“I have smart people but I underutilize their potential,” the CEO confessed. “I don’t know what I should do differently though. I feel like I am the #1 bottleneck in my organization.”

My client was right: she was a genius with a thousand helpers, and she needed to become a genius maker in order to accelerate her business growth. Some leaders are great at amplifying the intelligence of others. What do they do differently?

The short answer is: they have developed a number of habits to make people around them smarter. Researcher Liz Wiseman identified these habits in her book “Multipliers.”

Why is it a problem?

Liz Wiseman’s research shows that managers are utilizing just 76% of their direct reports’ capabilities on average. In other words, you pay people for 100% of their time, but you waste 24% of it.

Most of our diminishing tendencies are accidental – despite our best intentions, we diminish our team from time to time.

Accidental diminishing tendencies are obviously a blind spot. But we may not uncover all of them in the feedback from our team members: some love being diminished – because in the short term it makes their life easier.

Regardless of whether our diminishing tendencies are accidental or not, the impact, in the long run, is that they curtail the personal development of our team members, prevent us from accessing our team’s full intelligence, and consequently increase our frustration about our team’s inability to rise to the challenges – and ultimately prevent us from growing our business to its full potential.

How can I become more of a Multiplier?

Multipliers “make people around them smarter and more capable; they assume that people are smart and will figure it out. They believe that intelligence and abilities can be cultivated through effort.” Diminishers on the other hand assume that people “can’t figure it out without them; they have a fixed mindset towards their team members’ intelligence.”

By analyzing data on more than a hundred leaders Liz Wiseman’s team was able to identify 5 disciplines that differentiate Multipliers from Diminishers. Multipliers are: 

1. Genius makers

Multipliers assume that everyone has a genius (even that team member who keeps failing at this seemingly simple task that you repeatedly explained how to do, which drives you crazy); their task is to find and help extend it. Their questions are:

  • In what way is each team member smart? What do they naturally and easily excel at doing? The question is not whether a team member has a genius; the question is what their genius is.
  • How can you better develop and leverage each team member’s genius?
  • How can you remove the roadblocks to talent growth? For instance: getting the right people in the right seats, getting rid of prima donnas, or getting out of your team’s way.
2. Liberators

Multipliers create a safe environment where everyone has permission to think; a space where mistakes are made and corrected, and where learning is captured. Their environment is intense but not stressful. They experiment with the waterline between failure as a learning experience and where it may sink the ship. They realize that the area where it is not OK to fail is much smaller than initially thought. Diminishers on the other hand create a stressful environment where team members are afraid of failure and of judgment. 

3. Challengers

Multipliers identify opportunities that cause people to stretch beyond what they think they can achieve. They ask their team members: “What would be your Mission Impossible? What would be a stretch assignment for you?” Diminishers on the other hand assume that part of their job is to know more than their team members. Diminishers give answers; Multipliers ask questions. 

4. Debate makers

Multipliers make decisions by bringing people together – they understand that diverging opinions shared in rigorous fact-based debates lead to better decisions. They ask questions that challenge conventional thinking. Diminishers tend to make decisions on their own or within a small inner circle. 

5. Investors

Multipliers give their team members ownership of their success, trust them, and invest in them – the exact opposite of micro-managers. And when a team member fails, they don’t fix the problem: they coach the team member into finding the solution by asking questions like “How would you propose we solve this?” 

How can I become less of a Diminisher?

Becoming a Multiplier often starts with becoming less of a Diminisher.

The thing is: Most of our diminishing tendencies are accidental – despite our best intentions, we diminish our team from time to time.

We all have accidental diminisher moments, even the very best leaders: despite our best intentions we accidentally shut down good ideas and smart people. The secret is to know what your main accidental diminishing tendencies are, spot them in action, and learn to turn these situations into Multiplier moments.

During her research for her book “Multipliers” Liz Wiseman identified 9 accidental diminishing tendencies. Which one is your main diminishing tendency?

