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Multiplying is more than math--it's also good management: schools have an abundance of untapped potential that should be harnessed for the betterment of both students and employees.

When you find yourself juggling new programs and the latest technology or safety protocols on top of the day-to-day concerns of students, teachers, parents, and budgets, you become overwhelmed. With ever-increasing demands--mandated by law or by parents--you're pressured to deliver an even higher quality education. In light of challenges and resource constraints, you might ask, "What's required to build strong schools and smart students?" We suspect and much of the current research suggests that great teachers make the difference. Perhaps more than just smart teachers, schools need smart leaders who inspire and engage faculty and staff ability to their fullest.

The problem is that smart leaders don't always bring out the smarts in others. Many leaders, having spent years being rewarded for their intelligence, never look beyond their own capability to see and use the full genius of their team. Consider the superintendent who invites community input on the latest prekindergarten initiative, nodding and acknowledging suggested ideas, and then subsequently marches ahead with the exact plan he originally presented. Or the principal who dominates staff meetings with her diatribe on the school's priorities, never pausing long enough to take the pulse of the staff. You know these people because you've worked with and for them. These leaders are "diminishers" who underutilize people and leave talent on the table.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are leaders who use their intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of people around them. When these leaders walk into a room, light bulbs go on, ideas flow, and problems get solved. These leaders inspire employees to stretch themselves and to deliver results that surpass expectations. These are leaders like Erik Burmeister, principal of Hillview Middle School in Menlo Park, Calif., and 2013 California Principal of the Year. Burmeister unleashes creativity and energy in his staff by challenging them to "dream without limitation" and then responding to those dreams with a "yes, before no" attitude. Or Linda Aceves, an assistant superintendent in the Santa Clara County Office of Education and seasoned educator, who could have easily solved a troubled school's problems. Instead she used her knowledge to guide staff through a process of discovery, asking questions that stimulated thinking and sparked natural curiosity. These leaders seem to make everyone better and more capable. These leaders are "multipliers"--intelligence multipliers.

Our recent research, including more than 100 interviews with educators and more than 330 survey responses covering 49 leadership competencies, led us to a new model of leadership. In this model, leaders use their smarts to amplify the intelligence of people around them. We saw the magnitude of the challenges that can be tackled when everyone is operating to their fullest. Even more vividly, we saw that a change in leadership can facilitate a change in capability.

A leadership change

It was the summer of 1989, and Stephanie, wearing her brand-new interview suit and clutching her newly minted master's degree from Stanford University's Graduate School of Education, soared through the doors of her new employer, the internal training department of a private college. She was full of passion and brimming with ideas, ready to put her skills and education to use in her first big job. However, by early spring, her excitement dimmed. She found, as many of us did early in our careers, that her entry-level job as a training coordinator involved a daily grind of routine tasks like scheduling classrooms, copying class evaluations, and distributing them to the deans.

But Stephanie's source of discouragement extended far beyond her mundane, narrow role; she also was the prey of a smart but micromanaging boss, Diane, who had a knack for creating stress all around her. To Diane, it wasn't good enough to make the copies and get them distributed on time. They had to be stapled just so ... at a 45-degree angle for one recipient and paper clipped for another. She instilled a deep-seated fear in Stephanie, as if getting the staple wrong would bring down the entire operation. Stephanie's response was natural: She pulled back, played it safe, did the minimum, and tried not to screw up. Perpetuating the vicious cycle she started, Diane noticed Stephanie's pace decline and began to manage more tightly, criticizing Stephanie's mistakes and comparing her to her peers. Soon Stephanie wasn't doing much of anything well. Her enthusiasm was all but extinguished.

Sensing the crisis, Diane beckoned Stephanie into her office for "a chat." She chastised Stephanie's lack of enthusiasm and lack of effort. Stephanie tried desperately to explain that her current job responsibilities were so simplistic that they only required a fraction of her abilities. She begged for something more challenging to do. Undeterred by her pleas, Diane urged her to put forth greater effort and sent the seriously discouraged Stephanie back to her desk.

