Multipliers: A Math Term Applied to Leadership
At some point in our education, we learn about the term and concept of multipliers (a third grade concept according to the Common Core State Standards). By one definition, a multiplier is “an instrument or device for multiplying or intensifying some effect.” If you have something positive, or something that is working well in your office or environment, it seems logical if you want to increase or intensify that factor. This math term is applied to the concept of school leadership in a book called The Multiplier Effect, written by Liz Wiseman, Lois Allen and Elise Foster.
In conceptual English, a “multiplier” brings out the full capacity (including intelligence, energy and capability) of an individual in any given work environment, whereas a “diminisher” (intentionally or unintentionally) inhibits the full demonstration of one’s capacity. A person who is considered to be a multiplier (displaying certain traits or disciplines) will influence countless others to contribute more than they thought they could do, while diminishers inspire the bare minimum amongst staff and employees. In economic terms, it’s a good return on investment to have a multiplier leading the effort.
In our schools, we need bright and creative leaders, those who foster collaboration, trust, innovation, and safe and supportive learning environments for students. Schools are communities that need a strong leader who sets the tone, but ultimately their success depends on everyone who works in the system. Principals are in a unique position to be the multiplier, creating a school-wide effect that taps into the human genius, creating buy-in from staff and pushing each person in the community (be they staff or student) to use their highest level of intellect, problem-solve and grow.
To understand the traits and behavior of a multiplier, it is helpful to contrast their characteristics with so-termed diminishers, and it is equally important to realize that some leaders are accidental diminishers who are simply unaware of how their actions affect others in the workplace. We’ve probably all encountered diminishers, but it’s likely we’ve all encountered multipliers as well.
Diminishers assume that “people won’t figure it out without me,” and their five characteristics are:
- The Gate Keeper – Hoards resources and underutilizes talent
- The Tyrant – Creates a tense environment that suppresses people’s thinking and capability
- The Know-It-All – Gives directives that showcase how much they know
- The Decision Maker – Makes centralized, abrupt decisions that confuse the organization
- The Micromanager- Drives results through their personal involvement
Multipliers assume that “people are smart and will figure it out,” and their five features are:
- The Talent Finder – Attracts talented people and uses them at their highest point of contribution
- The Liberator – Creates an intense environment that requires people’s best thinking and work
- The Challenger – Defines an opportunity that causes people to stretch
- The Community Builder – Drives sound decisions by constructing decision-making forums
- The Investor – Gives other people ownership for results and invests in their success
While principals set the tone and can be the multipliers, they are also modeling behavior that can help bring out the best in their staff. These educators are then empowered to use skills that are crucial to life success in the 21st century (critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration), setting an example for their students and transferring a similar attitude to them. A good multiplier’s reach can also extend from a district level.
It is important to consider how we ask people to contribute, the level of ownership they have in idea development and execution and overall, how we build organizational intelligence. Multipliers do this by inspiring, supporting, and tapping into the genius and creativity that resides within the minds of their staff and talent in schools.
One idea person, one genius, one intelligent person will not change a system; people in the system change it together, from within. Staff members want the opportunity to contribute to the success of their work environment and have the greatest influence on their students possible. If they are kept on the sidelines and intellectually underutilized, receive top down instructions and are at the brunt of centralized abrupt decisions, predictably they are more likely to disengage. The transition of leader to multiplier is not an instantaneous one, but the eventual effects are worth learning your multiplication table.
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- Actress/Mathematician Danica McKellar on girls and math
- Best Selling Author Kenneth C. Davis on engaging with history
- Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Danielson on providing health care at school
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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