BB 012 | Leadership Development

    I spoke with Liz about her research over the past 8 years on what the best leaders do to build up the people around them.“The most intelligent leaders, really smart, capable people, don’t always engender intelligence in those around them,” says Wiseman. “Their presence as a leader costs the presence of others. They often take up too much space.”

    Wiseman calls these scene stealers “diminishers” and points out that when they walk into a room, it often goes quiet. Why? Because their employees know that the leader has to be the smartest person in the room. Wiseman jokes that anyone who has ever worked for even a week knows the type. But it’s not funny when you consider that Wiseman’s research shows that under diminishers, people work at 50% of their capability.

    Listen to the Podcast here:

    How Can Your Leadership Development Make Your Staff Smarter? With Expert Liz Wiseman

    My guest is Liz Wiseman. She is the Founder and the President of The Wiseman Group. She’s also the author of the very popular book, Multipliers: How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. Liz, thanks so much for joining me.

    Karen, it is always a pleasure to talk with you.

    We’ve known each other for quite a while, several decades. We met when you were first heading up Oracle University, correct?

    Yeah. I’d like to say we met as a child, sometimes people say that. I think in this case, I really felt like a child because I had joined Oracle when they were this small but rapidly growing company. I think I got thrown into management and put in charge of the university and human resource at a very young age. It was relying on people like you who could help us grow this company and this ability. It’s been a long time.

    You were always very respected in the jobs that you did. I know people around you felt really empowered. You’ve taken that idea and turned it into a whole consulting practice and three books, correct?

    BB 012 | Leadership Development

    Leadership Development: Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter

    Yeah, it’s been three books. Multipliers was my first. I did a version of that, The Multiplier Effect, looking at some of these issues for educational leaders, which was a really fun project. My most recent book was Rookie Smarts; looking at why sometimes being new to something is actually an incredible advantage, particularly right now. Those are the three pieces of work I’ve done.

    I wanted to talk with you a little bit about some particular aspects of the work you do and how it applies to leadership and leaders having a personal brand. We always think of, for example, leaders who are optimistic as that’s a really great personal brand to have. That’s a great brand as a leader to be optimistic. You have an interesting point of view about that, that that doesn’t necessarily lead to people being empowered around you. Can you talk a little bit about that?

    I’ve spent the last eight years studying the impact that leaders have on their organizations. What I found is that when leaders possess a trait in abundance, it doesn’t mean that that trait is contagious. Other people don’t necessarily pick up and catch on. The gist of the research I did, it started with looking at the intelligence of a leader and the effect that had on the intelligence of the team. This probably isn’t going to shock anyone who’s ever held a job for more than a week. The most intelligent leaders, really smart capable people, don’t always engender intelligence around them. There are certain leaders, I call them diminishers, that are really super smart, capable, know a lot, that they end up shutting down the intelligence of people around them. You know these people because when they walk in a room, it gets quiet. People hold back and play it safe. They’re smart but they shut down the intelligence of other people.

    I looked at that and said, “Why is it that a super smart person doesn’t end up building a super smart team?” I looked at that relative to other leaders that I came to call multipliers that they were also really smart. I saw how they used their intelligence in a very different way. They have this contagious or you might say a viral intelligence. People around them, instead of holding back and making space for them, their intelligence wasn’t a ceiling on the group. It was more of a floor. It became a starting point and people around them contributed and played big and did their very best work. People were at their best around them. I found that this takes some really interesting nuances. Sometimes the smartest leaders don’t generate the smartest team. Sometimes leaders who have a really big presence can end up shutting down people around them. Their presence as a leader actually costs the presence of others. They take up too much space.

    It’s been my observation, trying to lead for a lot of years, but really watching great leaders, is that the best leaders know when it’s time to be big and they know when it’s time to be small and create room for other people. We think of presence and we often think of big. We think of a leader giving a speech, waving her arms, commanding respect and attention. It can end up putting so much attention on the leaders that other people either are shut down or other people step back and say, “He’s got it all figured out. Let’s let him do his thing.” They end up becoming more of spectators rather than true followers.

