Liz Wiseman Multiliers Leadership

Reading leadership books is one thing.

Implementing them? Putting the philosophies into practice? Figuring out which piece you should do first? Now that is something that can be really daunting in amongst a day filled with high priority, time sensitive issues you need to deal with.

So what to do?

In this post, I interview Liz Wiseman – Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, a speaker and executive advisor. Liz shares some great leadership insights covering business, education, parenting and sport.

It’s a long ranging interview [approx 28 mins] triggered by her new book focussing on the education sector: The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools.

So if you don’t want to watch all 28 mins or read the whole transcript, the number 1 take home for me was this:

Stop having the answers and start asking the questions. Then, when you do ask a question, wait 5 secs for an answer.

That’s it.

To watch/read the rationale jump to 16:49 in the video or scroll down about 2/3rds of this post to the sub header: The One Thing. (I’ve also gone through and bolded my favourite parts if you’d like a 3min skim.)

Do you have any immediately actionable leadership tips or tricks? Please share in the comments!



Enter Liz:


Toby Jenkins: Hi. My name is Toby Jenkins and I’m the CEO of Bluewire Media and I’m stoked to be joined by one of my friends and heroes, Liz Wiseman today, author of ‘Multipliers‘, a Wall Street Journal best seller. Thanks so much for joining us Liz.

Liz Wiseman: Oh, it’s my pleasure to join you and to get to talk to your team and friends, followers, fans, clients of Bluewire Media.

Toby Jenkins: Thanks Liz. So today you’ve written the book ‘Multipliers’ and now your second book is coming out called ‘The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools‘ and it follows on the ‘Multiplier’ theme, obviously, but this time specifically focusing on the education system. Just to kick off for those who don’t know and for the benefit of those who haven’t heard of the ‘Multipliers’ concept, could you walk through what a Multiplier is and the theory of the concept, I guess?

Multipliers Vs Diminishers

Liz Wiseman: Yeah, sure. The idea behind Multipliers, it’s a very simple idea. It’s a type of who leader uses his or her intelligence – their knowledge, their technical skill, their market savvy, their talent – they use their intelligence to amplify the intelligence of people around them. People who work around them get to operate at their full intelligence and get smarter and more capable working for them.

I contrast a multiplier leader with a diminisher leader, who is often so concerned and wrapped up in their own intelligence and the need to be the smartest one in the room, that they often shut down the intelligence of others and that they leave people operating at a fraction of their capability and intelligence. So that’s the concept of multipliers and diminishers: that a lot of our organisations have latent or unused talent sitting inside of them. There is more talent inside our organisations than we see with our naked eye.

Business leaders : Educational leaders

The Multiplier Effect by Liz Wiseman - leadership in educationToby Jenkins: Cool. So in this book focusing on the education system can you explain the differences between the two books? So how does this book focusing specifically on education differ from the original one which really had a lot of examples from business, from sport. You had educational examples in the original book as well. So how does this one differ?

Liz Wiseman: Well, let me start on how the concept applies to education. Then I’ll give you a few ideas on mechanically what’s different about this book. What this book, The Multiplier Effect, does is it takes this concept of a leader as multiplier and it applies it to our educational leaders and really targets this message for them and what’s unique about the educational space. As a backdrop, I think we face what might be the challenge of this decade – that we have schools that are trying to prepare students for a reality that is changing as fast as our budgets are shrinking, and we have school leaders burdened with more legislation; with failing schools, with disruptive technology coming in and really questioning what we do inside of our schools and competition if you will, from very unconventional places in the educational process. Educational leaders are struggling. ‘How do I do more? How do I drive achievement and do it on a shrinking budget?‘ Which is not actually dissimilar from the challenge that a lot of business leaders face, whether that be a small enterprise of a dozen people or a large firm.

…the intelligence that we need to solve our hardest, most complex problems really already sits inside of the schools. The answers aren’t necessarily going to come from legislation or at the national level from policy or polls. It’s going to come from those who are teaching our children.