This situation festered for a couple months until the department had a change in leadership. A new manager, Lori, was appointed from within the group, and she could see that Stephanie was extraordinarily smart, actually driven, and severely underutilized. Lori told Stephanie, "Steph, we are spending too much time making paper copies of class evaluations. We need an online evaluation system. And given your drive, I need you to build it." With that, this brand-new manager dumped a stack of software manuals into Stephanie's arms and instructed, "Learn how to use this software. Let's see if you can develop a working prototype in the next three months." Lori outlined detailed expectations for the project and reminded Stephanie that she still needed to do her day job in full.

With her new leader's vote of confidence in her capabilities, Stephanie's performance shifted out of a slow grind and was pushed into high gear. Something had changed, and she was now on fire. Despite having no experience with computer software, she learned the inner workings quickly and built the prototype.

She tackled her administrative work with renewed thinking and energy. With her mind whirling with the new programming language she was learning, she even managed to remember which copies needed staples and which required paper clips.

The prototype that Stephanie built in three months further developed into a complete production system housed and supported by the information technology department. As for Stephanie, she went on to become a top-rated technology instructor.

The experience, Stephanie said, was "challenging but totally exhilarating ... my passion had returned, and I could not wait for the next big challenge that Lori would throw at me. She recognized my untapped potential and drew it out, beyond anything I could have imagined on my own."

Stephanie's experience illustrates that often a change in leadership can cause a change in capability. She was smart and capable under one leader but operating at a fraction of her true capability under the other. What did her first manager say and do that so diminished her intelligence and capability? And what did the second do that restored and expanded Stephanie's abilities to think, learn, and perform at her best?

Some leaders, like Lori, have an approach and style that makes us better and smarter. They amplify our intelligence in a way that allows us to give our best. With an increasingly demanding educational environment, faculty and staff are stretched, but many still admit to feeling underutilized. Their teaching and advising loads may be at capacity, but buried inside each is an immense reservoir of ideas. Our research suggests you can get more from people, twice as much in fact, without making costly overhead expenditures. We dove deeply into mindsets and behaviors that allow leaders to access and revitalize the intelligence in the people around them.

Contemplating "multipliers"

We set out to understand a fundamental question: Why do some leaders drain intelligence while others amplify it? We wanted to know what multipliers did, how they thought, and their effect on the intelligence and capability of those around them. We studied more than 400 leaders, including superintendents, principals, assistant principals, and teachers across the U.S., British Columbia, and the U.K.

As we studied diminishers and multipliers, we not only found they operate in dramatically different ways, but we also found they hold radically different assumptions about the intelligence of the people they work with. If diminishers see the world of intelligence and capability in black and white, multipliers see it as a rainbow; they think differently, and they operate differently, which causes people to respond differently--offering their full intelligence and discretionary effort.

From the diminisher's perspective, there is a small, elite group of really smart people, and then there are the rest of us. This thinking drives them to walk into their buildings each day with the assumption: "People won't figure it out without me." Imagine for a moment how you would lead if you assumed your teachers, assistants, and students wouldn't be able to make school work without you. It's not a very pretty picture and it involves a lot of hovering, stepping in, and telling. On the other hand, multipliers see intelligence in abundance and, beyond that, they believe that the more intelligence is stretched and challenged the more it grows. As multipliers walk through the schoolhouse doors, they think: "People are smart and will figure it out." What does it look like when you hold this assumption? Can you see more space, less rescuing, and more asking?

Five disciplines explain what these leaders did to get so much more of the capability and intelligence from the people they work with.