    We do think of personal branding as being a positive thing. I always say this, “A personal brand is not necessarily always a good thing to have.” You can have leaders who have a very negative personal brand. What you’re saying is that you can have leaders that are so strong in their own personal brand that they don’t leave space or room for other people to contribute, to be great in their way.

    I think those people who have such a strong brand, and that brand may be a function of their intellect. We know some people, their brand as a leader is just how smart they are. People want to follow them because he’s a genius or she’s amazing and courageous or whatever it is. Those people end up being what I consider to be the raging diminisher. They end up consuming all the oxygen in the room. They suffocate other people because they’re so big. What I find is so much more interesting is not this raging diminisher, it’s the accidental diminisher. The leader who wants other people to be big, wants to empower people, wants other people to do their best thinking and their best work. They’re not actually thwarting other people, “No, you don’t get air time. No, I don’t really want you to think. I’ll do the thinking for us.” The accidental leader, it’s so much more subtle. People respect them and they come to depend on them and they often go to these people. The leader becomes the go-to person. They go to them for answers. They end up getting weak around this.

    We’ve probably all had this experience where you’re good at something and so you’re continually using that strength, but then you start working with someone who’s really good at something. Everyone has a boss like this. I’m pretty good at dealing people and working with customers and customer services per se. I know, Karen, that’s an area where you’ve had a lot of expertise. I had this one boss who was brilliant at talking with customers. We would get in a room together. I’m not shy. I’m not a particularly shy person, but when it came to those kinds of issues to working with customers, I was good at it but he was great at it. I deferred to him. It was always great because he could always do just a little bit better job than I could. I was pleased to let him do that. You can imagine, if you follow this train of logic, pretty soon he’s doing all that. I’m now walking two steps behind him to the point where I don’t even really open my mouth on these things because it’s just easier to let him do that. He was not some raging diminisher who said, “No, Liz, I’ll handle this.” It was just I became lazy because he was so good at it.

    I think part of what you’re saying is there are leaders and executives, and we’ve all met them, where they just think they’re the smartest person in the room. I think that’s what you’re calling the raging diminisher. They’re the smartest person in the room so no one else talks because there’s no point. Then there are these people that are talented at something as an executive or a leader. Maybe they’re just not aware of how the way they’re managing that intelligence or that presence is impacting other people. Is it a function of awareness?

    It really is. It’s a function of awareness and learning how to use your own strengths and your own presence as a leader. Let me give you some examples of how I see this happen a lot. Karen, when I say how I see this happen a lot, some of that is in my research and in my observation about the executives. Some of it comes from looking in the mirror. I see it happen because I do it. You mentioned optimism. I’m a raging optimist, I admit it. I struggle with my own optimism. Not lack of. I struggle with too much. Here’s what it looks like. The optimistic leader, we are positive can-do people. We see possibilities, we see paths forward. We see capability in others and ourselves. When we take on something that’s really hard, we have this can-do attitude. I’ve got can-do attitude in abundance. It’s almost like I’ve got one of those rubber wrist bands that says, “We can do hard things,” that they might hand out to people in a triathlon or something. I’ve learned this myself. This is where I got my awareness. It completely came by surprise and with a sting.

    I’m working on this project with a colleague. It’s a pretty tough piece of research and analysis. We’re writing for a prestigious academic journal. Towards the end of the project, my colleague said to me, “Liz, I need you to stop saying that.” I’m thinking, “Saying what?” He goes, “That thing you say all the time.” “What thing I say all the time?” I really didn’t know, but he knew and he was very happy to tell me about this. He’s like, “You say it all the time, ‘We can do this. This can’t be hard. We’ve got this.’” Of course, I’m recognizing my own optimism. I’m like, “I do say that all the time.” I explained to him what I think was maybe this moment of clarity for him. I’m like, “That is my way of saying that we’re smart and we can figure this out. That I have this belief in what we can do.” I’m thinking it’s the very essence of what I consider to be multiplier logic. This belief that people around you are smart and using the smarts of others. I’m explaining it to him. He just said, “That’s what I need you to stop saying.” I’m like, “What do you mean? This is good leadership. Optimism, you need that just to survive as an executive.” He said, “I need you to stop saying that because, Liz, what we’re doing is hard. It’s really hard. As my manager, I need you to acknowledge it.”

