A few weeks ago, I attended the American Marketing Association Leadership Summit 2013 in Chicago—a new experience for me, but an amazing one that yielded incredibly useful information and best practices for management and planning from AMA chapters all around the country. I left feeling energized and eager to begin strategic planning for the Cleveland Chapter of the AMA this summer.

Thanks to the final session I attended, I left with something more, as well: a better understanding of how to achieve the greatest results as a leader by empowering the people around me instead of simply focusing on my own contributions. While the whole summit was amazing, I was especially pumped to learn these tactics for fostering collaboration and better project outcomes not only with the AMA, but every day in my role at AKHIA.

The presentation I am referencing was based on a book called “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter,” and it was given by a powerful speaker named Stacy Armijo, an AMA national volunteer and PR lead at Pierpoint Communications, an agency in Austin, TX. While I have not read the book myself, Stacy did a great job of summing up many of the key tenets, and I am seriously considering looking into it now. I’ll attempt to do an equally useful job of summing up my takeaways here, as I think there is some serious value in these ideas.

First of all, a “multiplier” is a type of leader that produces “more,” whether that means more geniuses, more intelligence, more output or otherwise. A multiplier believes that people are, for the most part, capable, knowledgeable and valuable. The opposite is a “diminisher,” or someone that thinks that there are only a few smart people around (and that he/she are one of them), and treats others as inferior to some extent. There are a few key ways multipliers approach leadership that separates them from diminishers, including:

Talent: Developing it, not just using it

Mistakes: Exploring them, not just spreading blame

  • Directions: Challenging others, not just telling them what to do
  • Decisions: Consulting others, not just deciding
  • Productivity: Supporting on projects, not just controlling them
  • Demeanor: Intense, but not taking selves too serious (humor helps!)

Multipliers are talent magnets, because they recognize people’s “native genius” (the things they do better than everyone else) and capitalize on it. Multipliers are willing to shine the spotlight on these people when appropriate so that these team members learn to associate their native genius with success, and will emulate it in the future. Multipliers are also not afraid to find good people wherever they are, building cross-functional teams, as collaboration can lead to more developed ideas.

Multipliers focus on leading strongly, but not being overbearing. Some tactics to avoid this include:

  • Being a Liberator: Not talking first all the time, but letting others be responsible for outcomes by empowering them to contribute meaningfully. Leveling the playing field in meetings or otherwise is important, and some multipliers even strictly regulate how many times they speak.
  • Being a Debate Maker: Generating rapid learning cycles through openness, clearly defined questions that require data to support, and creation of an atmosphere of safety for best thinking and brainstorming.
  • Being a Challenger: Recognizing unique genius in people that others may not acknowledge, empowering them to feel and act intelligent. Asking leading questions can provoke people to think differently, too.
  • Being an Investor: Make team members invested in outcomes by naming project leads and making it clear that “this is their project”, which in turn gives them a sense of ownership of success. Along the same lines, multipliers must be willing to ask whether a project is right for a person if they really can’t handle it—remember though, that fear for the right reasons is okay!

A multiplier is a mix of demanding and empowering, willing to “give the pen back” after contributing to a project or assisting someone, but still demanding complete work. They give edits and insight, explaining their logic, but they only do it once, making team members responsible for improvement and listening. They ask, “Is this your best work?” and truly analyze a person’s work once the answer is “yes.” Mistakes are wonderful teachers, after all. Multipliers also demand a FIX, not just the raising of an issue—they challenge their teammates to always think of a solution to problems.

I think that one of the most important things to know about being a multiplier is that you don’t HAVE to be the boss to be one. Anyone can be a multiplier, especially in a close-knit team environment, like we have at AKHIA. We could all stand to listen and value the input of others more. And, personally, I believe it can happen by adhering to these principles.

I had never heard of a multiplier before, but I didn’t have to struggle to think of examples of multiplier and diminishers I have encountered before. I can think of times that I have served as both, though more often as a diminisher than I would like to admit. We hear people every day talk about how stupid others are… diminishers are all around us, in fact. We could stand to have more multipliers, especially in an industry like marketing/PR, where so much of our success is derived from collaborating with those who have expertise in different areas. It is something we focus heavily on at AKHIA—when Account Service, Creative and Content Development team members put their heads together, we see the most stunning final products emerge.

What do you think? Do you know a multiplier, or have you seen these practices at work before? How did they work out? Are there any areas you want to focus on, specifically? I’d love to hear your stories.