What a Years-Old Book Can Teach You About Leading Effectively
Sharing his insights from the helm of Alibaba, Daniel Zhang, CEO of the world's largest retail ecommerce company, recently wrote in a CNBC article about his admiration for a Chinese poem. That verse, he said, says, “You can’t see the mountain from the mountain.” And, Zhang said, he takes this advice to heart: When leaders are too close to a problem or project, they find it difficult to see the problem or project in context.
They need advisors with different perspectives to help them fully grasp what’s going on -- or going wrong.
That’s doubly true if you’re what author Liz Wiseman describes as a “multiplier.” In her 2010 book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, she writes that multipliers encourage and amplify the talents of those around them. These people, Wiseman writes, are often optimists, as well, always believing that their companies will prevail if they only persevere and honor their missions, no matter what the obstacles.
While optimism can be a lifeline for demoralized teams, it can also be a blind spot. In fact, optimism can turn multipliers into diminishers, or teammates who drain everyone else of their enthusiasm and energy. Although you might think optimists would buoy people’s spirits, their relentless positivity can prevent them from seeing real problems their teams will have to overcome. And few things are more frustrating than being smacked in the face with your boss’s "can-do" attitude when you’re really struggling with a problem.
The lesson here is that the path to effective leadership lies not just with multipliers or diminishers; it requires you to maintain an optimistic and visionary mindset balanced with a healthy dose of pragmatism. That’s how you inspire people and get things done. Here are the steps to do that .
Become an effective multiplier.
The beauty of being a multiplier is that you see people’s strengths, rather than homing in on their weaknesses. Because multipliers emphasize talent and celebrate people’s successes, they've likely earned loyalty (and increased productivity) from their team.
The best multipliers use their own gifts to amplify the talents of other people, with the result being a successful and dynamic company. But they’re also grounded in pragmatism. They don’t pretend to have all the answers, and they don’t meet every concern with a cheerful “everything will be all right!”
Effective leaders admit when they’re uncertain, and they invite feedback and input from people who understand problems better than they do. That’s how they identify the best path forward and lead their teams to great achievements.
Pragmatic multipliers also recognize that there are only so many priorities people can work on at one time. Startup founders in particular have new ideas every other day, but they’re strategic about introducing these concepts to their teams. They understand that they’re more likely to see those ideas come to fruition if they don’t overwhelm their employees with disparate assignments.
Most importantly, effective multipliers create supportive, positive and action-oriented cultures. If you want to strengthen your own organization by becoming a stronger leader, here are some specific moves:
1. Hire other pragmatic multipliers.
Cultures are made up of people, so whom you hire matters deeply to the environment you create. Ideally, you’ll recruit talented individuals who are interested in using their gifts for a greater good. Smart, ambitious people who are concerned with only their own advancement are almost certain to be diminishers, and their self-interested behavior will drag down morale and productivity.
As investor Marcus Lemonis told CNBC, the best employees care more about the company’s success than about their individual gains. Be like Lemonis: Look to recruit team players who prioritize the success of the company over their own egos.
2. Encourage people to share their opinions and concerns.
A no-fear atmosphere is essential to inspiring optimism and motivation. Companies that invite debate and critical thinking have a strong advantage when it comes to talent retention. Along these lines, a December Gallup poll found that only 3 in 10 American workers surveyed said they felt that their opinions were valued in the workplace.
You can’t expect people to give you their all if they’re afraid to speak their minds or raise questions about certain projects and decisions. Employees want to feel valued and respected. If they don’t, chances are they’ll become demotivated and eventually leave the organization.
3. Establish realistic but challenging targets.
Rather than using the term “goal-setting,” consider framing it as “opportunity-setting.” A simple shift in language can inspire people to push themselves past their previous accomplishments and hit further targets on behalf of the company.
Researchers Edwin Locke and Gary Latham found that autonomy and self-confidence directly correlate to achievement, so presenting assignments and goals in the language of opportunity will give people the sense of striving toward something new and exciting, motivating them to increase their productivity.
True leaders know that the only way to achieve sustainable success is to invest in themselves and their teams, and to hold everyone accountable for their results. This approach combines the best of optimism and pragmatism and leads to exponential increases in success. Multipliers uplift and achieve -- and they inspire others to it with them.