  • Idea Fountain
    • Generates ideas 24/7 and assumes that the more ideas they toss, the more they will spark ideas in others.
    • Issue: people become idea-lazy; permanent standstill due to continuous “ideas du jour.”
  • Always On
    • Big personality that can fill a room; assumes that their energy is contagious.
    • Issue: drains their team’s energy (no “off” button).
  • Rescuer
    • Doesn’t like to see other people struggle or make mistakes, or fail. Saves the day after the problems arise. Wants to see other people succeed.
    • Issue: makes people dependent and helpless; reduces people’s self-confidence.
  • Pacesetter
    • Achievement-oriented leader who leads by example and sets high standards. Assumes that people will follow and catch up.
    • Issue: people become spectators or give up.
  • Rapid responder
    • Quick to take action and troubleshoot problems. Makes fast micro-decisions.
    • Issue: generates low-grade apathy (”why bother if the boss will respond to the email anyway?”).
  • Optimist
    • Always sees possibilities and believes most problems can be tackled with hard work. Glass half full.
    • Issue: undervalues the team’s struggle – pushing others to get preoccupied with the downside.
  • Protector
    • Mama bear: shields staff from the hazards of corporate life. Keep their people safe from problems.
    • Issue: can prevent their people from taking full accountability, who don’t learn to fend for themselves.
  • Strategist
    • Big thinker who casts a compelling vision of the future – and sells it well.
    • Issue: can be too prescriptive; people stop trying to find answers themselves.
  • Perfectionist
    • Appreciates excellence; sets high standards and wants people around them to have the satisfaction to reach perfection. Offers a lot of critiques and feedback.
    • Issue: team can become disengaged and disheartened.

Liz Wiseman’s team has developed a set of tools to remedy each of these accidental diminishing tendencies. The overall philosophy is: you need to do less in order to achieve more.

For instance:

  • When there is silence in a meeting, count to 5 before speaking up.
  • Speak less often in meetings.
  • Ask more questions and give fewer answers.
  • Put someone else in charge of a project and give them the decision power – you will weigh in, but if there is disagreement, they (not you) will make the final call.
  • Wait 24 hours before responding to emails you are copied on.

Practically speaking: What can I start doing today?

  1. Ask yourself the following questions:
  • How much intelligence do I get out of my team?
  • What is my native genius? Which of these 5 Multiplier disciplines do I apply best?
  • How do I accidentally diminish my team members? This free Accidental Diminisher quiz can help you gain some perspective.

2. Share your insights with a couple of your colleagues, and get their feedback with questions like:

    • How might I be shutting down the ideas and actions of others, despite having the best intentions?
    • What am I inadvertently doing that might be having a diminishing impact on others?
    • How might my intentions be interpreted differently by others? What messages might my actions actually be conveying?
    • What could I do differently?

3. Identify one thing that you will do differently starting today to address your top diminishing tendency.

Becoming a Multiplier is about doing less (and telling less) in order to achieve more. The good news is: there is always more intelligence inside our organization than we are using. As soon as we improve our Multiplier’s habits a little, great things happen to our companies and our teams.

 

As a business growth coach, I work with founders of mid-market companies who are frustrated because their business is not growing the way they want. Often they don’t utilize 100% of their team’s full potential. My passion is to help leadership teams define their actionable growth strategy, create a culture of accountability, and become better leaders – so they can grow faster and with less pain. I would like to learn about your growth roadblocks; contact me to discuss at Xavier@AmbroseGrowth.com.

What about you? How much of your team’s intelligence do you get? What is your strongest Multiplier habit? What is your #1 accidental diminishing tendency, and how does that affect your team, yourself, and your business growth?

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“My company has lots of potential, but I just feel my employees are not engaged. If I don’t push, nothing seems to happen. I’m working night and day and we’re still missing 40% of our targets. I once dreamed of being a firefighter, I guess that dream has come true. All I do is put out fires, I have no time to focus on my business.”

Sound familiar? CEOs and leadership teams can change this picture, it’s all about accountability. Creating a fierce culture of accountability starts with the CEO and leadership team.

Why is accountability important?

Accountability is about owning a problem. You want employees to behave as if they own the piece of business that they are running. When you are accountable for a specific result, you will do whatever it takes to achieve it – and you would like your team to perform this way as well.

Carlos Brito, the CEO of brewing company AB Inbev, summarizes his views on accountability in these words: “We always compare that to a rental car: you drive a rental car in a different way than your own car. With a rental car someone else will live with the consequences of your driving. With your car, you know that it will be yours the next days, months, and years, and you know that you will be living with the consequences of your driving. Employees who behave like owners are here for the long term, and they will live with the consequences of their decisions – good or bad – and that builds a great company.”

Why am I having accountability issues?

Accountability issues are very common among growing companies. When you founded your company, you were personally accountable for everything. As your company grew you started delegating the responsibilities for some results – e.g. production, customer service, or sales. However, you may not have created the communication channels required to hold your teams accountable. Why would you? You didn’t need any of this yourself, and yet you grew your business successfully. Why would these smart managers need anything different?

For one, your employees are not you. If they were, they would not be working for you: they would start their own business. Second, your company is now more complex than we you started: it has more people involved, and all these people now need to be on the same page. Third, when you started your company with a few employees, you could be on top of each of them and had short communication lines: you knew what everybody was doing, all the time. Now that your company has more employees it is impossible for you to manage them the same way: this would soak up all your time.  This is exactly why you need to put a system in place that will achieve what you want (ie create accountability), without you spending all your time on it.

In the book “Creating a Culture of Accountability” Gravitas Impact business coach Mark Green describes ways to increase your team’s accountability. This article outlines five of them

1. Lead by example

Like many aspects related to company culture, accountability starts with you and your leadership team. In order to create a culture of accountability you have to model the behaviors that you want to see in your organization. When it comes to accountability the rule is simple: when you make a commitment as a leader, you have to keep it. If you don’t, why should anyone else be interested in doing so? You can’t complain that employees miss their deadlines if you are occasionally late as well. As a CEO “all eyes and ears within your business are focused on you. What you say and what you do are invisibly and constantly observed, scrutinized and evaluated as your managers and employees are looking for clues as to how they should behave,” explains Mark Green.

Leading by example is not only about you sticking to your commitments, but also about your expectations from your team – and your behavior when your managers don’t meet your expectations. If your team members notice that there are no consequences for missing targets, why would they try their best? Similarly, if you tolerate one of your team members to produce poor results, why would other team members feel pressured to produce quality? When you hold your team to a higher standards, you are sending a strong signal across the organization.

2. Have the right people on the right seat

Without the right people on the right seat, nothing of what you can do will significantly increase accountability. The key question is: would you enthusiastically rehire everybody on your team? I advise my clients to assess employees on two dimensions; performance and adherence to company values. You will find more information on how to use this tool in this article.

Once you have the right people on your team you need to clarify their area of accountability. This is less obvious than it looks. The key question is: Who is accountable for each of the key functions in your company? As Mark Green explains “the exercise often reveals that there isn’t a single individual accountable for each function. When more than one person is “accountable”, nobody is accountable. It is easy to make assumptions that things will get done, but when there is not a designated person to account for a particular result, chances are, it is not going to happen. In this kind of environment, it is also easy to point fingers – Bob thought Mary would handle it, and vice versa. Other times, you’ll discover that a particular role hasn’t been filled by anyone at all; it is just implied that it will somehow be handled. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t!”

3. Clarify priorities

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” wrote best-selling author Stephen Covey. “Individuals or organizations with too many priorities have no priorities and risk spinning their wheels and accomplishing nothing of significance,” says Verne Harnish in his book “Scaling Up.” Focus on a small number of priorities that will have the biggest impact on your goals, make sure that everyone on your leadership team is aligned on them – and communicate them broadly.

When employees understand where your organization is going and which role they play in it, they work less selfishly and they tend to make better business decisions on behalf of the company – simply because they can see the impact of their decisions and how they impact overall results.

4. Define clear action plans and metrics

Once you have identified who on the leadership team is accountable for each function and what your top priorities are, the next step is for each of your leaders to answer Mark Green’s key question: “What are the 3 most important results the company expects you deliver in exchange for paying your salary – and how should these results be measured? This step determines the results and metrics for each of your leadership functions. As we all know, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. If you want to increase the speed and quality of a particular service you offer, you should establish specific metrics to gauge those factors and identify metrics and targets for them. You may determine if you reach or surpass a target for three months in a row, you have achieved that objective.” Pick specific metrics, make sure that your leadership team is on the same page and that everybody aims for the clearly defined results – so that the rest of your organization can follow your lead.

Similarly, once you have defined top quarterly priorities, the question becomes: what do you and your team need to do in each of the next 13 weeks in order to achieve priorities? There are only 13 weeks in a quarter – if you do NOT view your quarter as a 13-week race, you will lose weeks and time which you will NOT get back. A weekly plan clarifies what can be expected every week, in order to meet expectations at the end of the quarter. It also makes it much easier for your leadership team to hold people accountable to their own 13-week plan.

5. Establish a metronome-like meeting rhythm

Just as a metronome calls time and sets tempo in a musical performance, so do a small set of consistently executed meetings to hold you and your team accountable, and keep everyone on the same page. The essential regular meetings are:

  • Daily huddles (no more than 10 to 15 minutes) to evaluate progress on the very short-term priorities and identify any blocking issues.
  • Weekly huddles (no more than 90 minutes) to review the status of the 13-week plan and course-correct if needed.
  • Monthly and quarterly meetings to review progress on the priorities, take corrective actions when needed, and identify new priorities for the upcoming quarter.

I often notice that the most impactful meetings to drive accountability are the daily and weekly huddles: they create peer pressure and hence take the heat off your shoulders as the leader. They also improve communication: You won’t need to have the same water-cooler conversation three of four times, as is the case when you rely on chance hallway meetings for communication. And finally they enable collective intelligence to solve problems.

Conclusion

In the end, how much difference do these tools make on accountability? Pretty big, as this example from another Gravitas Impact business coach, Glen Dall, demonstrates in Mark Green’s book “Creating a Culture of Accountability”: “I worked with the CEO of a multi-location dental practice. The CEO had started with one practice that they grew very successfully – and then began expanding. At one point employee turnover rates increased to 200%. The leadership team would plan and set goals, but frequently failed to achieve them. The growth rate was declining. The CEO felt over-extended, frustrated and stressed.”

With the leadership team Glen Dall leveraged these tools to have the right people on the right seat, set priorities and targets, as well as establish a proven system to follow up on them. The result? “After our first 6 months of working together, the CEO told me, “You should be proud of how far you’ve brought the team. I feel that we have accomplished more in the past 6 months than we were able in the last 7 years.” That is the power of accountability.”

As a business growth coach, I work with founders of mid-market companies who are frustrated because their business is not growing the way they want; my passion is to help them identify and remove the growth roadblocks they have been hitting so they can grow faster and with less pain. Often their roadblocks include a lack of accountability: they have no system in place to regularly follow up on their team’s many commitments, or their teams don’t have clear priorities and metrics. I would like to learn about your growth roadblocks; contact me to discuss at Xavier@AmbroseGrowth.com.

What about you? How accountable is your team? How has Covid impacted accountability? Over the past couple of years, how many quarters has your company reached and missed their targets? What were the consequences of hitting targets, and what were the consequences of missing them? Do you have clear metrics and regular meetings in place to follow up on each of your priorities?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.