A Tale of Two Managers

We’ve all had experience with two dramatically different types of leaders.  The first type drains intelligence, energy, and capability from the people around them and always needs to be the smartest, most capable person in the room.  These managers shut down the smarts of others, ultimately stifling the flow of ideas. These are the idea killers and energy sappers.  You know these people, because you’ve worked for and with them.

Maybe you’ve worked for the know-it-all variety – the visionary who is so focused on selling his vision to the organization that he doesn’t leave any space for others to think for themselves and generate the intellectual muscle needed to make a vision a reality.  Or, perhaps you work with a creative, idea type who, week after week, suggests new targets and campaigns for your team—forcing you to scurry to keep up with her thinking rather than contributing your own ideas.  Or, maybe you work for the tyrant who creates an environment of anxiety and likes to keep his organization on edge.  He thinks this pressure will spark innovation, but instead it shuts down thinking and leaves people only offering safe, predictable ideas.  These leaders—we call them “Diminishers”—underutilize people and leave creativity and talent on the table.

At the other extreme are 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.  When these leaders walk into a room, light bulbs go off over people’s heads; ideas flow and problems get solved. These are the leaders who inspire employees to stretch themselves to deliver results that surpass expectations.  You know what it feels like to work for one of these leaders – they stretch you and command your best work.  You probably grow more in a year of working for this leader than in five years working for someone else.  Working for them can be exhausting, but it is exhilarating!

One high-tech executive we interviewed (in researching our book “Multipliers”) recalls working for two such types of leaders.  Both worked in the same company and in the same role.  One had the Midas touch of a Multiplier and the other had the chilling effect of a Diminisher.

One was George Schneer who was the kind of manager who ran profitable businesses that grew under his leadership.   Our colleague shared, “I was a rock star around George. I felt like a smart SOB – everyone felt like that.  He got 100% from me – it was exhilarating.”  George grew people’s intelligence by engaging it.  In a typical meeting, George only spoke about 10% of the time.  He would “crisp up” a statement of a problem and then turn his team lose on it to find an answer.  He rarely told people want to do.  Instead, he used his energy to find opportunities in the market.  He would then frame them and step back and watch his team find innovative solutions.   People who worked for George said they felt like geniuses when they were around him.

The other leader was a brilliant scientist who did all the thinking for his group.  In a typical meeting, he did most of the talking.  When problems came up, he would almost always have an answer himself.  He used his energy selling his ideas to his team.  This manager hired really intelligent people, but, once they realized they weren’t allowed to think, they would eventually quit.  Or worse, they would quit on the inside but stay in the job until they could find a way out.  One of his direct reports recalled, “He really only got about 50% of what I had to offer.  I would never work for him again.”

Some leaders find their strength in their own genius and can stifle others and dilute the organization’s crucial intelligence and capability.  Other leaders are genius makers.  They used their intelligence to amplify the intelligence and capability of those around them.  Everyone around them gets smarter and more capable.  We call these leaders Multipliers.

This blog is dedicated to these types of leaders – the Multipliers.  Each week, we’ll share the insights we gained in the two years we spent studying both Multipliers and Diminishers across 35 companies on four continents while writing our book, “Multipliers:  How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter” (Harper Business, June 15).

We’ll show you what these Multipliers do, how they see the world, and the incredible results they achieve through others.  You’ll see why they don’t just get a little bit more from people, they get vastly more. We’ll share their stories and outline the big ideas, but we’ll also provide practical starting points for leading like Multipliers.  You will have a chance to weigh in on the questions we pose each week, and we will all learn from the pool of knowledge that forms.

So, join us on this exploration.  Subscribe here.  Invite your friends and colleagues to join in too.  And offer your insights into this week’s inquiry:  Why are we smart and capable around some leaders and stagnate around others?  We want to hear what you think, so jump in.

Liz Wiseman

Leave a Reply