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Hardbound

The Leadership Manifesto
What's your leadership style and is it the ideal one? Find out more in Liz Wiseman's 'Multipliers'

The Diminisher’s view of intelligence is based on elitism and scarcity. Diminishers appear to believe that really intelligent people are a rare breed and I am one of the few really smart people. They then conclude, other people will never figure things out without me.

I recall a leader I worked with whom I can only describe as an intellectual supremacist. This senior executive ran a technology organisation of over 4,000 highly educated knowledge workers. Most of these employees were graduates of top universities from around the world. I joined one of his management meetings in which twenty members of his senior management team were troubleshooting an important go-to-market problem for one of their products. As we walked out of the meeting, we were reflecting on the conversation and the decisions made. He stopped, turned to me, and calmly said, “In meetings, I typically only listen to a couple of people. No one else really has anything to offer.” I think he saw the alarm on my face because after his words came out, he added the awkward postscript, “Well, of course you are one of these people.” I doubted it. Out of the top 20 managers representing a division of 4,000 people, he believed only a couple had anything to offer. As we walked down the hallway, we passed by rows and rows of cubicles and offices occupied by his staff. Seen through new eyes, this expanse now suddenly looked like a massive brainpower wasteland. I wanted to make a public announcement and tell them all that they could go home since their senior executive didn’t think they had much to offer.

In addition to assuming intelligence is a scarce commodity, Diminishers see intelligence as static, meaning it doesn’t change over time or circumstance. Our research showed that Diminishers see intelligence as something basic about a person that can’t change much. This is consistent with what Dr Carol Dweck, noted psychologist and author, calls a fixed mindset, which is a belief that one’s intelligence and qualities are carved in stone. Diminishers two-step logic appears to be people who don’t get it now, never will; therefore, I’ll need to keep doing the thinking for everyone. In the Diminisher world, there is no vacation for the smart people!

You can probably predict how the executive described above actually operated on a day-to-day basis. You might ask yourself how you would operate if, deep down, you held these beliefs. You would probably tell people what to do, make all the important decisions, and jump in and take over when someone appeared to be failing. And in the end, you would almost always be right, because your assumptions would cause you to manage in a way that produced subordination and dependency.

Multipliers hold very different assumptions. Multipliers have a rich view of the intelligence of the people around them. If Diminishers see the world of intelligence in black and white, Multipliers see it in Technicolor. They don’t see a world where just a few people deserve to do the thinking; Multipliers see intelligence as continually developing. This observation is consistent with what Dweck calls a growth mindset, which is a belief that basic qualities like intelligence and ability can be cultivated through effort. They assume: people are smart and will figure it out. They see their organisation as full of talented people who are capable of contributing at much higher levels. They think like one manager we interviewed who takes stock of her team members by asking herself, In what way is this person smart? In answering this question, she finds colorful capabilities often hidden just below the surface. Instead of writing people off as not worth her time, she is able to ask, What could be done to develop and grow these capabilities? She then finds an assignment that both stretches the individual and furthers the interests of the organisation.

Such Multipliers look at the complex opportunities and challenges swirling around them and assume: there are smart people everywhere who will figure this out and get even smarter in the process. Therefore, they conclude that their job is to bring the right people together in an environment that liberates people’s best thinking and then to get out of their way.

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