Liz Wiseman, who wrote Multipliers: How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, was in Dubai recently. Ravindranath K / The National
Liz Wiseman, who wrote Multipliers: How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, was in Dubai recently. Ravindranath K / The National

Two types of bosses - and both can have a multiplier effect

Years of disappointment have made me deeply suspicious of human resources gurus. All too often a public relations consultant has spun me a line that his client is the latest brilliant, innovative thinker on matters of people management.

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But when I put them in front of a microphone, they churn out the same tired old clichés as the last three HR "experts" before them: "You know, people are a company's greatest asset," and "HR isn't just about processing leave applications." Aaaargh.

Not Liz Wiseman. The American author of Multipliers: How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter was in Dubai recently, her second visit this year. When I look back at all the people I've interviewed over the past year, Ms Wiseman stands out as the one who really changed my outlook on business.

Here's her theory. There are essentially two types of managers: diminishers and multipliers. Diminishers are the all-too-common bosses who suffocate their staff, while multipliers help them blossom and grow.

"The science and the research behind the book started with a very simple observation: some leaders who were brilliant seemed to bring about brilliance in others," she said. "And there were others who seem to suffocate people."

That spark came from Ms Wiseman's 17 years at US tech giant Oracle, where she ran Oracle University. For the Multipliers research, she and her team profiled hundreds of managers and employees in 35 companies and four continents. She came up with five things that multipliers do well and five things that diminishers do badly.

So here are the diminishers: empire builders, tyrants, know-it-alls, decision makers and micromanagers. "We found that almost everyone has worked for one of these diminishers, and it's an absolutely exhausting process," says Ms Wiseman. "Pretty quickly, A players become A-minus players and B players. I describe organisations like this as an elephant graveyard - it's where careers go to die."

What about the good guys? They are talent magnets, liberators, challengers, debate makers and investors. "These are leaders around whom people do their best work," she said. "In fact, they demand people's best work. There's almost an exchange. They say to their people 'I will give you space to work, I will invite you into the debate, I will give you a bigger job - but in return, I expect your very best work.'"

All of this matters for a company's bottom line. Ms Wiseman's research suggests people working for multipliers are twice as productive. Not in terms of hours worked, but in terms of ideas, intellect, insight and knowledge. "We see this enormous crime inside organisations that we have these diminishers who are wasting the intelligence of the organisation - essentially paying the price for two headcounts but only getting the output of one," she says.

So far, so good. But between Ms Wiseman's first visit in March and her second last month, something happened. I read Walter Isaacson's remarkable biography of Steve Jobs. Mr Jobs cooperated with the book, giving hundreds of hours of personal interviews, as well as encouraging his fiercest enemies (from Bill Gates down) to tell Mr Isaacson about the real Steve.

And guess what? It turns out that Jobs - head of the world's most valuable and arguably most admired company - comes across as an empire builder, a tyrant, a know-it-all, a decision maker and a micromanager. In short, the ultimate diminisher.

As fate would have it, Apple is one of Ms Wiseman's biggest clients. Does this show that your concept works perfectly in theory, but not in practice?

Here's her response: "If you look at Steve's history in management, a lot of his outward behaviour is classic diminisher behaviour - tyrant, micromanager.

"But if you really study Steve, you see a couple of very sharp multiplier edges. You see a talent magnet. People say 'I did my best work around him, I followed him everywhere'. Not that it was an easy experience, but they did their best work."

Ms Wiseman adds: "We are not advocating a feel-good model of leadership. We are not advocating a nice guy model of leadership."

Someone told me my interviews with Ms Wiseman changed the way they treat their housemaid. Another said he'd pay from his own pocket for his manager to take the course.

That may be a bridge too far, but for anyone looking for a stocking filler, a copy of Multipliers is a good place to start.

Richard Dean hosts Tonight on Dubai Eye 103.8 FM and is the author of Sink or Swim? How to Stay Afloat in Tough Economic Times: Business Lessons from the UAE

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