28 Jul The Ultimate Growth Strategy for Your Startup
When people ask me the question of what it means to be a great leader, I point to math. Multiplication.
It’s the answer for how to increase the collective IQ and performance of your company. The answer for how you make your people smarter and more successful than they ever knew they could be. Which in turn becomes a force multiplier to your business.
Simply put: To accelerate growth and build a successful company, the best thing you can do as CEO and as a leader — the most essential — is to multiply others.
Multipliers get 2x the capacity from people. Diminishers get less than half.
Making Others Smarter
I first read Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter five years ago while on the management team for a venture-backed software company. It remains one of the top reads I recommend on an almost weekly basis to founders and leaders I work with.
Infusionsoft CEO Clate Mask led a surprising exercise at one of our quarterly exec offsites. After reading the assigned Multipliers in advance, the seven of us on the management team were asked to come prepared with a short list of ways as CEO Clate diminished us, along with the ways he multiplied us.
One by one, there in front of one another we took our turns sharing as our CEO listened thoughtfully, jotting down notes as we spoke. While tempting for most, he never replied in defense of himself. Instead, he asked clarifying questions to be sure he understood what we each meant. It made an impression on me and the others, and we each took this approach back to our teams. And we noticed a difference in how he let go in certain areas, pushing us to ask bigger questions.
As a leader, for this to work, you must first be on an intentional path to up your self-awareness. It must be done in a high-trust team environment. And like Clate, you can’t get defensive. Low desire for self-awareness, unsafe team environment or guards up ready to fight are not the ingredients for this to work.
When the opposite is in place, it’s nothing short of magic. It’s still one of my favorite exercises I learned working for him.
Today I advise founders and leaders to set a big vision, hire smart people and drive execution hard. My high need for control and insane bar for excellence brought some of the diminisher out in me. I see now in looking back while my team would say I was supportive and encouraging, and empowering, I could do better — let them spread their wings, make more mistakes to go bigger, and instead of supplying answers, ask of them even bigger questions in framing the issues facing the business.
It’s ok if you aren’t born with this. In fact, most of us aren’t. It’s a skill you hone by observing great leaders, taking risks, learning and thinking about leadership, operating your business and testing it out daily — rooted in a desire to be a better human and leader because you make others better.
“It is not hard to be a multiplier. But it is much easier to be a diminisher.”
Step 1: Diagnosis
Within your organization — starting with you — there, lurking are both great, good and mediocre leaders who can all be better in some way. Literally, imagine just hiring one more body for each person who’s diminished by their boss to make up for that half that it’s costing you. Painful to imagine when looking at your P&L and hiring forecast, but true.
Set the example by upping your self-awareness around what you are doing in these two camps. You can do it individually or like Clate, as a group exercise.
Multipliers’ author Liz Wiseman boils it down to this:
Diminishers are 1) Empire builders who hoard and underutilize talent. 2) They are tyrants who create anxiety and suppress thinking. 3) Know-it-alls who tell people what to do. 4) Decision makers who make isolated decision. 5) Micromanagers who take over, control
Multipliers are 1) Talent magnets who attract and optimize talent. 2) Liberators who create intensity that requires best thinking. 3) Challengers who extend challenges. 4) Debate makers who debate before deciding. 5) Investors who instill ownership and accountability.
Step 2: Action
How to change?
What I recommend to founders and CEOs I work with is to get honest with yourself, I mean really honest by taking a hard look and noticing how you lead. Seek out valuable feedback. Shut up and listen intently. Use that as fuel in committing to replacing bad habits starting today.
A-players want to work for multipliers. Period.
Wiseman suggests these three places to start:
1. Shift from answers to questions. Don’t provide all the answers — ask the right questions. Ask the questions that get other people thinking and piecing together that vision for themselves.
2. Dispense your ideas in small doses. If you are an idea guy who is prone to toss out more ideas than anyone can catch or have the gift of gab, try dispensing your ideas in small, but intense doses. Introduce fewer ideas, and leave white space.
3. Expect complete work. People learn best when they are fully accountable and experience the consequences of their work. Instead of jumping in and fixing the work of others, give it back to them and let them know what needs to be improved or completed.
Lead Like A Multiplier
It comes down to 2x. Or half. You decide.
What situations bring out the diminisher in you? What questionable inner beliefs about yourself are you avoiding that would cause you to lead from a place of draining rather than amplifying your teams?
Deeper self-inquiry, lessening ego, deeper focus on being of service not bossing and hiring strictly A-players — all growing up in the daily operations of multiple business — have been my best antidote and guide in becoming a better leader.
But the power in multiplication does not solely rest with you. In fact, if you are the only one, you don’t get the powerful math from it. You as CEO plant the seed. Just as importantly, you hold everyone else accountable to create that domino effect within your direct reports. They in turn do the same with theirs. Then and only then does this become your company’s most powerful growth accelerator.
When done authentically, your management team will be inspired to follow suit with their teams. The outcome: a powerful cascading effect of performance increase that permeates throughout the company.
The sooner a founder views this as possibly the greatest growth inhibitor, and highest return activity, the better chance for successful business outcomes. Otherwise it’s your biggest, yet most invisible cost center.
And it’s not even on any Monday dashboard.