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Administrator Magazine: Leadership
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Multipliers: Liz Wiseman on School Leadership

Good leadership isn’t about being the smartest person in the school, says Multipliers coauthor Liz Wiseman. It’s about recognizing the talent that’s lurking in your teachers’ lounge, front office, and classrooms.

By Jacqueline Heinze

Imagine being the kind of leader who brings out the best in his staff, his students, and the community; the kind of leader who can actually increase people's brainpower. Imagine how much more work would get done more quickly and with fewer resources. If you're not already this kind of leader, you can be. Liz Wiseman, coauthor of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, explains how you can make a change.

Q In the book, you've suggested that there are two types of leaders. One kind you call the multiplier. What kind of leader is this?
A A multiplier is a leader, a manager, a teacher, a parent, or a colleague who amplifies intelligence in another person. Multipliers use their smarts and intellect to bring out the intelligence and genius of the people around them. We call them genius makers.

Q The other type of leader you identify as the diminisher. How is the diminisher different?
A Diminishers drain the intelligence out of other people. They are so focused on their own intelligence that they often don't see the intelligence of others. Or they have such a need to be the smartest person in the room, that for them to be big, other people need to be small. They're like vampires; they have the ability to suck the intelligence and life right out of an organization.

Q Why is it essential, especially today, that leaders are multipliers?
A Resources are constrained everywhere right now. In businesses, organizations, and in schools, people are letting go of critical positions and scaling back. When you are forced to scale back, you can do one of two things. One, sit back and wait—for additional resources, for budgets to increase—in hopes that you can rehire and get that talent back. Or, you can look inside your school or organization and see that there may be underutilized talent and intelligence right there. Although people seem overworked on the surface, they might actually be underutilized intellectually. The brainpower for solving some of your problems and challenges might be sitting right in front of you.

Q So being a multiplier can help your bottom line?
A Multipliers don't just get a little more from their people, they get vastly more. When we asked people how much of their capability, their ideas, their energy diminishers got from them versus multipliers, we found that diminishers on average got 48 percent of people's brainpower. Multipliers on average got 97 percent. So you can actually double the brainpower of your organization for free. You don't need additional resources to potentially get twice the capability out of the staff you already have.

Q Can anyone be a multiplier?
A Anyone who wants to be can. All practices of a multiplier can be learned and developed. In our research, we identified five disciplines that multipliers do fundamentally different than diminishers. [See the sidebar, 5 Disciplines of the Multipliers.]

Q What's the most basic trait of a multiplier?
A All multipliers hold a set of assumptions about people's intelligence. They see intelligence in abundance and believe it exists in multiple forms. Diminishers believe that people are either smart or dumb, that intelligence is a gift for life. But multipliers believe there are lots of ways in which people are smart, and that they will figure it out.

Q To be a multiplier, do you have to be a feel-good, warm and fuzzy type of leader?
A No, it's not feel-good leadership. To be a multiplier requires much discipline. Although people love—love—to work for multipliers, these leaders are not necessarily the type to come up and give you a big hug. These leaders can be tough, demanding bosses. They ask people to do hard things and they expect people to do great work. People who work for them say that although they are exhausted, they are also exhilarated. They say, "I would work for this person forever."

Q How could you start to be a multiplier tomorrow?
A I would recommend three very concrete starting points. First, ask your staff, students, teachers, and even the community questions that really make them think and contemplate what's possible. Don't ask yes or no questions. Ask people the kinds of questions that make them go, "Oh, that's an interesting challenge. I'm tempted to jump in and help solve that problem." Second, create debate on an important decision. Instead of playing the role of decision maker, play the role of debate maker. Assemble people who have insight and knowledge, open things up for debate, and just watch as people make intelligent contributions. Then, as the leader, drive that to a sound decision. Third, allow people to discover needs directly. As a school administrator, show staff, teachers, and the community firsthand what the problem is and then get out of the way and let those people respond to it.


About the Author

Jacqueline Heinze is a contributing editor at Scholastic Administr@tor.

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