013

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. - Lao Tzu

Imagine assuming a leadership role in a school today. The landscape has shifted considerably over the last decade. You’d probably be faced with the dual expectations to innovate and to economize. You’d be working in an organization whose structure, schedule, and standards were developed for the industrial age, but whose value is determined by the information age. Certainly, you’d recognize the need for buy-in, for the collective will of the faculty to support you. Yet, you’d also feel the keen sense of urgency to develop a pedagogical plan that would bring the organization into the 21st century in order to meet the needs of today and tomorrow’s learners. 

According to Liz Wiseman in her new book The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools, how you proceed may distinguish you as a Multiplier, a leader who intentionally engages the genius of the team and amplifies the talents of staff and students alike, or a Diminisher, a leader who finds security in her own capabilities and unwittingly saps the energy and overlooks the full capacity of her faculty.  

Wiseman’s best selling leadership book The Multiplier Effect: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter was prompted by a central question: “Why are we smart and capable around some people but not around others?” Based on her experience coaching the senior leadership of leading companies and two years of surveying and interviewing 150 business leaders, Wiseman concluded that certain individuals, defined as Multipliers, inspire employees to stretch themselves to deliver results that exceed expectations. Drawing on Daniel Goleman’s work in Emotional Intelligence and Carol Dweck’s in Mindset, Wiseman created a composite description of the Multiplier, the leader who positively impacts an organization by getting more done with fewer resources, developing and attracting talent, and cultivating new ideas and energy to drive organizational change and innovation. Not surprisingly, the book generated tremendous response from educators who shared stories of their experiences with Multipliers and Diminishers alike and the fundamental effect that distinction in leadership had on the health of the school where they worked, leading Wiseman to consider the implication of her thesis on education, specifically, “Why do some leaders drain intelligence while others amplify it?

After surveying and interviewing 438 educational leaders, Wiseman discovered five essential qualities that distinguish Multipliers from Diminishers in the educational world. She also quantified why a leader’s style matters, determining that Diminishers tend to tap only 40% of their team’s potential, whereas Multipliers generate a 2X increase in productivity from their people. Perhaps most interestingly, Wiseman found that most leaders exist on a continuum, largely unaware of how their leadership style affects their faculty. She offers an online quiz - Are You an Accidental Diminisher?” to help individuals gauge the impact they may be having on their teams.

The bulk of the book identifies the Multiplier’s key attributes labeled as disciplines to emphasize the intentional and consistent nature of the leader’s behavior. Additionally, for each discipline, she shares the three practices exhibited by the Multiplier. However, Wiseman emphasizes that at heart a Multiplier is guided by one central principle, a belief that people are smart and can become smarter when their native curiosity is sparked.  


The Talent Finder

The Talent Finder “attracts and optimizes talent,” recognizing the wisdom in Collins’ imperative to get the right people on the bus and the need to discover latent talent in those already in seats. To that end, she engages in three consistent practices: “scouting out diverse intelligence, finding people’s native genius, and utilizing people to their fullest.” The Talent Finder adds a new riff to Management by Walking Around (MBWA) by amplifying its purpose to Discovering Talent by Walking Around (DTWA). She wants to unearth her staff’s strengths, name those talents publicly so that others can identify and call upon them, and create opportunities for those strengths to be utilized in pursuit of the school’s mission. She creates a continual cycle of utilizing the strengths of her staff to help them grow in order to create new opportunities. The Talent Finder doesn’t worry about developing her staff’s potential and reputation, which may lead them to bigger opportunities outside of her school. Instead, she recognizes talent as a renewable energy source. Perhaps more importantly, she knows that her school will develop its own reputation, continually attracting people who want to grow. In contrast, the Diminisher labels her staff, only seeing their present status in the organization. She protects a core group of individuals who think like she does and ensures that the status quo endures. 

The Liberator

The Liberator “creates intensity that requires best thinking,” ensuring that all members of the organization are working to their full potential. The Liberator understands the important distinction between creating an environment of stress that stifles creativity and limits critical thinking and creating an environment of pressure that asks people to share and defend their thinking and engage collaboratively and constructively with others. The Liberator provides pressure without stress by “offering choice and space for others to contribute, demanding people’s best work, and generating rapid learning cycles.” She doesn’t assume control by telling the team what to think; instead, she defines the challenge and provides the team something to think about. The goal is to invite each person’s best thinking to the task at hand just as the teacher would do with her students in the classroom. In fact, Wiseman asks the critical questions, “Are you leading your staff the same way you want your teachers to be teaching? Does the learning climate in one of your typical staff meetings reflect the kind of learning environment you want your school to provide to students? If you replicated your staff meeting’s learning environmentacross every classroom in your school, would student learning go up or down?” These questions emphasize the need for congruence between how the classroom and how the school as a whole operates. The Tyrant, however, employs her position’s authority to exert control. Rather than engage the power of the collective will, she feels threatened by dissent and builds a clique, a core group of staff members who support her view. 

The Challenger 

The Challenger “extends challenges” to all members of her faculty. She understands that her role is not to solve the organization’s problems. Rather, she acts as a coach and a facilitator, “asking provocative questions to guide discovery, laying down challenges, and generating belief in what is possible.” She employs inquiry as the central method of stretching her staff to consider important questions like “How do we get all students achieving at their capacity?” Her team knows that she relies on each of them to engage with that question, examining their teaching, researching best practices, and evaluating the gap. Conversely, the Know-It-All believes that, as a leader, it is her job to provide answers and action steps. As a result, her team focuses its energy on divining her will rather than confronting problems themselves. 

The Community Builder

The Community Builder “builds community decisions” by designing a decision making process that acknowledges and employs the talents, ideas, and passions of the whole. Her process relies on “framing the issue, sparking debate, and driving a transparent decision.” She begins by defining the problem, asking the question, the why, the who, and the how. She engages her team by encouraging discussion, demanding evidence, and providing safety for all voices to be heard. Ultimately, she makes a decision; however, the transparency and inclusivity of the process allows her team members to buy-in. In contrast, the Decision Maker makes pronouncements without employing the collective wisdom of her team or engages only a chosen few from which to seek advice. As a result, she leaves the majority of her faculty either questioning her decision or begrudgingly carrying out orders.

The Investor

The Investor “instills ownership and accountability,” acknowledging her inability to enact lasting change by herself. Wishing to inspire and enable her teachers to lead the charge, she “gives others ownership, provides backup, but holds people accountable.” She understands that by giving her faculty autonomy, a key element of motivation, she empowers them; however, she also underscores that assuming control includes shouldering responsibility. Conversely, the Micro-Manager operates under the mentality that to get things done right and quickly, she must do it herself. Unwilling to fully trust her team, she gives them limited responsibility, making it clear that ultimately control rests with her. As a result, she creates “dependency, disengagement, and disruptive chaos.” Her team’s learned behavior reaffirms the Micro-Manager’s belief that nothing gets done well without her full input, and a cycle perpetuates itself. 

Acknowledging the changing nature of today’s globally connected and competitive world, many schools today are operating under the imperative “innovate or die.” They need strong leadership to self-assess and evolve. Yet, they also are pressured to operate with fewer resources. Multipliers, able to amplify the intelligence and capacity of those around them, are better prepared to face this challenge. Your school, like every other, abounds with talent, energy, and ideas. The key is recognizing that these three do not exist in limited quantities. Have you done the math and recognized the exponential power of multiplication? 

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