Liz Wiseman’s 5 Secrets To Make Your Team Smarter

By Kevin Kruse
Originally Posted on
May 17th, 2017

What are the five secrets to unleashing the genius in others?

Have you had that boss that you would fear to throw ideas at? A leader that sucked all the energy out of the room, and always seemed to engage in a battle of the wits? You aren’t alone. There are several ways bosses, and even ourselves, can engage in behavior that leaves our team to feel diminished. But there are ways around it.

Liz Wiseman worked at Oracle for 17 years, is one of the Top 10 Leadership Thinkers in the World, and the best-selling author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. I recently interview Liz on the LEADx podcast to discuss the ways leaders can elevate those around them. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)

Kevin Kruse: You say there are basically two kinds of leaders. What are these?

Liz Wiseman: This actually came from an observation I had at Oracle. I got thrown into this company of really, really smart people. There were all these geniuses around me, and as I watched all these brilliant people I noticed that people used their intelligence in different ways. There were leaders who were really, really smart, but other people weren’t smart around them. If you’ve ever seen intelligence used as a weapon, you know what this is like. If you’ve ever seen a really smart person suck the intelligence out of a room, you’ve seen one of these leaders that I call ‘Diminishers.’ They tend to be really smart, but people aren’t smart around them. When they walk into a room, people get quiet. They hold back. They play it safe. These leaders become like wet blankets on ideas and energy and innovation.

I saw these leaders, and I wondered, “Why is it that they’re smart, but other people aren’t smart around them?” Then I saw a very different kind of leader who was equally intelligent, but his intelligence was infectious, is how I first noticed it. I’m like, “Wow”, because other people seem to be really smart and at their best around them. When these leaders walk into a room, you can see a visibly different reaction. People tend to sit up, they lean forward, ideas flow, and problems get solved. It’s like you can imagine light bulbs going off over people’s heads when they’re in the room. I came to call those leaders ‘Multipliers.’

When I double clicked on this idea — or this observation that I had — and really studied it and looked at the impact that they had on others, I found a very profound difference in the capability. These ‘Diminishers’ tend to get less than half of people’s intelligence or capability; whereas, these ‘Multipliers’ get all of it. I thought, “Wow. We’ve got a lot of really smart people showing up at work badging into the office every morning, but a lot of that intelligence is going under utilized.” I think it was actually that that put me on. It’s a little bit of a self-declared mission to rid the world of bad bosses.

Kruse: I’ve definitely experienced both ‘Diminishers’ and ‘Multipliers’ early on in my career. Some ‘Diminishers’ were even good friends.

Wiseman: I would encourage anyone who’s listening to think about maybe someone who was a ‘Diminisher’ to you, and someone who’s a ‘Multiplier.’ Your observation carries what I think is a really important insight: this person was a friend. When I started this research, I thought these diminishers were these narcissistic, tyrannical bully types who really shut people down for sport, because I saw a few of them. When I really began to study it and look at what is causing this disengagement and this diminishing across our workplace is that most of these diminishers were actually pretty decent people. Nice people. Someone you might call a friend, but yet they were having a diminishing impact.

I may have started on, like I said, a self-proclaimed mission to rid the world of bad bosses. I haven’t been entirely successful at that, in case we haven’t noticed.

Kruse: You say multipliers practice five disciplines. What are they?

Wiseman: They’re the five things I found that ‘diminishers’ and ‘multipliers’ do very, very differently. The first is how they manage talent. The diminisher tends to acquire resources. I call them ‘Empire Builders.’ Multipliers use people’s native genius. They don’t use people; they deeply utilize the genius of others.

The second is about the work environment they create. Diminishers tend to be stress creators. They’re tyrants. Multipliers create safety, not stress. They tend to have a liberating effect on others.

The third difference, or discipline, is around how they set direction. Diminishers give directives. They set direction based on what they know and what they see, whereas multipliers invite people to stretch. They define opportunities. They play the role of challenger — dragging people into new, interesting, uncomfortable space.

The fourth is the way they make decisions. The diminishers tend to be the decision-maker. They make fast inner-circle decisions to convince people to buy into. The multipliers tend to be a debate-maker. They invite people to weigh in and debate, which generates real and sustainable buy-in.

The last major difference I noticed is how they drive for results. The diminishers tend to be the micromanagers. They jump in and out; they’re like bungee bosses. Where the multipliers — they’re an investor. They give other people ownership and all the accountability that comes with it. We found that these multiplier leaders are not just engaging, empowering, trusting, supporting kind of leaders like that Bob McCormick moment that I mentioned early on where he’s like, “Okay, Liz. I’m gonna help you recover.” They’re actually leaders with a hard edge. They challenge. They hold people accountable. They have high expectations, and it’s why people give so much to these leaders. It’s because they demand so much from the people around them.

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