What we seek to do in this book is help leaders inside of our schools realise that a lot of the intelligence that we need to solve our hardest, most complex problems really already sits inside of the schools. The answers aren’t necessarily going to come from legislation or at the national level from policy or polls. It’s going to come from those who are teaching our children. Universities are struggling with massive issues around budget shrinkage, supporters at the federal or national level, shrinking attendance for online courses.

This is a model of leadership for educational leaders with the multiplier model adapted for the realities of the education environment and also populated with examples and stories, I’d love to say completely from the education space, but I have to admit I have a few favorite business examples that I snuck into this new book because the examples are so fun and so good that I wanted to share them with our educational leaders.

Toby Jenkins: Okay. So how then did you measure the results specifically in the education environment? The definition of your multiplier is that they have two times the output or the intensity and the commitment, the intelligence and capacity of the people that are leading. Was that the same measure that you use in the education space?

Liz Wiseman: Well, it is. We used the exact same methodology. We actually got more data inside the education space than we did. What we found is that… the sort of the methodology we used is – we went to professionals. So, in the business world they would be successful professionals like you and people who have had a good run in their career, and we asked them to identify two different kinds of leaders, one that seem to lead a team to solve hard, complex problems; and another leader around whom these kinds of problems didn’t get solved. Progress was slow. We asked people to tell us about these leaders, describe what they did, how they operated and to give us two numbers. Well both numbers were an assessment of how much of their intelligence – their intellect, their ideas, what their capability were – the leaders getting from them.

So it’s not how hard you were working, it’s really how much of your intelligence was put into play because of the way this leader led. So a score for the diminishers and a score for the multipliers. When we studied this in the business world we found that there was a 1.97 times differential or 2x effect. When we studied this in the education world, we found that it’s actually 2.3 times so there is an even bigger differential with diminishers doing a more extreme job. Diminishers we found in the business were getting about half of people’s capability, and in the education world we found it was closer to 40 percent.

Toby Jenkins: Okay. That’s not so good.

Liz Wiseman: It’s horrifying to know that we hire these brilliant teachers and we send our children off to these schools and we have leaders who are suppressing 60% of people’s intelligence.

Toby Jenkins: That’s a significant chunk.

Liz Wiseman: As a tax payer, it doesn’t feel good to pay a dollar to fund a school and to know that 60% of that is evaporating. So we see this enormous opportunity. Of course not all schools are lead by diminishers. We hope it’s the minority, but we believe that there are a lot of unused capabilities inside of our schools. Higher Ed, our universities, our trade schools, our elementary or K-through-12-schools that we think can be put to use.

What surprised you most?

Toby Jenkins: Right. In terms then of applying those findings, what was the most unusual finding – in your opinion – from the book? What surprised you most in your research?

Liz Wiseman: Here’s what surprised me the most. I come out of the business where there is essentially a free market of talent. Let’s say, Toby, you’re working for me in the corporate world and you decide that Liz isn’t using you well, is a diminisher. Let’s say a raging diminisher. What recourse do you have? You can go get a job anywhere, right? But if you’re an educator, if you’re a teacher, perhaps you are in a teacher’s union, perhaps you are on a tenure based system. If you’re a teacher and I am a principal who is suppressing ideas and intelligence, you don’t have the same kind of mobility as in the business world. Often teachers use their seniority when they transfer to a new school system. It’s such a locally based job market. apple of leadership

…people don’t necessarily vote with their feet…

What we found is people don’t necessarily vote with their feet which means if they are in an environment where they are being held back, they can go find an environment where they can. A lot of times teachers have to wait. You know, ‘This too shall pass,’ and hopefully this principal will be reassigned and go bless some other school. Maybe they hope that in the next couple years a new principal, a new headmaster comes along who really sees the talent in them and other teachers, engages it, uses it in full and creates a really vibrant environment. I think this is why there is this larger differential – is that educators learn to tolerate bad leadership because the job market is really different than it is in the business world. There is not quite as much mobility based on the structure. A lot of times there is loyalty to the student base and the student body.

Toby Jenkins: That brings up an interesting question which is – Did you see the flow on effect of the multiplier at the teacher level? Did you study any of the effect on the student base?

