Flipping the (Lightbulb) Switch: Leading Like a “Multiplier”

A book review by Brad Lich

How does “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter,” by Liz Wiseman, drive innovative thinking, leadership or strategy?
The book is built around the premise that there is more intelligence inside our organizations than we are using. Essentially, we as leaders are failing to fully empower and leverage the collective capabilities of our organizations. Although this is not a completely new or novel concept, Liz Wiseman takes a very practical approach to exploring the impact of leaders’ behaviors on those around them. I am confident that when consistently demonstrated, the multiplier mindset and five disciplines she outlines truly enable innovative thinking and outperformance. The foundation is a leadership mindset that people are smart and will figure “it” out, so leadership’s role is to bring the right talent together to focus on the top opportunities or challenges. This is in direct opposition to the mindset that people won’t figure “it” out without the leader’s involvement. I suspect most leaders would believe they have the mindset of a “multiplier.” Liz does a great job highlighting how leaders’ actual behaviors might communicate something quite different. In fact, I would conclude that all leaders, at times, become “accidental diminishers” where they stifle the creativity and performance of their group. The approach she takes to sharing the deep research that underpins her work and summarizing it along five dimensions provides leaders with a practical approach to exploring the impact of their own behaviors.

What is your favorite quote from the book and why?
“I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow,” which is attributed to Woodrow Wilson. I have always believed that my number one job as a leader is to surround myself with great people and enable them. For me, this is not just about our internal organization but how you do this more broadly across the value system. It's “How do we bring in the best thinking from outside?”

What insights did you gain from the book?
The top one is that there is fine line between “multiplying” the team’s talent and “diminishing” it. For instance, passion and enthusiasm from a leader can be quite inspiring. However, taken too far, it can become overwhelming and stifling. Liz refers to the “always on” leader and highlights that this style results in “everyone else is always off.” Again, not a complete revelation. But when she goes through the examples, it is easy to see how fine the line can become in many situations. She’s got a nice little light switch [illustration]. It's that reminder that any of us engaged and trying to help a team can cross that line very quickly to where it's no longer inspiring and exciting but very stifling and constraining. That's a reminder for me, personally.

Brad Lich

Did you have any aha moments while reading the book?
Yes. I display more of the behaviors of an “accidental diminisher” than I would like. And the potential solution is rather simple — do less and challenge more. The book’s prescription: do less talking, do less responding, do less convincing, etc. Sounds simple, but personal change is hard, so my leadership journey continues!

How do you think this book can make a difference or impact others?
In today’s dynamic global economy, most organizations are stretched and don’t have the ability to add the resources they need to tackle new challenges and opportunities. Therefore, every leader and individual needs to strive to determine how to multiply the output of the team. This book provides a very thoughtful analysis of the challenge of an “overworked but underutilized” organization and provides a practical set of actions that a leader can take to make a real impact. Personally, I believe every one of us has some capacity to be a “diminisher,” so becoming self-aware of these tendencies and more intentional in how we lead can make a real difference for all stakeholders. Today’s world needs more innovation, not less. Therefore, we must figure out how to take our own leadership to the next level and fully unlock the potential of our teams. The reality is many of today’s problems will only be solved via co-innovation across value chains, so this becomes of even greater importance.

Brad Lich is executive vice president and chief commercial officer at Eastman. He is responsible for the company’s Advanced Materials and Fibers segments as well as the leadership of Marketing, Sales, Procurement and regional organizations.