Managing talent. Multipliers lead people by operating as talent finders; they tap into people's natural talents regardless of their organizational position. People stay loyal to them not because they feel obligated, but rather because they know they will grow and be successful. In contrast, diminishers operate as gatekeepers by putting people into boxes, insisting that staying within the boundaries results in greater productivity. They tend to protect people and control resources, creating artificial restrictions that hamper effective use of all resources.

Fostering a productive environment. Multipliers establish a unique and highly motivating work environment where everyone has permission to think and space to do their best work. Multipliers operate as liberators, producing a climate that is both comfortable and intense. They remove fear and create safety that invites people to do their best thinking. But they also create an intense environment that demands people's best effort. In contrast, diminishers operate as tyrants, introducing a fear of judgment that has a chilling effect on people's thinking and work. They demand people's best thinking, but the environment they create prevents them from getting it.

Setting direction. Multipliers operate as challengers by seeding opportunities, laying down a challenge that stretches an organization, and generating belief that it can be done. In this way, they drive themselves and the organization to go beyond what was previously thought possible. In contrast, diminishers operate as know-it-alls, pushing their personal initiatives and methods to flaunt their genius, thus never asking their organization to do things they can't do themselves. While diminishers set direction, multipliers ensure direction gets set.

Making decisions. Multipliers make decisions in a way that informs and readies the organization to execute those decisions. They function as community builders, operating with transparency and constructing debate and decision-making forums to drive sound decisions. They build an organization that understands the issues and can quickly support and execute decisions. In contrast, diminishers operate as decision makers who make decisions efficiently within a small inner circle but leave the broader organization confused, only delaying the discussion. In reality, every decision in a school gets debated either upfront (multiplier) or postdecision (diminisher).

Getting things done. Multipliers are investors who demand excellence and give ownership while providing resources necessary for success. This results in strong, trusting relationships. In contrast, diminishers are micromanagers who get the job done alone and are often successful in spite of themselves. The problem is that things don't get done without them, and they become a bottleneck. The school staff spends its time seeking approval rather than educating.

The 2X multiplier effect

Not surprisingly, people reported that multipliers got more out of them than diminishers. When asked to identify the percentage of their capability being used by each type of leader, educators said a diminisher typically used between 20% to 50% of their capacity, whereas multipliers typically accessed between 70% and 100%. When we compared the two datasets, we found that multipliers got 2.3 times more intelligence than diminishers. And when we factored in the responses of people who said their multiplier got more than 100% of their intelligence (submitting responses such as 110%, claiming that their intelligence actually grew), we found that multipliers got 2.4 times more. Because multipliers are leaders who look beyond their own genius and focus on extracting and extending the genius of others, they get more from their people. They don't get a little more; as you can see, they get vastly more. In effect, they double the size of the brain-force in their organization. We refer to this as the "multiplier effect."

Diminishers can get the job done, but they come at a very high cost. They waste talent and intellect. When educational organizations are expected to do more with less, leaders can't afford to overlook the intelligence and capability that sits right in front of them. Despite their cost and their often-toxic effect on school culture, why do many of these diminishing leaders remain in positions of importance? Is it because staff and teachers working for diminishers operate in fear, retreat to a safe place, and learn to tread lightly hoping that "this too shall pass"? Or is it because they create a flurry of determined activity around them? We did not answer these questions in our research; rather, we chose to focus on the opportunities and the benefits of multiplier leadership. Nonetheless, it is apparent that these smart people are leading in a less effective but costly way. It is time to do the math and realize that school systems simply can't afford the costs these leaders incur.

What lies between?

While our research focused on the extreme ends of the leadership spectrum, we observed that most leaders operate in the middle, with many being what we call "accidental diminishers." These leaders unknowingly shut down the intelligence of those around them. We saw that often the greatest damage actually came from the leaders with the best of intentions. As educators, the best interest of students and staff is the underpinning of their leadership practice, which is why it is hard to imagine how any educational leader can shut down thinking and learning. We found that the biggest challenge to overcoming these tendencies has nothing to do with intentions; it arises from our assumptions about what is possible.