Teachers as Multipliers & Diminishers

Liz Wiseman: You know we did, and that was part of the inspiration for the book. As I was studying these issues in the business world, often people were pointing to educators that they had and we were really inspired by teachers who just lead like multipliers. Teachers who are smart, who are brilliant, but use that intelligence to create a rich learning environment where instead of telling people the answer, they are asking the hard questions. They are challenging students. They are pushing, they are stretching, and they are creating an environment in the schools not only of performance and doing well on tests but of making mistakes and learning from mistakes. It’s sort of an experiment based environment where students get to be innovative and creative, challenge the status quo. So actually the book is populated not just with stories of administrators, principals, deans, and superintendents. It’s got sprinkled in there stories of some educators that just challenged and brought out the best in the students in their classroom.

Toby Jenkins: I mean that is certainly a story I can relate to for sure. I remember seeing a questionnaire where one of the things was ‘Do you remember who won the Olympic Gold Medal in 1994 or whatever, 1992? The 100 meter sprinter? Can you name a great teacher in your life?’ and the great teacher comes in a heartbeat.

Liz Wiseman: Oh, absolutely. I know you’ve got a history in athletics and Olympic athletics and I bet you can think about coaches who had that kind of impact in your. I don’t know maybe we’ll put you on the spot, I don’t know if a teacher comes to mind or a coach comes to mind. Here’s your big moment. This coach or teacher really brought out the best in me:….

Toby Jenkins: Yeah, I’ve probably got four or five that I could count that I would say that I was really fortunate to have, that really pushed me but in a really positive way and I guess in a way that suited me too. I guess, different people react to different styles but there have certainly been people who have had a huge impact on me. There is no doubt about that. For sure.

Liz Wiseman: Again, I’m putting you a little on the spot with this, Tobes, but what is it these teachers did? If there was kind of common thing? Did they give you space? Did they push?

Toby Jenkins: I think one of the things that I really recognise from your initial book was the building of a reputation to live up to. Setting a standard for excellence, and then supporting you to get there and helping you on the belief side. So then you felt as though, and watching other people in those teams as well, people who weren’t necessarily the top players actually… It was really interesting watching the really top players who played well, but then the guys in the middle played a whole lot better. The impact on those guys was just worlds apart and particularly in a team environment that has a huge impact when you are lifting the bar of your average performance. If that increased significantly, then really the whole team benefits as opposed to just trying to get the one person to be a few percent better.

a team environment that has a huge impact when you are lifting the bar of your average performance

Liz Wiseman: Absolutely, and when I applied this to the business world as well it was so easy for us to focus on our star talent. What happens is you get a star one or two degrees better. It would be the equivalent of – What if you added an IQ point or two to one or two stars, versus – What if you could raise the IQ level of an entire team by 10%? We also, in the business world and in the education world, it’s very easy to focus on the low performing players. Sometimes it’s – How do we remove them from the organisation? or How do we try and coach, or ‘up’ the performance a few degrees? There is a huge opportunity in the middle. How do you get a whole team to rise to a new level of capability and performance? What happens to people individually when you do this? But then, What it is across an entire classroom or an entire business when everyone is challenged? There is a concept that I’m sure you’re familiar with from the original book. This idea of, you know, multiplier as challenger. Inviting people into a stretch challenge. What we find is that these multipliers in education and business, they make people uncomfortable. They ask people to do things that are hard and uncomfortable and make people a little wobbly maybe in the knees. But they don’t do it blindly. Like, ‘Oh, hey we’re going to go do this thing’. For me, it might be I’m a bit of a runner, but it’s not like ‘Okay, Liz, let’s see if you can run this marathon in two and a half hours or three hours.‘ Well that’s ridiculous! The last marathon I ran was four and a half hours.

Toby Jenkins: Well done for finishing one!

Liz Wiseman: Thank you. But I am not sure it was very impressive. But what if someone said, ‘What if you could beat your time by 15 minutes? What would it take to do that? What would it look like?‘ Essentially what they do is they offer people a challenge that is a level up, sort of using a bit of game theory. It’s super sizing someone’s job. Maybe giving them a job, a responsibility that is a size too big and saying, ‘You know what? You can grow into that.’

