Confessions of an Accidental Diminisher

The Accidental Diminisher.  When we put together our “Are you an Accidental Diminisher?” quiz, I had no idea I’d hear so many personal confessions.  A few nights ago at a community fundraiser, I got stopped by at least five people telling me how they scored on the quiz.  Some shared enthusiastically that they were in the green zone.  My favorite confession was from a technology executive who has a great self depreciating wit and said, “When I took the quiz, I went easy on myself because I didn’t want to find out that I am a Diminisher.  But, I still scored in the yellow.  Now I am a cheater and a Diminisher!”

A Surprising Confession. Perhaps the most surprising confession I heard came from KR Sridhar, CEO of Bloom Energy, and one of the Multipliers we studied and featured in the Multiplier book as both a “Liberator” and a “Challenger.”  When I went to meet with KR and his management team last week, I was greeted by KR holding a copy of our article in Harvard Business Review.  He pointed to the sidebar called “Are you an Accidental Diminisher?”and said, “I fit the profile:  visionary, creative, talker.  I think I might be an Accidental Diminisher.”  He politely hijacked the agenda for the Multipliers seminar I was conducting for his management team and said, “I’d like to ask my team what I am doing that is accidentally diminishing.”  I was intrigued and agreed.  We proceeded to have a healthy, productive conversation about some subtle ways that leaders can diminish others.  KR, a text-book Multiplier, walked away with clear ideas for how he could be a stronger Multiplier and to his already innovative organization.

The Truth of the Matter. Many of us are well-intended leaders who are following popular management practice.   Is it possible that, despite good intentions, you’ve been accidentally diminishing the people on your team?   In our research, we were surprised to discover how few Diminishers understood the restrictive impact they were having on others.  Most had moved into management having been praised for their personal, and often intellectual, merit, and had assumed their role as boss was to have the best ideas.  Others, had once had the mind of a Multiplier, but had been working among Diminishers for so long, they had gone native.  Accidental or not, the impact on your team is the same – you might be getting only ½ of the true brainpower of your team.

Here are three of the signs that you might be an Accidental Diminisher:

  1. You’re a visionary – You are a big thinker and lay out a compelling vision of the future that you evangelize to those around you. You think you’re following popular leadership practice, but you may not be leaving enough space for others to think through the challenges for themselves and generate intellectual muscle to make a vision a reality.
  2. You’ve got the gift of gab – You’re passionate and articulate and can consume a lot of space in a meeting.  You may think your passion is infectious, but more likely it is stifling the thinking of others.
  3. You’re a creative, idea person – You’re a fountain of innovation, continually spouting new ideas for your team to play with.  You may think you’re sparking creativity, but you are quite possibly causing organizational whiplash as people around you scurry to keep up with each new idea.

You can start by taking an assessment on to see where your “good” management practices might actually be diminishing.

This week’s Multiplier practice: Follow KR’s lead and ask some people around you:  What am I doing the might be accidentally diminishing? Using the “accidental” word will allow people to more easily tell you the truth and teach you what you need to know.

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