Accidental diminisher tendencies manifest in many ways, but there are two that we saw repeatedly in our research with educators.

#1. The leader who doesn't like to see people struggle, make mistakes, or fail. His intention is noble: He wants to protect his people. The obvious problem here, as educators will readily identify, is that learning through struggle is often more effective. When these well-intended "rescuers" step in to help, they actually starve people of vital learning opportunities that could prepare them to spot and avoid problems in the future. This creates a cycle of dependency that is often difficult to escape.

#2. The leader who is "always on." She is full of energy, always present, and always armed with something to say. She thinks her energy is infectious, but what actually happens is that others are unintentionally shut out of the conversation. Her people feel suffocated by all of her energy and enthusiasm.

The good news is that with these insights in mind, a leader can begin to lead with intention and minimize his potentially diminishing effect. In fact, during our research we heard from many leaders who ventured out to take a "multiplier experiment." These learning experiments invited leaders to change their approach by doing things like leading a meeting using only questions or dispensing their views in small, but intense doses. The leaders reported a sense of liberation when conducting these experiments. They noticed the burden of thinking shift away from themselves onto colleagues; more important, they saw the quality of the discussion and resulting solutions improve.

Leave no leaders behind

For years, we have tried to leave no students behind. Let's extend that to our educational leaders--our school staff, department heads, teachers, and teacher leaders. It's time to start asking is there latent intelligence in our schools' staff and faculty that can be more fully used? What would transpire at a school if the principal learned to lead like a multiplier and found a way to give teachers, parents, and students greater ownership for the success of the school? What if students and teachers learned these principles together?

Our studies suggest that aspiring multipliers can create genius around them, ensuring no leader is left behind, by creating more multiplier moments. We offer four strategies (see sidebar Steps to becoming a multiplier leader on p. 51) based on studying dozens of educational leaders who have successfully made the shift to lead more like a multiplier.

Our observations suggest that a multiplier school or district starts with at least one leader who believes that leading like a multiplier will cascade. Leaders who create this waterfall effect are the ones who ask, "How can we incorporate these disciplines into our daily leadership practice?" or, "What would it take for us to reimagine a standard procedure from the perspective of a multiplier?"

We've seen five steps that work across schools and districts that have begun to make the shift to multiplier leadership. (See sidebar Steps to becoming a multiplier school on p. 51.)

It is time for new leadership models--models that allow leaders to harness the collective intelligence of their organizations and channel it into their biggest challenges and opportunities. The model presented here illustrates how one moves away from being a leader who knows, directs, and tells, and moves toward becoming a leader who sees, provokes, and unleashes the capability of others.

We need everyone's best thinking to tackle the challenges and issues that face us, not only in education but also with some of the world's toughest problems. There is a tremendous need for educational leaders who find ways to get more capability and productivity from their current resources. When principals, superintendents, and deans operate as multipliers, educators and school staff are able to contribute at their fullest. These educators then create an environment where students are challenged and inspired to achieve at their fullest. We need multipliers leading our schools now more than ever.

Steps to becoming a multiplier leader

1. Get feedback by asking a colleague or taking an assessment at

2. Establish singular focus. Begin with the one discipline that promises the greatest return.

3. Create a success cycle. Begin with small, deliberate steps generating the energy to fuel the next big step.

4. Create a multiplier network. Amplify your journey by inviting others to share the thinking.

Steps to becoming a multiplier school

1. Seed the idea and plant the shared multiplier vocabulary.

2. Run a pilot with a small group of staff or students.

3. Host a school, district, or community book read.

4. Weave the concepts into regularly scheduled meetings and events.

5. Create a local multiplier learning network.

Caption: "The principal has sat in on so many of my classes, I'm thinking of giving him the exam."


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Title Annotation:Leadership in practice
Author:Foster, Elise; Wiseman, Liz
Publication:Phi Delta Kappan
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2015
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