    First of all, I think that’s a great story. It’s a great point. I love that you see that in yourself. Honestly, I’ve never thought about the concept of someone being an accidental diminisher. I know people that are raging diminishers, but I find this concept of an accidental diminisher so important because I do think a lot of people, at least a lot of people I work with, in trying to build their personal brand, they want to build it around optimism and being seen as being smart and all of these things. All of which are not bad things. They’re good things. If you’re doing them to a degree where they’re not allowing other people to grow and to be great, then there’s a problem. It’s funny. As you were talking about it, I can see it in myself too. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a group and somebody said, “Give that to Karen. She knows how to get things done.” That’s fine, but that doesn’t empower the other people in the group to do it.

    When I was working at Oracle, there was a guy there that I had worked with for about ten years. His name was Ben Putterman. Ben knew me very well. We had this great relationship. I remember, we hired someone new onto the team. The day he’s coming to the office to join the team, Ben says to him, “Whatever you do, don’t try to keep up with her,” meaning me. He meant this as his compliment, which is, “Liz is great.” It’s a case where my personal brand of can-do, get-it-done, that’s a pace setter trap, which is when you set the pace for work ethic, for can-do, whatever it is, it makes it really hard for other people to keep up with you. As soon as we got done with the conversation, I probably took Ben, threw him in my office and I’m like, “What? You just racked this poor guy.” Because now instead of trying to keep up, he’s probably like, “I’ll just let her do the hard stuff.” I don’t know if that’s how it played out, but when you lead as setting the pace, you become the pace setter for your organization, you end up creating more spectators than followers.

    It seems to me that as an executive, you’re walking this very fine line. You can’t just go, “I’m not going to set any pace.” You have to set some pace, but at the same point, you don’t want to be this accidental diminisher. In your research and in the work you’ve done, how do you think that executives need to be to walk that line where they’re inspiring and motivating but they’re not doing it to such a degree that everyone else becomes a spectator?

    I think it comes down to probably a simple question, which is to look at our behavior and say, “Does this create a platform for other people to go big? Or is it a moment for me to be big?” The best leaders know when it’s time to be big and when it’s time to be small. I’ve coached a number of executives. I’m not in any way saying a great leader needs to shy away from their big moment. There are times when you stand and deliver. There are times when you double down on what we can do. Most of what your job as a leader is to get the other people around you to go big. You think about it, what do you want: a single leader who’s 10% smarter, 10% more effective, 10% more productive? Or do you want the ten people around her to be 10, 20? In my research, it actually shows that when you switch from diminishing to multiplying mode, you’re 50%. It’s 2X. Underdiminishers, people work at 50% of their capability. I think the self-awareness is to say, “Am I overplaying these strengths?” The way we tend to know it, is this empowering or liberating for people or not?

    I relate to this a lot in terms of speed. I’d say about three or four months ago, I had an experience where I realized I’m processing too fast for this person, because of lots of factors, including how I grew up and all of this stuff. I know how to take in information super fast, sort it and then just really quickly process it. Not everyone knows how to do that. I realized that sometimes, just as there are skills that I don’t have that other people have, we all get a certain amount of gifts. I realized that I sometimes am processing a little too fast for people. I need to give them time to process at their own speed. One of the things I’ve been practicing, and you can tell me if this is a good thing or not, is if someone is explaining something to me, even if I’ve already gotten it because I’ve processed it that fast and I know where it is and I’ve gotten it, I don’t say anything. I just sit there quietly until they’re finished. Not for me, but for them so that they have the chance to process and work it out in their head the way they need to for them to feel comfortable. That’s just a practice I’ve taken on for myself.

