Friday, 26 July 2013 10:29

Genius or Genius-Maker – How Smart Leaders Bring Out the Best in People

Some corporations have made hiring the most intelligent individuals a core strategy on the basis that smarter people can solve problems more quickly than the competition. But that only works if the organizations can access that intelligence.

~ Stephen R. Covey

According to surveys on engagement, most workers have greater capabilities, creativity, talent, initiative and resourcefulness than their jobs allow—or even require—them to use.

Other surveys reveal that most workers feel pressured to produce more with less.

These results are paradoxical: People are underutilised and overworked at the same time.

Fortunately, some leaders understand how to create genius within their teams: They bring out the best in people. They’re “genius-makers.”

So, how does one successfully make the shift from genius to genius-maker?

Leadership consultants Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown explore this question in Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (HarperBusiness, 2010).

Producing More with Less

Wiseman and McKeown interviewed and assessed more than 150 leaders on their managerial practices. Their research sheds light on the important differences between the geniuses and the genius-makers:

  •     It isn’t how much you know that matters, but the access you have to what other people know.
  •     Team members should be smart, but success depends on how much of that intelligence you can draw out and put to use.

People who work for genius-makers say they give more than 100 percent of their energy and abilities (often citing 120 percent). Genius-makers encourage people to stretch their capabilities and “get smarter.” Conversely, those who work for non-genius-makers report giving only 20 to 50 percent on the job.

Many leaders tackle productivity challenges by hiring more people and achieving linear growth. Genius-makers extract the capabilities of the people already employed, achieving more with the same headcount.

The Mindset of Effective Leaders

Wiseman and McKeown divide leaders into two camps, based on the results they achieve: multipliers or diminishers.

Leaders are likely to act on one of two extreme beliefs:

  1.     Diminishing leaders believe their people will never be able to figure things out without explanation from a leader who provides all the answers.
  2.     Multiplying leaders believe their people are smart and can come up with solutions on their own.

The following table outlines the differences in these leaders’ approaches:

Challenge Diminisher's Mindset Multiplier's Mindset

How would you manage talent?

I must closely supervise people if I want them to complete assigned tasks.

If I can identify people’s genius, I can watch them succeed on their own.

How would you motivate for outcomes?

Pressure increases performance.

People’s best ideas must be given, not taken.

How would you solve problems?

I need to have all the answers.

People get smarter by being challenged. 

How would you run debates?

There are only a few people worth listening to.

With enough minds, we can figure it out.

How would you develop your people?

People will never be able to figure things out without me.

People are smart and will figure things out independently.

Leading like a multiplier requires more than mimicking the approaches described above. You must believe in your people’s capabilities and trust them to use their intelligence and creativity to develop their own solutions. Act as a guide instead of an expert to achieve buy-in and self-sufficiency.

5 Ways Leaders Diminish Others

Diminishers, who hog the spotlight and focus on ways to boost their careers, fall into five categories:

  1.     Empire Builders hoard resources and underutilise talent.
  2.     Tyrants create a tense environment that suppresses people’s thinking and capabilities.
  3.     Know-It-Alls issue directives that showcase how much they know.
  4.     Decision Makers make centralised, abrupt decisions that confuse the organisation.
  5.     Micromanagers drive results through their personal involvement.

The 5 Disciplines of Genius-Makers

Multipliers follow five principles to bring out the best in people. Each allows workers to stretch so they can contribute greater effort and productivity.

  •     Attract and Optimise Talent: Be a Talent Manager
  1.         You attract the best people when you take full advantage of their strengths.
  2.         They subsequently let other talented people know about the benefits of working on your team.
  3.         Talented people seek opportunities to grow and appreciate your efforts.
  •     Create Intensity That Requires Best Thinking: Be a Liberator
  1.         You create an intense environment that demands people’s best thinking and work.
  2.         People flourish under the right amount of pressure and support to perform their best work.
  3.         You are empathetic, yet firm about expectations for high-quality work.
  •     Extend Challenges: Be a Challenger
  1.         You define an opportunity that causes people to stretch.
  2.         You give them freedom to make mistakes, learn from them and be creative.
  •         Instead of giving people answers, you ask the right questions and then stay out of their way.
  •     Debate Decisions: Be a Debate Maker
  1.         You drive sound decisions through rigorous debate.
  2.         People own outcomes and participate in course corrections without blaming.
  3.         You challenge your people to ask the right questions and debate the true issues.
  •     Instill Ownership and Accountability: Be an Investor
  1.         You give other people ownership for results and invest in their success.
  2.         You hold high expectations across the organisation, which leads people to hold themselves and each other accountable.
  3.         You provide the necessary resources for success.

Working for a Genius-Maker

Henry Kissinger, who served as Secretary of State under President Richard M. Nixon, was a master at extracting people’s best work.

When his chief of staff once handed in a foreign-policy report,  Kissinger asked, “Is this your best work?”

His chief became worried and said he thought he could do better. Two weeks later, he turned in the report again. Kissinger repeated, “Are you sure this is your best work?”

Realizing something must have been missing, the chief rewrote the report yet again. When he handed it in, he said, “Mr. Kissinger, this is my best work.”

Upon hearing this, Kissinger replied, “Then this time I will read your report.”

Requiring people’s best work is different from insisting on desired outcomes. People become stressed when they’re expected to produce results beyond their control. They do, however, respond well to positive pressure to do their best work.

Becoming a Genius-Maker

Instead of trying to perfect all five disciplines, create a development plan with your executive coach. Pick one key area of strength and develop it to a higher level.

Next, choose an area of weakness and strive to make improvements.

You needn’t excel in all five disciplines to be considered a multiplier who brings out the best in your people. You must, however, master two or three disciplines and be “good enough” in the remaining ones.

Diminisher-to-Multiplier Performance Continuum


Talent Manager



Debate Maker









Empire  Builder



Decision Maker


(Source: Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, by Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown, HarperBusiness: 2010.)


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