This article first appeared at Forbes.
If you want to become a better leader, says Liz Wiseman, you first have to discover whether you’re a “Multiplier” or a “Diminisher” at work. The former “are leaders who bring out intelligence in others and get the best ideas and work out of the people they lead,” she says, while the latter “stifle others and deplete the organization of crucial intelligence and capability.”
The distinction matters, she says, because “research showed that managers (across a broad group of industries and across a range of management levels) are getting only 66% of their employees’ capability on average. There’s another 34% of intelligence waiting to be mined and put to work on our most important opportunities and on our biggest challenges. “
Almost no one deliberately sets out to dampen the performance of others, of course. As Wiseman says, “most of the Diminishers I’ve studied are really ‘accidental Diminishers.’” So we may not be fully aware of it when we’re negatively affecting others. “You might ask yourself, ‘how might I be shutting down smart, capable people with the very best of intentions?’” she advises. “Try running your hypotheses by your colleagues and see what they say.”
Indeed, passionate leaders – the kind prized by corporations on the move – “can easily become Diminishers to others,” says Wiseman, who is the author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. “They might think their passion and energy is contagious, but actually they can turn others off because they are always on. Or, they paint such a big vision that there is no need for others to do the big thinking themselves. But, the answer isn’t for passionate leaders to turn off. The best leaders know when it is time to be big and when it is time to be small, so others can be big. They might ‘go big’ with a big question or a challenge, but then they hold back and let others fill in the open space.”
So how you can ensure you’re a force for good in the workplace? Wiseman advises that “we have to learn to think like a Multiplier. For example, if we hold a subtle assumption that ‘people won’t figure it out without me,’ we will end up behaving like a Diminisher. But, when we shift our thinking to ‘people are smart and will figure it out,’ the right Multiplier behaviors tend to flow naturally.”
A big part of the shift is asking more questions. “When a leader asks the questions,” says Wiseman, “they channel the energy and intelligence of their team on the challenge at hand, and they shift the burden of thinking onto others. To do this, one might take what I call ‘the extreme question challenge.’ Try leading a meeting or a conversation by only asking questions. It might sound unnatural, but I find that it actually sparks very natural and meaningful conversation and deep problem solving. It is a simple exercise, but it will help the leader shift into Multiplier mode and out of know-it-all mode. In other words, tell less; ask more; let others find answers.”
The results, she says, can be powerful: “We found in our research studying these two types of leaders that Diminishers get less than half of the intelligence and capability of others (48%), while Multipliers got 95%. That’s a 2X difference.”
Doubling the efficacy of your workforce is a powerful form of multiplication. How are you working toward becoming a Multiplier in your company? What techniques do you use?
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.