    It’s a great practice. Let me add a couple to that or like that, very simple things you can do that use your presence well. Really great executives know, they build a great presence but they know how to dispense it in small but intense doses. It’s all about where you dispense that. When the leader is always on, they’re never heard. That’s one of the ways that people end up accidental diminishers, is they’re whopped up with energy. We know these leaders. They’re always present, always engaged, always something to say. Of course, they think their energy is infectious but not only do they suck up all the oxygen in the room, these leaders get tuned out. When a leader is always on, they become white noise. These are the people who, when they’re walking down the hall toward our office, we avert our eyes. If you make eye contact with one of these people, it’s like emotion sensing. You’re like, “Now, it’s gone on and I can’t figure out how to turn this thing back off.”

    Not just that but they’ll pounce at you, “How are you? What are you doing? What’s going on today? You’re fantastic.” You’re under the gun.

    You’re like, “You’re killing me with your energy. I’m dying here.” People don’t match their energy. It’s almost like people have to become the reciprocal of that energy. Here are a couple of things that you can do. I’m going to maybe express these in some numbers. The first is the five second rule, which is when you ask a question, wait five seconds to give someone a chance to think. Some people are like you, Karen. They’re really fast witted, they’re very quick, quick to process, quick to answer. Not everyone in the world is like this. Not all forms of intelligence manifest themselves this way as we know. There was a study done in education where they asked teachers to wait five seconds after asking a question. In fact, we should probably let a five-second pause happen here to just know how long it lasts. It’s like one, two, three, four, five. It’s actually a fairly uncomfortable amount of time. When you ask a question and no one is answering, the tendency is to want to answer it yourself.

    When they asked teachers not to answer their own questions, what they found is all of the indicators, all of the educational indicators in terms of engagement and learning and answers and tests scores, it all went up. One thing is, instead of telling people what you know, ask a really good question and then wait five seconds and give people a chance to respond. Another one is if you’re a bit of a rapid responder, you’re quick to take action, you might follow the 24-hour rule. I practice this one. I’ve got some feedback that I was a bit of a rapid responder. Here’s the rule: It’s hands off for 24 hours. We all know what it’s like when you get that email note and it’s a question or there’s an action that needs to happen. There’s a bunch of people, either it’s sent to a group or copied to some people. Let’s say you’re on the copy line. Really, there’s somebody else in your team who could probably respond to that. There’s probably someone else in your team who should respond to it. It’s theirs, they own this issue but you’re copied on it and you have an answer or you know what has to happen. My rule is unless I own that, unless the accountability sits only with me, my rule is hands off for 24 hours. That’s my period of time where it’s a chance for other people to say, “I got this. Here’s what I want to do about it,” or handled it, made the phone call, ran the report, closed the deal, whatever it is. My rule is 24 hours hands off. If someone hasn’t responded in 24 hours, then I’m all over it. I’m probably telling them, “You need to be all over this too.” Some of you may say, “I can’t wait 24 hours.” Maybe for you, it’s a four-hour rule.

    BB 012 | Leadership Development

    Leadership Development: Instead of telling people what you know, ask a really good question and then wait five seconds and give people a chance to respond.

    I think that’s really brilliant. I think that’s that idea again of the pause allows other people to participate. Whether it’s a five-second pause or a 24-hour pause, when you’re allowing other people to participate into, you’re making sure that you’re not putting so much of your energy into that that it’s overwhelming everyone else. That’s how I’m taking what you’re saying.

