In your 17-year career at Oracle, you became interested in observing the best leaders around you, and found that they fell into two categories: geniuses and ‘genius makers’. Please explain the difference.
Oracle has always been known for hiring really smart people. But when I looked around at my colleagues, I noticed that some of them didn’t behave that way around certain leaders. Somehow, these leaders seemed to shut down the intelligence of the people around them, while other leaders seemed to amplify it. I came to call the leaders who shut it down ‘Diminishers’, and the ones that amplified it ‘Multipliers’ or genius makers. Not only were these individuals smart and capable themselves, they were able to bring out the smarts and capability in everyone around them.
As I studied the differences between these two kinds of leaders, I found that although they did many things alike, they did a small number of things very differently, particularly the way they managed talent. I still work in Silicon Valley, and so many of the companies here are just obsessed with hiring brilliant people. They comb through the universities and bring in the top graduates they can find. Diminishers love to hire smart people as much as the next person; but what I have noticed is, they don’t spend much effort thinking about how to utilize that intelligence once it’s in the door, and as a result, talent is often under-utilized.
Many of us have had a grandmother with a curio cabinet—those cabinets with all the pretty little objects inside. Everything is behind glass, to be admired but not to be used. That’s sort of the logic of diminishers: they go about acquiring the best resources possible, essentially ‘for show’.
Talk a bit about ‘the logic of addition’ vs. ‘the logic of multiplication’.
So many managers—myself included—have grown up with what I call ‘the logic of addition’. I was hired at Oracle at a time of rapid growth, and the way you solved all your problems was, you hired more resources. I started running the corporate university at a very young age—I was 24. All my friends thought that it was such a hard job, but it really wasn’t, because all I had to do was analyze how many people we were bringing in the door and what kind of training they needed; then I would go see my boss, the CFO, and ask for more resources. He might have challenged me over a percentage or two on the budget, but essentially, I was given whatever I said I needed to get the job done. Of course, then the dot-com bubble burst, and everything changed. Suddenly we all had no choice but to do more with less.
The logic of a Multiplier—whether in times of boom or bust—is the ‘logic of multiplication’: how can we get more from the resources we already have? My research shows that, amazingly, Multipliers get virtually all of people’s intelligence—95 per cent of it, while diminishers get less than half—48 per cent of people’s capability. So essentially, the organization is paying $1.00 and getting back 48 cents of value from the people they have hired who work under diminishing leaders.
The logic of multiplication entails saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got all this latent, unused intelligence inside of our organization; rather than hiring more people, why don’t we start by fully utilizing the people we already have?’ This not only makes sense for economic reasons, but because when you fully utilize talent, you create a vibrant, exhilarating place to work.
Talk a bit about how Multipliers deal with obstacles and impediments around their people.
Conventional logic is that as managers, we should remove obstacles for people. That is not what these multipliers do. If you really think about it, if you remove all the obstacles, you’re actually doing the hardest part of someone’s job. People don’t stretch themselves and increase their capability by doing rote work; it comes from struggling, from doing hard things. Imagine a pilot saying he’s going to train a young student pilot, but that he will do all the take-offs and landings. Oftentimes, this is what we to do as managers. Well say, ‘Okay, let me get you started’, or ‘Let me troubleshoot this for you’; and we end up—with the very best of intentions—shutting down smart, capable people.
There’s a whole breed of Diminishers that I call ‘Accidental Diminishers’, and I would actually throw myself into this category. These are well-intended leaders who are having a diminishing impact without even knowing it. Multipliers do something very different: they remove obstacles, but not hard problems that need to be solved. What they remove are the ‘blockers’—things that are impeding people’s progress, and quite often, this means other people. For instance, a Multiplier will be quick to remove a prima donna from the team—that person who says, ‘It’s my way or the highway’—because these people don’t allow their colleagues to think and to work at their fullest. The other blocker that Multipliers tend to remove is themselves: they just get themselves out of the way.
The late-great C.K. Prahalad was a very dear mentor of mine. We brought him into Oracle in the 1990s and I got to be his sidekick and mentee for years. I will always remember one of the things he said to me: “Liz, some leaders are like Banyan trees. They’re lovely and they provide shade, but nothing grows underneath them.” As managers, we have to be really careful about this.
Talk a bit about the difference between a tense work environment and an intense one.
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[This article has been reprinted, with permission, from Rotman Management, the magazine of the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management]
Thank you Liz, good article. Well I guess you are referring to \"responsible delegation\".on Nov 11, 2014