The One Thing

Toby Jenkins: Yeah, I’ve definitely seen that happen particularly in water polo, time and time again, from those good coaches. Watching them do that, it’s great. Liz, I guess, if I was a teacher and I came to you and I said, ‘How can I become a multiplier?’ and you could only choose one thing out of all your research… If you could only choose one thing that would have the biggest impact? What would that be, would you think? What do you think would have the greatest impact in terms of that end result and maximising the capacity that you are getting from your team and those around you? and also – How then would you implement that?

Liz Wiseman So, can I have one and a half things?

Toby Jenkins: Yes. Okay.

…shifting from having the answers, to asking the questions

Liz Wiseman: So if there is one thing that would put someone on a path to being more of a multiplier, it’s shifting one’s orientation as a leader, as a teacher, from having the answers to asking the questions. This is probably the most important role a leader plays: is to shift the burden of thinking from themselves and on to their followers, their organisations, their students, and so they ask questions rather than provide answers. That’s the one thing that I would say is the most powerful thing a leader, educational or business leader can do to be more of a multiplier.

Make a 5 second change

Here is where the half comes in. I stumbled onto some research when I was writing The Multiplier Effectfor schools… and this is a really fascinating piece of research. It was done back in the ’60s where they studied ‘wait time between’ because a lot of teachers are trained to ask questions rather than to spout what they know. They measured the ‘wait time between‘ when a teacher asks a question: How much time he or she waited before following up with a second question or giving an answer. How long might they wait in that uncomfortable space? So if I asked you a question, ‘Toby, what is it that your most impactful coach did?‘ Wait, wait, wait, wait… And it gets to a point where it gets uncomfortable. Whoa. I don’t have an answer right away so I am having to think about that. A lot of teachers will jump in very quickly and say ‘Oh, okay. I see. I’ve caught you off guard. I’ve made you uncomfortable. Let me make it easier. Let me let you off the hook‘. When teachers waited – on average – five seconds, phenomenal things happened in the classroom. Not only did individual learning go up but peer collaboration went up, the richness of dialogue went up, the in-depth of learning, the ability of the students to make connections – when they asked a question and then wait… one, two, three…

When teachers waited – on average – five seconds, phenomenal things happened in the classroom.

clockToby Jenkins: So you’re basically saying, make a five second change?

Liz Wiseman: Make a five second change.

Toby Jenkins: Wow.

Liz Wiseman: Ask questions and then let some uncomfortable silence transpire. It’s hard to do.

Toby Jenkins: That’s pretty amazing. Wow. That’s really cool.

Liz Wiseman: I think it applies in the business world as well. You’ve got your creative team together and you’re like, ‘Guys, what could we do that would be really innovative for this client?‘ Wait, wait, wait, wait. That uncomfortable silence. One, it gives people time to think and, two, it creates a vacuum because it’s a little awkward, right? It’s not quite creepy but it’s awkward enough that what do people want to do?

Toby Jenkins: Fill it.

Liz Wiseman: Fill it. Right? Which is why we tend to jump in and answer our own questions because it’s uncomfortable. But let that uncomfortable silence sort of provoke thinking or get people to go beyond the standard answers and really deepen the thinking. So that would be the one and a half things. Ask questions, give people time to wait. I find that the way to do this… Well, it’s not easy. Let me not say that. It’s fun. It’s simple. It’s simple. It’s not easy, to take what I call ‘the extreme question challenge’ and that is – lead something, a meeting, a conversation and commit to yourself that you are only going to do it by asking questions. No statements. No kind of filler. Active listening like, ‘Oh Tobes, that’s a good idea. Good on ya mate.’ You let go of all of that and you just ask questions. All you need to do is try it once. It’s hard, but when you do it, it forces you to think about – How do I lead by asking, not telling? How do I help people find a conclusion? How do I shift that burden of thinking?