    It really is. It’s the power of the pause to create space for other people to jump in. A lot of leaders don’t understand that when you start a business, when you get promoted into a senior role, people look to you at disproportional levels. You don’t have that peer, egalitarian, “We all just have ideas here.” People are naturally going to defer to you. Unless you create these pause moments for other people to jump in, the path of least resistance is to let you do all the thinking, all the work. You then go home to work going, “Why can’t I get my team to step up? I’m all in and I wish the people on my team were all in as well.” It’s not just pause, it’s also prep. This is maybe the 48-hour rule. This is maybe for people like you, Karen, and for me who like to think on the fly, who love to be asked, “What do you think?” When all eyes turn to you in a meeting, you’re like, “Someone wants to know what I think. Great. Let me jump in.” Not everyone thinks this way particularly if someone has a more introverted orientation to their thinking and their work. One thing I learned, and I learned this at Oracle, don’t spring questions and topics on people in a meeting. Send out the agenda two days in advance, 48 hours in advance, “Here are the topics. Here are the questions I want you to weigh in on. Come ready.” It gives a chance for other people who are maybe not so quick on the draw or not so comfortable formulating opinions without data or analysis or forethought to know how to come in and play big with you.

    It’s interesting because we often think of this as it’s not about intelligence, even with what I was saying before. It’s not that I am more intelligent than other people, it’s that I process differently. There people who are as intelligent and far more intelligent that I am but they don’t process in that same quick way. They like to take a little bit of time to put the pieces together. I think what you’re saying is that we have to create more space. To be a true multiplier, we really have to be able to understand and give space for and create room for other people to process in the way that they process.

    For me, I think, the message around executive presence is that our presence as a leader isn’t really a function of us and our presence. Our presence is a function of how other people are around us. A leader’s role is to bring out the best in other people, bring out their finest thinking and their finest work. People will attribute incredibly positive attributes to you if they feel like they’re at their best around you.

    You know what your brand and your presence is by how other people show up around you. Not even by how you show up.

    I’ve been at Oracle for a few years and I’ve been managing for a few years. I wasn’t terrible at it. I was having some success. I was at a social gathering, my husband was there. I overhear him talking with some people I work with. He said, “I think the reason why Liz has done well at work is people like working with her.” I’m still fairly young and new at all this management stuff. I remember being so annoyed by this comment.


    It’s the conversation you have in the car with your partner after the meeting. I’m like, “What’s up with that?” He’s like, “I think people like working with you.” I’m like, “No. I’m good at what I do because I’m capable and smart and hardworking.” He listens and goes, “I think people just like working around you.” It felt weak perhaps.

    If I’m hearing you correctly, you wanted it to be about your competency and your intelligence and your smarts. Not that he was diminishing any of those things, but I think what he was saying was your secret sauce was that all those things could be in play and could be impactful because people liked you.

    I want to be really clear about this. Not everyone that I’ve worked with liked working with me. In fact, if we really want to air dirty laundry, I could make a list of people. Not people I didn’t like working with, but I can make a list of people that did not like working with me. It’s a list that would take probably more than a Post It note. There’s probably a list for this. It’s not like I had some magical capability. What it taught me is that the way people show up around us is really what defines our presence. It’s our impact. Probably most people have given this advice when you go into a job interview, you can either let that be an interrogation about you or you can show interest in the people that you’re interviewing with. The research has been really interesting is that people come away from those interviews, the hiring manager or the hiring squad, they come away with positive impressions of candidates who were interested in them, who wanted to know about their work. It’s not to say create faux interest in people. It’s that our presence is a function of how people see themselves and how they operate around us. That’s where you get this multiplier effect going inside organizations.

    My guest today is Liz Wiseman. She’s the Founder and President of The Wiseman Group. Her book is Multipliers: How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. That book has a new version of it, a new edition, correct?

    Yeah, it is. I’m doing a second edition. There are two ways you can look at a second edition. You can look at it as the book was wildly successful and people want more or you’re like, I’m fixing things that I didn’t quite get right the first time. I think the publisher thinks that the book has been wildly successful. There’s a lot that we’ve learned. That book came out actually six years ago. I thought that it might appeal to people in Silicon Valley, where I come from; tech leaders, really innovative companies. I thought the book might have its moment and be useful. What we found is that the ideas in it have resonated around the world, which is great because the idea of multiplier leadership resonates around the world. It also means that the idea that people are being diminished resonates around the world, which is not as heartening. We’ve also found that it’s not just a flash in the pan. This way of leading that the leader uses his or her intelligence and capability and presence to spark, to provoke, to amplify the intelligence and capability and presence of the people around them, I think it’s the way the world has shifted.

