When I began researching multipliers and diminishers, I set out on a mission.
I wanted to identify the types of people that were creating a positive effect on their organisation (multipliers) and those that were having an extremely negative effect on their organisation (diminishers). My ultimate goal was to rid the world of these “corporate diminishers” that were costing their organisations so much.
But after a couple years, I realised these extreme diminishers are not the real problem. I found the real problem lies with the diminishers in the middle — the Accidental Diminishers.
Even with the best of intentions in mind, good-hearted, nice people shut others down without knowing it. They have no clue they’re creating a diminishing impact on their organisation.
Is it possible to do our greatest damage when we hold the highest expectations? Perhaps the nobler our intentions, the more likely we are to have a diminishing impact.
Ask yourself this: How do I diminish the people I value most? It’s an uncomfortable question.
Diminishers have various characteristics. They don’t always look the same, but they always have the same result — they shut down smart, capable people.
The Idea Guy
This person bounds into the office bursting with ideas. In fact, they’re a fountain of ideas. As all these ideas bubble in their minds, they spew them. They don’t believe their ideas are better than others’ — they just over-share in an attempt to inspire others.
So, what actually happens to the people working around the idea guy? They shut down.
Or, they spend their time chasing ideas — creating websites, task forces, or surveys — and before long, they all end up exactly back where the started. They’ve been spinning their wheels in futility.
In fact, others even stop generating their own ideas because they know they can always go to the idea guy when they need a suggestion.
The Always-On Leader
This person is always engaged, always present, always has something to say, and always has something to contribute. They were blessed with the ‘gift of gab’.
What happens around the always-on leader? There’s no room for anyone else. They take up all the space. People think, “I would contribute if I could!”
When someone lacks an off switch, we tune them out (like the teacher from the Peanuts comics). As they unknowingly shut other people down, we shut them out. We don’t even hear them anymore.
Rescuers are really good people. They probably volunteer at charity organisations on the weekends. They hate seeing someone struggle, suffer, make mistakes, or fail. In fact, they’re compelled to help the struggling.
Sometimes they’re on a heroic rescue mission. (Cue the superhero music as they swoop in to save the day.)
But more often than not, it’s subtle. Often, they just extend a hand of help.
But what happens when a leader is too helpful, too early, too often? The surrounding people become dependent. And dependent people don’t work up to their full potential.
This person leads by example. They set the pace for quality, agility, innovation, and customer service. They think other people will notice and naturally follow them.
It doesn’t work that way. When the leader gets too far ahead, people don’t speed up — they hold back.
I have four children and my youngest loves to run. There’s nothing he loves more. He really loves to race me to the bus stop. Of course, he loves it because he always wins.
Why? Because I’m in ‘good-mom mode’. I keep close, but he still wins. Sometimes, though, I forget to let him win and think, “This may be my last glory moment!”
I go speeding past him to the bus stop and win. As I look back in all my glory, what’s my son doing? He’s walking! Sometimes even sauntering.
When he catches up, he says, “We weren’t racing that time.” Why? Because once I got too far ahead, he quit playing.
The same thing happens when a manager sets a pace others can’t keep. Their employees quit trying and become spectators instead of followers.
This is the positive, can-do, sunnyside kind of leader. We’ve been told for years that leaders need to be optimistic! There’s a ton of research and data about the physiological benefits of optimism. But, optimism to a fault cripples others.
I learned this a few years ago when I was working on a complex project with intense research.
In the middle of it, my colleague said, “Liz, I need to you to stop saying that.”
“That thing you say all the time.”
I had no clue what he was talking about. “All the time?”
It was like he’d been waiting months to give me this speech. “How hard can it be? We can do this! We’ve got this!” he mimicked.
I defended myself, “That’s my way of saying we’re smart, we’re capable, we can figure this out, we can do it!”
“That’s the thing I need you to stop saying. Because what we’re doing is actually really hard. As my manager, you need to acknowledge it.”
So, I’ve learned to add some new phrases to my vocabulary.
What we’re doing is hard.
We’re going to struggle.
We might make mistakes and we might even fail sometimes.
My team loves hearing these phrases from me. I love it that they hear them. Then, it’s like they wait for me to be encouraging again. So I get to say, “How hard can it be? We can do this!”
They’re not asking me to give up my optimism, but they still want me to acknowledge the struggle.
Do you take on any of these characteristics? How might you, with the very best of intentions as a leader, trainer, parent, or colleague, be shutting down smart and capable people around you?
When people shut down, a culture of silence begins to grow.
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