Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Multipliers - How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter - Book Review

Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown's Multipliers is perhaps the most influential book on leadership that I have read. I came across it in June last year and, according to my Amazon account, to date, I have bought 18 copies for my senior leadership team and other colleagues!

In essence, Multipliers is an eloquent case for a "distributive" approach to leadership, which empowers everyone in the organisation to take responsibility (and, to some extent, risks).  Multipliers divides leaders broadly into two camps: Diminishers, who "drain intelligence, energy, and capability from the ones around them and always need to be the smartest ones in the room"; and Multipliers who "use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of the people around them." A Multiplier is the antithesis of being a "control-freak".
"A leader is someone who helps others to lead." (p.167)
Multipliers develop people, they look to their team/organisation to solve problems, and they attract talent to the organisation. Multipliers is packed full of practical strategies to bring out the best in the team and is illustrated with examples from a range of industries. There is nothing particularly new about these concepts - indeed it was the basis of Jan Carlzon's turn around of SAS in the 1980s - see previous blogpost - but Multipliers is well researched and clearly argued. 

Wiseman and McKeown have identified five skills and practices that can be learned that distinguish Multipliers from Diminishers:
  1. The Talent Magnet - attracts talented people and uses them at their highest point of contribution
  2. The Liberator - creates an intense environment that requires people's best thinking and work
  3. The Challenger - defines an opportunity that causes people to stretch
  4. The Debate Maker - drives sound decisions through rigorous debate
  5. The Investor - gives other people the ownership for results and invests in their success.
This is a book that makes you reflect on your leadership style and context. I found myself writing extensive ideas and questions in the back of my copy which became the basis of a major review of how we do things here at Berkhamsted.
One of the parts of the book that I liked the most was the concept of the "autonomous organisation" (p.181) and that one of the roles of the Leader is to foster a maturity that allows that an organisation to grow, respond, to develop and change without being dependent on one person or an inner sanctum.
The one significant weaknesses of the book for me was that it doesn't really address the issue of under-performance. What if people in the organisation don't want to be empowered, or are unwilling to take responsibility? The book recognises the need at times of "removing blockers" (p.52-56) and "pulling weeds" (p.62), but, apart from the need for removing prima donnas, it doesn't develop the circumstances in which this might happen.
One of the most valuable aspects here is that the Multipliers project has developed beyond the book. There is a Multipliers network on LinkedIn which provides a platform to share ideas, and there are some excellent resources (for example The Accidental Diminisher Quiz and The Multipliers 30-day Challenge) to help you develop as a Multiplier leader. There is also an education version of Multipliers to be published in March 2013 under the title, The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools.

Links and Resources

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