    I think it’s what’s shifted. I think it’s the future of organizations actually, especially with millennials. I think millennials in the workplace is forcing that shift.

    This is one of my favorite topics. When someone talks about how millennials are different, I’m not sure millennials are any different than any other generation. I just think this generation has been more willing to express what they expect and need. The kind of leadership that millennials look for is this multiplier-like leadership. People who’ve been working for 20 or 30 years, they want the same things. They want leaders who challenge them and invite them to new possibilities. They want leaders to trust them and give them space. They want recognition. It’s like at a core human level, it’s not really a generational thing. Millennials, I think have lanced this wound. I think it’s one of the great gifts that this generation is giving the world, is an expectation for a different way of thinking about contribution and a different kind of leadership.

    When you run across an executive who is a diminisher, I would assume if you run across someone who is an accidental diminisher, it’s easier to work with them because it’s counter to what they’re actually trying to produce, right?


    They just don’t realize it. What happens when you run across somebody, and we’ve also experienced this in our work with executive, where really what’s driving their behavior is their ego. They’re a raging diminisher and it’s being driven by their need to feed their ego. How do you address that and how do you deal with that?

    BB 012 | Leadership Development

    Leadership Development: The way people show up around us is really what defines our presence.

    We’re going to start with the good news and then we’re going to get to the bad news. The good news is the accidental diminisher is really easy to fix. To just sum it all up, here’s the news. You can fix this diminishing capability. The problem with it is you can only fix it if it’s you. I can’t will somebody else to be a multiplier. I can’t will somebody else or curse someone else into not being an accidental diminisher. What’s possible is if you see this diminishing capability within yourself and you want to fix it, it’s actually not that hard to fix. The accidental diminisher tends to see it. All it takes is a little conversation about the way that sometimes optimistic leaders can end up creating pessimistic organizations. When the leader only see the sunny side, it leaves everyone else to see the downside. You introduce that idea to the accidental diminisher and the optimist, they’re like, “I really want an optimistic organization. I am going to do more to just signal the struggle.”

    I’ll tell you how I fixed my little optimism problem. It’s real simple what my team wants from me. They want me to say, “What we’re doing is hard. We’re probably going to struggle. I bet we’re going to make mistakes. We might even screw this up.” They don’t want me coming in all pessimistic. All they want me to do is signal the struggle, acknowledge the truth, acknowledge how hard it is. See the learning and growth that’s happening in the moments of struggle. As soon as I even just intimate on the struggle, it’s like I get the wink from them. The wink is, “Go ahead. Bring it on, Liz, because here it comes.” I’m like, “How hard can it be? We can do this.” That’s what it takes to fix some of these accidental diminisher remedies, is little small workarounds. For the well-intended leader, they can fix this fast. Their team lights up. For the raging diminisher who shows up to work not really actually that competent, I think this probably won’t come as a big shock to anyone. We find that most of these raging diminishers aren’t coming from a place of true ego and arrogance, thinking they’re the smartest in the room. Most of them show up doubting that they’re the smartest in the room. They double down and they have to overplay, over-depend. Honestly, that scenario is much harder to address.

    This isn’t related to business but I think it applies in the same way. I think it’s maybe an analogy listeners can relate to. Sometimes you’ll be dealing with someone or you’ll be talking to someone who’s ill, a serious illness like cancer. I’ve had several friends who’ve gone through this. They’ll tell me that the people that they know divide into two camps. One camp are the people that, when they talk about the cancer, “It’s going to be okay. Don’t worry about it. Everything is going to be fine. You’re strong. You’re going to beat this,” which is a little bit like the being over-positive. There are other people who just hear what they say and they go, “I can imagine it must be hard.” They just acknowledge what’s true. Without exception, every single person I know who’s gone through something difficult, whether it’s a divorce or whether it’s cancer or whether it’s someone dying who’s close to them, has said that the people that they feel they are the most comfortable around, that they’re able to be themselves with when they’re going through a difficult time, are the people that don’t try to put their positive layer on it. Instead just acknowledge what’s simply true for the other person, without adding anything one way or the other.

