According to a recent Gallup World Poll, a lot of people around the globe hate their job–and specifically their boss. In fact, the survey found that only 15 percent of the one billion full-time employees worldwide are engaged. In the U.S., roughly 30 percent are engaged, but that still leaves 70 percent of Americans unhappy campers when Monday morning rolls around.
As a management and marketing consultant, I always find myself asking why when I read those kinds of startling stats. I’ve found one clear explanation–and some ideas about what to do about it–in Liz Wiseman’s newly updated and revised book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter.
“The most intelligent leaders, really smart, capable people, don’t always engender intelligence in those around them,” says Wiseman.
One of the contributing factors to this is that executive presence is often defined as having a big energy. Think of the iconic image of the strong CEO giving a speech while waving his or her arms around and pacing the stage like a panther to command respect and attention.
Wiseman, who has spent more than a decade studying effective leadership, calls these executive 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 percent of their capability.
“Staff want to play it safe,” says Wiseman, “so they hold back and say, ‘You know what? He’s got it all figured out. Let’s let him do his thing.’ They end up becoming more spectators rather than true followers.”
Be a multiplier, not a diminisher.
Wiseman, who was fascinated by this dynamic, wanted to know why it was that such a super-smart person was not able to end up building an equally smart team. At the same time, she identified a different group of smart leaders that she calls “multipliers.” These executives were equally as intelligent as their suppressive counterparts, but they used their smarts in a very different way.
Wiseman likens the smarts style of these leaders to being a floor for sharp thinking, rather than a ceiling.
Learn to spot raging versus accidental diminishers.
There are leaders who have such a strong brand that they end up consuming all the oxygen in the room and suffocating other people with their bigness–and apparently they like it that way. Wiseman calls these folks “raging diminishers,” and their hidden (or not so hidden) feeling is “I don’t really want you to think. I’ll do the thinking for us.”
“What I find much more interesting is not the raging diminisher,” says Wiseman, “but the accidental diminisher. This is the executive who genuinely wants other people to be big and to do their best thinking and work.”
The path to the accidental diminisher is often more subtle. It begins when the leader becomes the go-to person everyone relies on for answers. Eventually, the people around the leader get weaker.
“I had this one boss who was brilliant at talking with customers,” says Wiseman. “We would get in a room together with a customer, and–even though I’m not shy–I deferred to him. I felt like he could always do just a little bit better of a job than I could, and I was pleased to let him do that.”
If you follow this train of logic, it’s not a surprise that pretty soon Wiseman’s boss was doing all the hard work, while she got to the point where she didn’t even really offer input. The problem was not that Wiseman’s boss was saying, “No, Liz; I will handle this.” Instead, he became an accidental diminisher. “I just became lazy because he was so good,” says Wiseman.
Evaluate your actions.
So what’s a well-intended leader to do? Wiseman says it’s mostly a function of awareness and learning to use your strengths judiciously. It comes down to asking yourself:
- Does my behavior create a platform for other people to go big?
- Is this the moment for me to be big?
- Am I overplaying my strengths?
Is the effort to become aware of, and let go of, the reins worth it? Wiseman’s research showed that when executives switch from diminishing to multiplying mode, they get a twofold increase in staff effectiveness and productivity.
So take a page from the best leaders’ playbook: Go forth and shut up. Sometimes, it’s the smartest thing to do.
This article was originally published on Inc.com.