Lessons from Multiplying: A Summary and Analysis of Themes from Multipliers by Liz Wiseman

You are a leader.

Family, work, church, friends, clubs. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my first semester as an MPA, it’s that teams are a part of life. I’ve generally avoided business books because I wasn’t in business or the topic really didn’t apply to me. Sound familiar? Liz Wiseman will make you think twice about that. The principles in Multipliers apply to everyone, so buckle up. We have so much to get through.

Book Summary

Liz Wiseman, a leadership scholar and instructor, noticed two types of leaders:

The Multiplier. Leaders who use “their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capability of people around them. … These leaders [seem] to make everyone around them better and more capable” (pg 5). Multipliers actually get more than 100% from their employees (or children or students). Others give their all and then continue to grow and give even more.

The Diminisher. Leaders who “drain intelligence and capability out of the people around them. Their focus on their own intelligence and their resolve to be the smartest person in the room [has] a diminishing effect on everyone else” (pg 5). Liz calls them diminishers because they only get a fraction of what others have to offer.

So what’s the difference? How does one person become a multiplier, while another becomes a diminisher? To answer those questions, Wiseman and her research partner Greg McKeown studied over 150 leaders (e.g., managers, teachers, and sports coaches) over four continents.

They found that the difference wasn’t so much in action, but in attitude. Wiseman and McKeown identified five key differences:

Source: pg 23

Multipliers and diminishers viewed people, and their relationships with them, in dramatically different lights.

What I Learned

Multipliers can come from anywhere.

For all Wiseman’s anecdotes about businesses, her description of multipliers just made me think of Dr. Kerry. Did you ever have a professor who changed the course of your education? Who saw something in your work and pushed you beyond what you thought you could do? For me, it was Dr. Kerry. I also thought of my mother, who turned everything into a learning opportunity. Wiseman’s book dedication even reads, “To my children … who have taught me to lead and shown me why being a multiplier matters.” To paraphrase a famous talk show hostess, “I’m a leader! You’re a leader! Everyone’s a leader!” (Just be glad you’re reading this and didn’t have to hear my terrible Oprah impression in person.)

Human capital counts for everything.

Stephen R. Covey’s forward to Multipliers highlights just how critical human capital is. He explains, “I have become convinced that the biggest leadership challenge of our times is not insufficient resources per se, but rather our inability to access the most valuable resources at our disposal” (pg x). Organizations must make more from less. Even when resources are available, Wiseman offers a dozen anecdotes proving that throwing resources at a problem sometimes just creates more problems.

Multipliers are still tough.

Multipliers don’t belittle their employees, but they don’t coddle them either. They create an environment that offers both the comfort to use discretion and the pressure to perform. They let people make mistakes, but they expect people to learn from them. They create an environment that is intense (demanding), but not tense (stressful).

This seems like a difficult tightrope to walk, but we all know it when we see it. For me, this is one of the greatest traits of a multiplier.

Being a diminisher is more socially instinctive, but being a multiplier is actually easier.

Wiseman points out that many national or business cultures encourage being a diminisher. Micromanaging and constantly having to prove one’s intellect take much more effort than stepping back and letting one’s employees share the workload and responsibility. As a type-A and repentant control-freak, this was fantastic news.

Thankfully, Wiseman includes an entire chapter on how to become a multiplier. Her greatest piece of advice is to take “the lazy way” (pg 203):

1. Work the extremes. “Bring up your lowest low and take your highest high to the next level.”

2. Start with assumptions. Actions follow attitude, so think like a multiplier and see what happens.

3. Take the 30-day multiplier challenge. Work on one practice for one month, and keep that up for a year.

You don’t have to do it all at once, and you don’t have to be the best in everything. We can all improve our situation by being a better leader, a better parent, a better employee, a better teacher, a better spouse, and we can all benefit from a better understanding of what it means to multiply.

Supplemental Material

If you’re interested in the research methodology behind these findings, Wiseman and McKeown discuss it in depth in an appendix to the book. They also include an outline of the material from each chapter, which I highly recommend check out even if you don’t read the book. Don’t let this fool you into thinking you’ve gotten all this book has to give though.

To hear Liz Wiseman speak a bit more about being a multiplier, check out these links:

How You Can Become a Multiplier (Excerpt):

The Multiplying Effect: