Leadership: How to Use Your Influence to Create a Smarter Team

By Jessica Wishart

dateSun, Aug 30, 2015 @ 12:00 PM

I recently watched a webinar in which Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers and Rookie Smarts, discussed leadership-multipliersleadership and social influence. In the webinar, Wiseman shared how leaders can use their considerable influence to either bring out the best in those around them or to diminish them. If you think about leaders who have brought out your best, you probably were willing to follow them because of how you felt around them, how you were a more capable and intelligent version of yourself in the presence of that leader. These leaders are what Wiseman calls Multipliers. You can also probably think of leaders who drain you of your energy and make you doubt your own intelligence, leaders who shut you down from making your fullest potential contribution. These are what Wiseman calls Diminishers. 

Wiseman’s research determined that Multipliers get 95% of their team’s brains engaged while Diminishers only get about 48%. You can see that leaders who are functioning as Diminishers are wasting a lot of talent and potential. Fundamentally, they believe that they are the only ones who can solve problems; they don’t think their team can figure it out without them, which sends the message to the team that their contribution is not important. In contrast, Multipliers believe that their teams are smart and will figure it out; they are empowering, supportive, and trusting, but also challenging and demanding. They believe in others’ capabilities and expect a lot from their team members, which pushes the team to grow and learn and solve more complex challenges. Mulitpliers give people space to think and invite them to do hard, uncomfortable things; they are willing to let the team suffer a little while they are in the process of producing their best work. They encourage debate rather than make decisions and then try to get buy in later. They invest in their teams by letting others own things and be accountable for their own work. 

What's your leadership style? While none of us would like to think of ourselves as Diminishers, Wiseman shared that even those of us who have good intentions sometimes act in ways that accidentally diminish our team members. She shared some ways in which leaders unintentionally shut down smart, capable people around them:

  • "Idea guy" - This leader has a million ideas to share and does, believing that this will inspire others to think creatively, too. In fact, if the leader is too willing to offer ideas, the team will hold back and just wait for the leader to come up with something.
  • "Always-on” - This leader is bursting with energy, believing that it will be contagious and the team will catch their enthusiasm. If the leader is overly willing to contribute, once again the team usually holds back and defers to the leader’s ideas.
  • “Rescuer” - This leader doesn’t like to see people struggle or fail and swoops in to ensure success. When the leader is helpful too early or too often, the team becomes dependent or starts to believe that the leader doesn’t really expect them to be successful doing the work themselves.
  • “Pacesetter” - This leader believes that they can set a high standard that will inspire others to follow them. However, when the leader gets too far ahead of the team, the team is demoralized and gives up. This leader can end up creating spectators rather than followers.
  • “Rapid Responder” - This leader makes decisions fast to keep the team moving quickly. But, responding too quickly does not give the team space to figure the problem out themselves.
  • “Optimist” - This leader is always encouraging the team that they can do anything because they are smart and capable. While this sounds good, sometimes the team needs the leader to acknowledge that the work is challenging; they need validation that the work is hard not just a cheerleader.

You may recognize yourself in some of these leadership behaviors, but Wiseman says that doesn’t make you a Diminisher. However, she does recommend that you take the hard step to determine which behaviors of yours could unintentionally be having a diminishing impact on your team. You probably won’t be able to recognize this in yourself because your good intentions get in the way of seeing how your behaviors might be shutting down your team. She recommends having crucial conversations with your direct reports to determine how you might be getting in their way to reaching their fullest potential. It is important to create safety for them to share this feedback with you, so you might try “priming” or taking your best guess at what you might be doing that could be diminishing them. Even if your guess is way off, sharing it opens the door for your direct report to share more openly with you how you might be coming across in a way that you don’t intend. 

In addition to gathering feedback from your team, Wiseman also recommends these five fundamental shifts that can help you use your influence to multiply your team rather than diminish them:

  1. Ask Questions: 
    Shift away from making statements and giving answers to asking your team questions. Shift the burden of thinking to your team, and you’ll be surprised to learn how much they know. She recommends taking the “extreme question challenge” meaning that you lead a whole meeting or conversation by only asking questions, never making statements.
  2. Play Fewer Chips: 
    If you resonated with the “always-on” leader above, Wiseman recommends that you shift your style from contributing frequently and enthusiastically to saving up for a few meaningful contributions. So, in a meeting, you might have 5 chips to use, and you use them carefully. You can still go big and contribute enthusiastically when you use one of your chips, but other times be careful not to say much, and create space for others to step up and increase their influence.
  3. Name Someone’s Genius: 
    Help your team members name the ways that they can uniquely and most valuably contribute to your team. Invite a conversation with them about what that genius is. Then, put them on a challenge that utilizes their particular genius.
  4. Offer Big Challenges: 
    This shift is all about learning to stretch people to their limit without breaking them. Stretching the team with a big challenge creates tension, and to relieve the tension and discomfort, the team has to move forward and figure it out. If you don’t challenge your team enough, you are sending them the message that their contribution is small or not important, which causes them to disengage. Stretching them in a safe way creates energy and causes them to grow. For those of you who use our Rhythm methodology, this is the very reason we recommend putting SuperGreen stretch goals on all of your KPIs and Priorities.
  5. Give the Pen Back: 
    When your team is struggling, it is irresponsible not to help them. But, so that you don’t fall into the “rescuer” trap above, it is just as important to show restraint. Don’t solve the whole problem for them; give them some ideas to get started and then “give the pen back” to let them take it from there. You can offer help and guidance without taking their power and accountability away.

Hopefully, these tips from Liz Wiseman can help you multiply the capabilities of your team so that they can operate more intelligently, feel more fulfilled and challenged, and you can all do and be more together!


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Jessica Wishart


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