Want More Engaged Employees? Stop Being Such An Optimist

By Karen Tiber Leland

A decade of research shows why a sunny outlook may not be the best way to lead.

Decades ago, when I was just beginning my journey as a management consultant, I had the good fortune to work with Liz Wiseman, who at the time was the Director of Learning and Development for Oracle. Since then she has gone on to found The Wiseman Group and author several best-selling books including the newly released 2nd edition of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter.

One of the findings of Liz’s years of research is that just because a leader possesses a trait in abundance doesn’t mean that it’s contagious and that others around them pick it up in a positive way.


One example Wiseman cites is the iconic optimistic leader. You know them – the positive can-do people who see possibilities and paths forward everywhere. These cheerful C-suite executives recognise the capability in others and themselves at every turn. Even when they take on something hard, they bring a can-do attitude in abundance.

“It’s like wearing one of those rubber wristbands, only it says, ‘I can do hard things,'” jokes Wiseman. “This observation comes not only from my years of research but also from looking in the mirror,” says Wiseman.

A self-described ‘raging optimist’, Wiseman struggles with her own positivity. “I don’t have a lack of optimism; instead I struggle with too much,” explains Wiseman. She goes on to explain that her personal awareness about this dynamic came to her by surprise and with a sting. Here’s the story she tells…

“I’m working with a colleague on writing an article on a pretty tough piece of research and analysis for a prestigious academic journal. Towards the end of the project, my colleague pulls me aside and says, ‘Liz, I need you to stop saying that thing you say all the time.’ ‘What thing?’ I ask him. I really did not know what he was talking about”.

“‘You say it all the time,’ he said. ‘It usually goes, “Hey, we can do this. We’ve got this.”‘

“Recognising my own optimism, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, I do say that all the time.’ ‘That is my way of saying that we’re smart and we can figure this out, that I have this belief in what we can do,’ I explain to him.

“‘Well, I need you to stop saying it.’ ‘What do you mean?’ I said. ‘This is good leadership. Optimism, we need that just to survive,’ I say. ‘The reason I need you to stop saying that is because what we are doing is hard; it’s really hard, Liz, and as my manager, I need you to acknowledge it.’

“In that moment I realised that my can-do, get-it-done personal brand was setting a pace that was making it really hard for other people to keep up with me. “I came to the conclusion that sometimes my optimism – which is a gift – can also translate into processing a little too fast for other people. I need to give them time to process at their own speed.”


That personal experience, combined with her research and work with leaders, has led Wiseman to the conclusion that the really great leaders know how to dispense their executive presence in small, but intense, doses.

“When a leader is always on, they become white noise,” says Wiseman. That’s one of the ways executives end up as what Wiseman calls ‘accidental diminishers’. These are leaders who have an intention for their staff to be empowered but are so whipped up with positive energy all the time, they end up diminishing those around them. “They think their energy is infectious, but not only are they sucking up all the oxygen in the room, they are getting tuned out,” says Wiseman. “People around them are like, ‘You’re killing me with your energy. I’m dying here.'”

So what’s the enthusiastic and eager executive to do? Wiseman suggests two almost ridiculously easy (but highly effective) ways to rein in your energy, without losing your optimistic edge:


After you ask a question, wait five seconds to give the person a chance to think. For many leaders, when no one answers immediately, the tendency is to want to answer themselves. Don’t. Some people are fast witted, quick to process and quick to answer, but not everyone. Not all forms of intelligence manifest themselves in speed.


Optimistic leaders are often quick to respond immediately to situations and take action, even if someone else on their team could handle it. Except in a case of immediate required response, try taking a hands-off stance for 24 hours.

In both these cases, it’s the power of the pause that creates the opportunity. It gives other people, who may not be so quick on the draw, a chance to comfortably formulate opinions and bring their own brand of optimism to the party – even if it’s a few decibels lower than yours.

This article originally features on Inc.

Learn how to DOUBLE THE INTELLIGENCE of your team. Contact us at info@brg.co.za to lead like a Multiplier. Business Results Group is the exclusive distributor of Multipliers in Southern Africa.


5 Secrets To Double Your Team’s Intelligence

Multiplier leaders behave similarly in 5 ways: they act as talent magnets, liberators, challengers, debate makers and investors. 

