Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman demonstrates how Multipliers can have a resoundingly positive and profitable effect on organizations—getting more done with fewer resources, developing and attracting talent, and cultivating new ideas and energy to drive organizational change and innovation. I recently had a chance to connect with Liz and ask her a few questions about her bestselling book.

Thanks Liz for taking time from your busy schedule to answer these questions.

Q: In the “Instill Ownership and Accountability” section of Multipliers, you recommend letting people remain accountable for their actions and experience consequences. This is a message I experience difficulty in applying since typical management training says that managers should protect their staff. Under what situation, if any, do you believe managers should attempt to protect their staff from the consequences of their actions?

A: This question is at the heart of the art of good management.  It is certainly naive to suggest that managers should just let their people fail and experience the sting of real learning.  But, I find that in working with management teams on this question, they find that there is far more room for experimentation that they initially thought.  Here’s a quick mental exercise:   Take out two pieces of paper.  On one, make a list of everywhere it is OK to let someone live out a mistake or fail. On the other, make a list of where it isn’t OK and you need to intervene.  Focus on the criteria.  Challenge yourself by making the second list no more than half as long as the first list.  My guess is that two things will happen:

1. You will see that there is a lot more room to experiment that you might feel and

2. You will develop a short set of criteria that you can use to recognize when you need to step in.

Typically this criteria is something like, “when it is business ending, life ending, or career ending (for them or you!).”  Often the criteria for when it is OK to let failure happen sounds like this: “when the opportunity for learning is bigger than the cost to the business.”

Doing this exercise as a management team can be a powerful way to shape the culture and the environment for learning and performance.

The art of management comes in finding this right balance.  When is the mistake too costly and might seriously jeopardize the business or the person?  I like to think of this as finding the right size wave — one where someone will learn from their mistake and not be swept out to sea!  Check out my new Right Size Wave video for the full story.

Q: In the Debate Decisions section of Multipliers, you discuss the successful techniques that multipliers (acting as Debate Makers) take to engage their team. In certain situations there may not be adequate time to engage the team in the usual manner. How should a good Debate Maker handle a ‘crunch time’ situation when there is with limited or no time for debate?

A: I love this question because Debate can be easily used for crunch situations.  Here are two suggestions.

1.  Stop and prep for two minutes.  We find that the best debates are not spontaneous, but rather delayed when people can take time to prepare and to formulate an opening position.  When I am pressed for time, I like to ask the group to stop and do a silent, two-minute prep before we proceed with the live debate and decisions.  In these two minutes, I ask people to pause and outline a) their position on the issue and b) evidence to support this position.  The key is to do it silently, so people are forced to think and to formulate their own thoughts before being influenced by others.

There is now mounting evidence that suggests that we do our best collective work (such as brainstorming) when we first do rigorous individual thinking.  This allows us to bring our best thinking into a discussion and debate.

There aren’t too many crunch decisions when you can’t stop for two minutes to prep!

2.  Debate like a 3rd grader.  There is a fun method called “shared inquiry” that is taught by the Junior Great Books foundation that is a fast form of debate.  The leader has three roles. 1) Ask the question, 2) Ask for evidence and 3) Ask everyone.  This simple technique actually creates significant rigor because everyone learns to cite data and evidence to support their opinions.  And, because everyone gets asked, all points of view get surfaced.

Q: What was the most surprising finding that you discovered as part of writing Multipliers?

The big finding of Multipliers is that Multipliers get twice the capability (or intelligence) from the people that work for them compared with Diminishers.  What is even more surprising is that as we continue to study this, we find that in hierarchical cultures (often found in Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America) this 2X effect is actually 3X and more.

My favorite surprise finding is that Multipliers tend to have a strong sense of humor.  Or, perhaps expressed another way, Diminishers lack a sense of humor.  I’m particularly fond of this one because I was, among other things, voted “class clown” of my high-school graduating class, and I’ve been trying to years to convince my mother that this didn’t bring shame to our family.  ;)

Q: Is there a story or finding from your research that was not included in Multipliers that may be of interest to readers?

Over the last two years, readers have shared hundreds, maybe thousands, of stories of the amazing Multipliers they worked with.  But, my favorite stories are about the new generation of Multipliers — people who read the book and decide to lead more like a Multiplier themselves.  All over the world are everyday managers, teachers and parents who take small steps and have amazing impact on the people they lead.  One of my favorites was an AV technician at Nike, Inc who was in the AV booth during my presentation there and was inspired by this idea of The Extreme Question Challenge that I used one night at home while getting my kids to bed.  He decided to give it a try that night at home with his five young children.  He said it changed the way he and his wife operate as parents and has changed their home.  He is an everyday Multiplier that inspires me.

Q: How can readers learn more about your work and the Multipliers book?

They can learn more by visiting the following web sites: www.multipliersbook.com or www.thewisemangroup.com

Q: What is the last you book you read or are currently reading?

Great by Choice by the incomparable Jim Collins. Unleash genius in everyone!

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