Leading Like a Multiplier

As the knowledge economy takes hold, companies around the world are rapidly realizing that the future value of their business no longer lies in the ownership of infrastructure and technology, but in intangible assets such as brand, intellectual property and people.  And those people all report to someone, a leader.  So how do leaders get more from their existing assets?

In 2013 Peter Bregman, a leadership development consultant writing for Forbes magazine, suggested that “there is a massive difference between what we know about leadership and what we do as leaders”, adding that “I’ve never seen a leader fail because he or she didn’t know enough about leadership”.  Yet knowing, without doing, isn’t knowing.  

Leadership development is an industry in its own right, with numerous emerging development programmes punting their own unique formula about “what to do”.  There are many to choose from, and some fail dismally, leaving companies floundering about what to do next.  Yet some leadership development techniques stick and get traction – not just at a business level, but at a global level.  Liz Wiseman’s research on “Multipliers” exemplifies this kind of traction.

Listed on Thinkers 50 as one of the top 10 leadership thinkers in the world, Wiseman reflected on her 17 years of experience at Oracle and embarked on a research project focusing on the question, “How do some leaders seem to get more out of their teams than their counterparts?”.  The global project was conducted across 4 continents and 120 companies.  The result was astonishing and yet simple: great leaders do 5 things well, so well that they double their access to their team’s intelligence than their diminishing counterparts.

Every company out there would be thrilled to get double the value from their existing assets.  Wiseman’s research demonstrates that leaders who act as “multipliers” are not only successful, but they have a resoundingly positive and profitable effect on organizations—getting more done with fewer resources, developing and attracting talent, and cultivating new ideas and energy to drive organizational change and innovation.  Most importantly, multiplier skills can be learned and developed. Quite simply, Wiseman’s Multipliers approach tells leaders what to do to get more intelligence out of their existing teams.  Here in South Africa, companies like SAB, SAsol, Atlas Copco, Old Mutual and Standard Bank are already putting multiplier theory into practice, with good effect.

5 Secrets of Leading like a Multiplier

Multiplying leaders do 5 things: they act as talent magnets, liberators, challengers, debate makers and investors.

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.  

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.

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.

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.

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. 

Written by Nicola Tyler