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Making the most of your talent

Leadership lessons from Silicon Valley

A leadership expert and 17-year veteran of Oracle explains the difference between multipliers and diminishers, and they key to amplifying the intelligence of the people around you.

Oracle has always been known for hiring really smart people. But when I looked around at my colleagues, I noticed that some of them didn’t behave that way around certain leaders. These leaders shut down the intelligence of the people around them, while other leaders seemed to amplify it.

I came to call the leaders who shut it down diminishers, and the ones that amplified it multipliers or genius makers. Not only were these individuals smart and capable themselves, they were able to bring out the smarts and capability in everyone around them.


"The best leaders find the native genius in everyone in the organization, and put it to work."

- Liz Wiseman, former global leader for human resource development for Oracle


I was hired at Oracle at a time of rapid growth, and the way you solved all your problems was to hire more resources. Of course, then the dot-com bubble burst, and everything changed. Suddenly we all had no choice but to do more with less.

The logic of a multiplier—whether in times of boom or bust—is to ask: how can we get more from the resources we already have? My research shows that, amazingly, multipliers get virtually all of people’s intelligence—95 per cent of it, while diminishers get less than half—48 per cent of people’s capability. So essentially, the organization is paying $1.00 and getting back 48 cents of value from the people they have hired who work under diminishing leaders. 

The logic of multiplication is to say, ‘We’ve got all this latent, unused intelligence inside of our organization; rather than hiring more people, why don’t we start by fully using the people we already have?’ This not only makes sense for economic reasons, but because when you make full use of your talent, you create a vibrant, exhilarating place to work.

I still work in Silicon Valley, and so many of the companies here are just obsessed with hiring brilliant people. They comb through the universities and bring in the top graduates they can find. Diminishers love to hire smart people as much as the next person; but what I have noticed is, they don’t spend much effort thinking about how to make the most of that intelligence once it’s in the door, and as a result, talent is often under-utilized. That’s the logic of diminishers: they go about acquiring the best resources possible, essentially for show.

A far better strategy is to be a multiplier. The best leaders find the native genius in everyone in the organization, and put it to work.

- Liz Wiseman is on the Thinkers50 ranking of the world’s most influential management thinkers, and served for 17 years as the vice president of Oracle University and as Oracle’s global leader for human resource development.

Read the full article in Rotman Management magazine.

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