    I think it’s a great insight. It’s this difference between sympathy and empathy. Brené Brown does such a nice job on this. She’s got a lovely video out there, it’s very short and very easy to watch around. Sympathy is, “That sucks. You want a sandwich?” Empathy is really experiencing the struggle with people and going, “This sucks, doesn’t it?” Not even having a solution and an answer. It is so wired in managers and particularly senior managers that their job is to have answers, to solve problems. Yet, we most align and we most appreciate not necessarily people who give us answers, the people who give us opportunities. I’d probably boil it into there’s a few really critical skills that executives and senior leaders need. One of them is the art of the question. Particularly, knowing how to ask the right question. The question that focuses the energy and intelligence of a group. The question that shifts the burden of responsibility from the leader to have the answers and then shares that as sweet burden with their team. If I had a wish, it would be getting managers out of the mode of solving problems and having answers and instead define the right problems for their teams to solve and get out of the way and let other people step up. That’s presence. That presence when a question the leader asks is so heard and so understood that a group of people can latch on to that. They chomp down on that bone. They’re like, “I am a dog on a bone until we find an answer to that. I might stay on it for years until we solve that problem.” That to me is executive presence.

    It’s asking a question that evokes in other people the best of their intelligence, their capability, their energy, all of those qualities that we were talking about.

    Who do you really want to work for? Do you want to work for a super smart leader or do you want to work for someone around whom you are super smart? Most of us would rather work for the genius maker than the genius. I don’t say that saying that the leader should be empty headed, “I don’t know what we should do. I got nothing here.” I read something in Time Magazine. It was the Time Most Influential People. This was years ago, I think maybe 2008. They were profiling George Clooney, the actor and the activist. Bono was writing his profile. Bono evoked this saying that came from these two leaders, two British prime ministers in the 1800s. He was comparing George Clooney to these leaders. He said, “It’s been said that after meeting with the great British Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, you left thinking he was the smartest person in the world. After meeting with his rival, Benjamin Disraeli, you left thinking you were the smartest person.” He said, “That’s George Clooney. George Clooney, this big actor, is someone who just brings out the best. He dares people to perform.”

    I’m going to ask you two questions I ask every guest. I realized as we’re having this conversation that really what I’m asking people is about multipliers and diminishers. I just didn’t realize it. The first question is, who’s someone in your life, but don’t tell us their name, just think of them, who’s someone in your life that had a negative impact on you and how did you overcome that and what did you learn from that? Another way of saying it in your language is who’s someone where they were a diminisher but you’ve learned from that and grew from that and how did you handle it?

    I’m going to lump them into a mono person. Some people in my personal life, there are some people in my work life that I would fit into this category of diminisher. Here’s what I learned is that being diminished in some ways is unavoidable. You can’t change that person. Being diminished yourself, meaning holding back, is really a choice. I had been studying these diminishers and multipliers. One of my colleagues asked me when I was writing the book, “Liz, you talk about a lot of diminishers but who was a diminisher to you? You work with a bunch, you know a bunch of names.” I’m like, “That’s a really interesting question because I don’t know that there are any that I would say were true diminishers because I think I learned how to stand up to a diminisher.” Maybe there were some bully managers and bully people that I’ve come up with. One of the things I’ve learned is sometimes what a bully respects is someone who’s a little bit of a bully back. I don’t mean to say start throwing down a bully way of leading, but just to stand up for yourself and to advocate. I still do. In the work I do today, I encounter micromanagers.