  1. Talent Magnets don’t have a shortage of talent, quite the opposite – people line up to work for them.  They have an innate ability to identify what Wiseman calls the “native genius” in each member of their team, naming the talent and then putting it to work for them.  They are not constrained by traditional job descriptions, but rather seek to apply the talent of their team to the job at hand.  
  2. Liberators free people up to do their best thinking.  Instead of providing all the answers, liberators have learned the art of asking the question, facilitating conversations that encourage people to find their own answers.  Multiplying leaders encourage people to think for themselves instead; those employees quite literally report that they become smarter.
  3. Challengers are up for precisely that – a challenge.  The have the ability to stretch people beyond their current capability, thrusting people out of their comfort zones in such a way that the “stretch is met”. As people step into their new zone, they discover a level of capability that they never knew existed.
  4. Debate Makers create the ultimate democracy, convinced that the best answers will come from the group. Instead of setting teams up to fail and fight, Multipliers who facilitate debate give their teams time to research their position, clearly define the parameters and goals, and then “pit their wits against each other” to unleash the potential of what lies in the realm of possibility.
  5. Investors answer the biggest question of all: how do we get people in the business to be accountable for the outcome?  Investors know that real ownership and accountability only comes when the individual or team have made the decision themselves, what Wiseman terms “giving them 51% of the vote”.  A courageous act?  Maybe, but one that will forever change the landscape of your business.

Do you want to access double your team’s intelligence? Click HERE for more information or contact us at multipliers@brg.co.za to book a needs assessment.


Creating Debate to Improve Decision Making

By Liz Wiseman

There is a growing belief that good leaders are made, not born. We now know that leadership skills can be taught – that management practices can and should be refined and improved upon as leadership styles and behaviors evolve.

We are all too familiar with the leader who drains intelligence and capability out of their teams. Who, because of their need to be the smartest, most capable person in the room, often shut down the smarts of others, ultimately stifling the flow of ideas. These leaders—who we call “Diminishers”—underutilize people and leave creativity and talent on the table.

Thankfully, we also know leaders who, as capable as they are, care less about flaunting their own IQs and more about fostering a culture of intelligence in their organizations. Under the leadership of these “Multipliers,” employees don’t just feel smarter, they become smarter.

The question to then ask is: when it comes to decision-making in your organization, are you a Multiplier or a Diminisher?

And why is this important?

How decisions are made can greatly impact an organization – either creating higher levels of engagement and execution or disengagement and dissatisfaction.

Think of some important organizational decisions made recently within your company. Were there any problems that came up after the fact – in whispered conversations in hallways and cubicles – as baffled teams tried to make sense of decisions that seemed abrupt and random? Diminishers create this unproductive dynamic because they tend to make decisions alone or with input from just a small inner circle of advisers. The result is an organization left reeling, instead of executing.

By contrast, Multipliers engage people in rigorous, upfront debates about the issues at hand. They give people a chance to weigh in and consider different possibilities—ultimately strengthening team members’ understanding of the issue and increasing the likelihood that they’ll be ready to carry out whatever actions are required.

In our research, we found that Multipliers did three specific things very differently from Diminishers when it came to decision-making.

While Diminishers raise issues, dominate discussions, and force decisions, Multipliers:

  1. Frame the Issue
    1. Define the question
    2. Form the team
    3. Assemble the data
    4. Frame the decision
  2. Spark the debate
    1. Create safety for best-thinking
    2. Demand rigor
  3. Drive a Sound Decision
    1. Re-clarify the decision-making process
    2. Make the decision
    3. Communicate the decision and rationale

To become a debate maker, make a debate with four asks: ask the hard questions, ask for evidence, ask everyone, and ask people to switch positions.

So the final question is: are you a Decision Maker or a Multiplier/Debate Maker?

Liz Wiseman, is one of the top 10 leadership thinkers in the world (Thinkers50TM), She is the former VP of Oracle Corporation, renowned speaker, executive advisor and bestselling author of Multipliers

Multiply for Success – Liz Wiseman featured in Acumen

Many great leaders seem to have an uncanny ability to get the best out of other people. Liz Wiseman is a researcher, executive advisor, and speaker who teaches leaders around the world; she calls this the Multiplier Effect and described how it works to Chris Gibbons, writing for Acumen.