Teach, by asking

I think it’s an art form that serves leaders incredibly well. For me, when I did this for the first time – this was about dozen years ago – I had three small children at the time. I’ve got four now, but this was when it was a mere three: three little ones, and I was talking to a colleague at work and telling him what bedtime was like in our house. In a word, chaos. I was describing bedtime, ‘Kids put that away, leave her alone. Come over here, get your pajamas on, go brush your teeth. No, no, no. Come over here. Go back. Use toothpaste. Okay, grab a book. Get to bed. Go back to bed. Stay in your bed‘. Tell, tell, tell, tell. Compelling my children into bed every night, and my buddy Brian just said, ‘Liz why don’t you try something tonight? Why don’t you go home and just speak to your children in only in the form of questions? No statements, and of course my response was an immediate, ‘Impossible! You can’t do that. This is three and a half hours between when I get home and when they go to bed. I can’t do that,‘ and he challenged me with this little uncomfortable challenge. I gave it a go and it was remarkable.

You know we got to bedtime and I looked at my watch and it was like, ‘Kids what time is it?‘ They knew. They are like, ‘It’s bedtime.’ ‘Well what do we do at bedtime? What’s first?

Well we put our toys away, Mom’. ‘Who needs help with their pajamas? Who is going to be the first to get their teeth brushed? What story are we going to read tonight? Who’s picking the story? Who’s reading the story?‘ Then I think the final question was, ‘Who’s ready for bed?‘ And my kids were like, ‘Me, me, me’. They are shaking with enthusiasm for going to bed. ‘Me, I’m ready!‘ They got into their beds and they stayed there and I, of course, am wondering, ‘Wow, I wonder how long they’ve known how to do this?‘ because I had been doing it for them and to them. It really created a profound shift in me. I have become a very different parent.

Toby Jenkins: Practicing what you preach, Liz?

It changed my ability to teach by asking

Liz Wiseman: Well, maybe there is some ‘preach what you practice, too’, then finally you have be accountable for ‘practice a little bit what you preach’, but it did change me as a parent. It changed my ability to teach by asking. It started to… as I tried this in my home… it started to change me at work. When I realised there were a lot of people in my management team, when I worked at Oracle, that didn’t need me telling them what to do. They knew what to do. They were just humoring me and letting me talk. I started to ask more and let other people find the answers and it’s amazing what happens when one asks a question and lets other people figure it out.

Toby Jenkins: That’s great. I love all that, Liz. Thank you. Thank you so much. That was all that I wanted to cover today and it’s great to chat to you again. I just love that idea of making a change that is five seconds, and then I guess the challenge then is the discipline to stick to that. But I really love that as a take home for our audience now is to try the five second silence and see how it’s going.

Liz Wiseman: It would be fun for us to practice it right now but it would probably be pretty boring for anyone who might watching along.

Toby Jenkins: I think so.

Liz Wiseman: But I have to say, it is so inspiring to see what you and the whole team at Bluewire has really done with The Multiplier ideas. When the book was in its early days, you got hold of those ideas and you’ve just been this incredible example of putting them into practice, identifying the native genius of people on your team, using it in how you manage a team and how you engage clients, and then challenging your team with these kind of crazy, ‘How do we do this remarkable piece of work in a quarter of the time?‘ Finding how that’s energising to your team, and not draining.

Toby Jenkins: Thanks Liz.

Liz Wiseman: Anyways, you’ve been brilliant examples to me. So thank you.

Toby Jenkins: We are just trying to live up to what you’ve shared, so thanks for sharing it and thanks for doing all the hard work to find out how all this stuff works as well. So Liz, thank you so much for sharing all of that. How can people find out more about you and The Multipliers Effect book?

Liz Wiseman: Well, we’ve got a website now for the two combined books. It’s called and if you go there you can either opt for the business book, ‘Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter‘ or the ‘Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools‘. There is a whole set of assessments and tools and resources in that. I also will say that, while we put the Multiplier Effect book together for the education community, there are few goodies in there that, if you are a business leader, make a lot of sense including ‘Ten multiplier experiments’ where there are one page ‘Go try this thing’, like the extreme question challenge. The five second wait. You can get access to all that on the website.

Toby Jenkins: Terrific. Well I’ll add a link to this video, this interview so people can go and jump on it straightaway. Thanks again Liz. Really appreciate your time.

Liz Wiseman - Multipliers leadership guru

Liz Wiseman: Toby, thank you.


Connect with Liz and her work via her website – The Wiseman Group – or on Twitter @LizWiseman, and check out her books

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