    Karen, I cannot tell you the irony of this, of how many organizations bring me in to help teach their leaders how to be multipliers and how to not be micromanagers and bullies. Then they try to tell me exactly how to do my job. I’m like, “Do you not see what’s the irony in this?” One of the things I do even today, I’m a consultant, I’m an outside person, they’re my client, they’re paying me; sometimes paying a lot of money. There’s a part of me that says, “I should do what they tell me to do and be respectful.” I’m like, “No, it’s actually not okay.” I don’t allow myself to be micromanaged. I have learned to say, “Actually, I can’t do that. That’s not what I’m going to do but let me tell you what I am going to do and how that’s going to get you a better result.” I think from the people who have maybe been challenging leaders and people in my life, I’ve learned that there are ways to gently but forcefully advocate for yourself so that you can continue to show up every day, working at your best.

    The second part of the question is, who’s someone in your life, and you can say this person’s name, who’s made a positive difference in your life and what did you learn from that person that you’ve used?

    Is it cheesy or trite to pick my husband in this?

    Not at all. It’s lovely.

    My husband and I are so different. We’re so different. There are times when I really want to just take my hands and put them around his neck and squeeze really hard, because we work in such different ways. He is gentle and quiet. One of the things that I’ve learned from my husband is to be easily delighted in the work of other people. I tend to have these high standards, high expectations. One of the things about him is that when something good happens, he’s just thrilled. Some of that I think comes from his grandmother, Ernestine Wiseman, who is absolutely one of my life heroes. Around Ernestine, everything you did was amazing. I would tell her about something, “You’ve got to go on a business trip to Barcelona. How fantastic. Tell me about it.” Everything was interesting and delightful to her and everyone loved Ernestine. Everyone wanted to be around her. She passed a number of years ago. I was joking at her memorial service. I was like, “I’m anticipating a fist fight. I’m anticipating a full on brawl because all the people around her are going to get together and every one of them is going to say, “I was Ernestine favorite.” I wasn’t even her grandchild. I was an in-law and I was absolutely convinced that I was her favorite grandchild, and I wasn’t a grandchild. It’s how everyone felt around her because she was so delighted in what other people were doing and their successes. My husband is this way, that when something good happens or I do something well, he revels in it. He’s my genius-maker. I feel like a genius every single day working with him. I get to work with him, which is fantastic.

    BB 012 | Leadership Development

    Leadership Development: Being diminished in some ways is unavoidable.

    Thank you. Those are great examples, both of them. Can you just tell us where people can reach out and find you?

    If you’re interested in any of the information on the books, is a good place to go for that, or for that book. If you want information about me, about our company, you can go to

    Liz, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your incredibly busy schedule to share with us.

    Thank you for being such a fun part of my professional journey over the years. It’s a delight to work with you.

    My pleasure, thank you.

    Important Links

    About Liz Wiseman

    BB 012 | Leadership DevelopmentLiz Wiseman teaches leadership to executives and emerging leaders around the world. She is the President of The Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development firm headquartered in Silicon Valley. Some of her recent clients include: Apple, Disney, eBay/PayPal, Facebook, GAP, Google, Microsoft, Nike, Roche,, and Twitter. Liz has been listed on the Thinkers50 ranking and named as one of the top 10 leadership thinkers in the world and recipient of the 2016 ATD Champion of Talent Award.

    She is the author of three best-selling books: Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (New York Times & Wall Street Journal bestseller), Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work (Wall Street Journal best seller),and The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools. She has conducted significant research in the field of leadership and collective intelligence and writes for Harvard Business Review and Fortune and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Inc. and Time magazines. She is a frequent guest lecturer at BYU, and Stanford University.

    A former executive at Oracle Corporation, she worked over the course of 17 years as the Vice President of Oracle University and as the global leader for Human Resource Development. During her tenure at Oracle, she led several major global initiatives and has worked and traveled in over 40 countries.

    Liz holds a Bachelors degree in Business Management and a Masters of Organizational Behavior from Brigham Young University. Liz lives in Menlo Park, California with her husband and four children who share her over-active curiosity and sense of adventure.

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    This article is copyrighted by Karen Leland and cannot be reprinted in any form, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of Karen Leland.

    Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, (Entrepreneur Press, 2016) is available online at, Barnes and, and in bookstores now.