Leadership mindset – are you a multiplier or a diminisher?

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Who IS the smartest person in the room?

There is a story of a woman who dined with rival British Prime Ministers, Gladstone and Disraeli and compared them thus:

When I dined with Mr. Gladstone, I felt as though he was the smartest man in England. But when I dined with Mr. Disraeli, I felt as though I was the smartest woman in England.

In previous posts we have looked at fixed vs growth mindset. In this post we will be looking at the impact that leaders with a fixed mindset have on their people, compared with leaders with a growth mindset.

Research by Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown has established that leaders with a growth mindset, which they call multipliers get double the productivity out of their people compared with leaders with a fixed mindset (termed diminishers).

Why is this?

In essence, multipliers foster an environment that shines the spotlight on their people, whereas diminishers prefer to shine the spotlight on themselves. A multiplier sees his or her job as developing the capability and intelligence of others, whereas a diminisher has to be seen as “the smartest person in the room” and their job is to control, manage and organise others.

Diminishers see intelligence as something fundamental about a person that can’t change much, which is consistent with Carol Dweck’s fixed mindset. The diminisher’s logic is “if someone doesn’t ‘get it’ now, they never will” therefore “I’ll need to keep doing the thinking for everyone”. In a diminisher’s world there are very few people worth listening to!

Liz Wiseman summarises it succinctly:

most diminishers have grown up praised for their personal intelligence and have moved up the management ranks. When they become “the boss” they assume it’s their job to be the smartest and to manage a set of “subordinates”

In this post I am going to focus on three behaviours Liz Wiseman identifies that distinguish multipliers from diminishers:

A multiplier removes fear and creates a safe environment that invites debate and encourages people to do their best thinking. Multipliers demand people’s best effort; and they get it!

In contrast, diminishers create a judgemental environment that has an inhibiting effect on people’s willingness to contribute to debate, resulting in sloppy thinking, poor decision-making and debased productivity. Diminishers demand people’s best effort, but they don’t get it.

A multiplier creates opportunity and sets challenges, encouraging individuals and teams to achieve stretch-targets. They generate confidence and self-belief in others and a desire to succeed, to push their boundaries. A multiplier does not have to have all the answers. This echoes the words of management guru, Tom Peters,

Make ‘I don’t know’ a strategic part of your leadership. Uncertainty is here to stay. Acknowledging it is a show of strength.

By contrast, a diminisher has all the answers, is highly vocal about their opinions, gives directives and loves to showcase their knowledge and intelligence.

A multiplier is an investor. A multiplier will coach their people and hold them accountable to deliver the goods, allowing them to fail and learn their lessons on the way.

A diminisher retains accountability for themselves, micromanages their staff, whimsically jumping in and out of the detail and punishing failure. The diminisher delivers results through their own personal involvement, whereas the multiplier gives others ownership for results and invests in and celebrates their success.

Enron, the infamous American energy company was a classic diminisher organisation. Enron created a culture that worshipped talent. They paid big money for big talent. This led Enron “stars” to constantly feel the need to prove how great they were. They were more concerned about maintaining their image than addressing problems and poor decisions. Ultimately, it was better to lie and cover up than admit they were wrong.

When Enron went bankrupt in December 2001, many of it’s executives were indicted and imprisoned, including CEO, Jeff Skilling who is still serving a 14 year sentence. Much of the cause of the more recent financial meltdown can also be attributed to a diminisher, or fixed mindset.

Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker spells out the problem with the fixed mindset,

When people live in an environment that esteems them for their innate talent, they have grave difficulty when their image is threatened. They will not take the remedial course

In practice, there is a continuum between a multiplier and a diminisher. Where would you position your leadership on that scale? What practices could you undertake to make yourself more of a multiplier?

Isn’t it strange how those people who need coaching the most are those who resist it?

This is often the result of a “fixed” mindset. Find out more on how YOU can change mindsets and encourage openness, learning and development even for those “difficult” people.

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