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  • Teresa Carey

Developing Your Team: Do You Lead By Building Up or Tearing Down?

Updated: Sep 17, 2021

“The Diminisher is a Micromanager who jumps in and out. The Multiplier is an Investor who gives others ownership and full accountability.” Liz Wiseman

One of my wisest friends is a spiritual life coach. A foundational principle of her work is helping her clients realize that at any given time, they are either building others up or tearing them down. There’s no in-between.

After 27 years in leadership development, there are more than enough stories in my box to support her axiom.

We’ve all seen leaders struggle in one role and or one organization and get stuck, because they had leaders who didn’t know how to amplify their strengths. Miraculously, after going to a new organization, or a new team, they were set on a new trajectory for growth. It was clear the new leader and/or organization saw their potential and gave them opportunities to flourish.

In my own personal journey, I was asked to deliver a program I had facilitated more than one hundred times. From the onset, the director questioned and criticized my approach both in front of the participants and in sidebar conversations. By week three of the 10-week program, my energy was gone and my effectiveness was compromised. It was all I could do to make it to the last week. Looking back, it was surreal how a power-hungry leader almost led me to believe I couldn’t facilitate a program I had taught to other facilitators and business owners around the globe for many years.

In their book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, authors and Harvard Professors Greg McKeown and Liz Wise coin the phrases, “Multiplier” and “Diminisher.” They amplify the archetypes of leaders and managers who either engage in behaviors that multiply and bring out the best in their people or conversely, diminish them. There’s even grace for those who don’t even know they’re diminishing. They’re appropriately labeled as, “accidental diminishers.” To learn more about the types of multipliers and diminishers they highlight, you will want to read their book.

Here are five common acts of accidental diminishing that show up in the work I do. Although well-intentioned, leaders who engage in these all-too-common behaviors can erode confidence and trust, stunt growth and sabotage culture.

1. Delivering hyper-critical feedback in group emails or meetings that spotlights one or two individuals. Although the leader might be trying to raise all boats with the tide by creating a learning moment, the impact on the intended receiver’s confidence may do more harm than good. To boot, it can compromise psychological safety and inhibit risk taking for the rest of the team creating fear they might be called out the same way in future situations.

2. Tolerating, retaining and protecting underperformers in spite of their inability to meet the job standards. Those who are performing at peak or at expectation are left scratching their heads and asking themselves, “Why am I working so hard?” Yes, it may feel altruistic to keep investing with the hope they’ll eventually improve. However, the opportunity cost of carrying mediocrity, in addition to the cultural damage created, simply isn’t worth it.

3. Choosing not to delegate out of concern the person is already overwhelmed or overworked. Err on the side of assuming they can take it on yet make it okay and trust the person to tell you if they don’t have capacity. Maybe they’re holding onto projects or tasks from their team for the same reason. Being a project hoarder robs others of the opportunity to stretch and grow. And it will almost guarantee you’ll be limited in your role because you didn’t equip others to multiply.

4. Overpromoting or overpaying too many people as a way to temporarily boost morale, ensure retention or camouflage deep cultural issues. Unfortunately, this sends the wrong message to everyone in the organization and dilutes the intended effect. If you’ll pardon my extreme candor, “It’s like putting a Hello Kitty™ Band-Aid™ on a gushing head wound.”

5. Using the excuse that lack of time prevents having 1:1 meetings or reviews. People crave and need feedback and coaching on how to progress. If you’re too busy to prioritize people, then it’s time to revisit your priorities.

If the right person is in the role, and they are multiplied, they will likely rise to your highest level of expectation. Given today’s competitive market for talent, team members won’t tolerate behaviors from leaders that minimize their value. Without leadership that invests in them in a positive and productive way, they’ll find another place that will.

Ask yourself and act on the following:

· What am I doing as my best leader to build up and multiply others?

· Who on my team could benefit from hearing how much they’re valued - especially now?

· If I considered one thing I’ve been doing to accidentally diminish others, what should I work on changing, starting today?

As Maya Angelou reminds us, “Because when you know better, you do better.”

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