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How to spot a multiplier or detractor at work

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'A multiplier personality in business is someone who brings out the best in others,' according to a business psychologist.

If you’ve ever worked with someone who makes you feel useless and incompetent, you’re not alone. Bosses who bring down those around them are unfortunately pretty common — and can have a disastrous impact on businesses and individuals.

Leaders who encourage employees to be their best, on the other hand, are incredibly valuable. These are the managers who inspire and motivate you to form goals, aim higher and work harder.

Liz Wiseman, author of the book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, describes these two types of leaders as "multipliers" and "diminishers." But what exactly does this mean and what impact do they have on a company?

What are multipliers and detractors at work?

“A multiplier personality in business is someone who brings out the best in others,” explains business psychologist Dannielle Haig. “They aren’t threatened by others growing, developing and contributing. In fact, they encourage others to reach their potential. In positive psychology, we’d say that they have a growth mindset as they believe there is enough for everyone and together, they are stronger.

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“Multipliers help create a sense of psychological safety for their teams as they can push their colleagues to achieve,” she adds. “They have high expectations however, expecting greatness and this requires teams that work collectively, intelligently, confidently and creatively.”

A diminisher, otherwise known as a detractor, is someone who requires their ego to be the most inflated in the room. “The detractor must be at the forefront of the operation and they expect their team to be subservient to their whims and ideas. They generally rule with fear rather than trust,” Haig says.

“Employees don’t get the opportunities to develop and push their own boundaries as they’re busy fulfilling the detractor’s wishes. This results in stunted growth for individual employees managed by the detractor, as they don’t allow the opportunity to be innovative or creative within the workplace.”

While multipliers encourage contribution, detractors are unlikely to allow you to voice your opinions, explains career coach Elizabeth Houghton, who runs Sutton Full Potential.

“A detractor will use a divide and conquer technique to get buy-in from others for their ideas and to gain acceptance of their path forward,” she says. “They will prevent exceptionally talented team members from forming alliances with each other. Before any big meetings when a major project is being discussed with outsiders, the detractor will have a lot of side conversations with all their team members to ensure full support for their way forwards.

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In general, detractors have a detrimental impact on businesses and individuals because they lower motivation, engagement, creativity and job satisfaction. Houghton adds that detractors may have highly capable team members, but there is likely to be a high turnover among staff, which can be costly for companies.

Wiseman’s research included interviews with 150 executives in 35 countries and uncovered an interesting statistic. Leaders identified as multipliers received twice as much effort from their employees than diminishers. In fact, diminishers only received 48% of people’s “intelligence and capability.”

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How to tell if your boss is a multiplier or a detractor

Kate Cooper, head of research, policy and standards at The Institute of Leadership Management, says you can tell which camp your manager is in depending on whether you like working for them.

“If you like working with somebody who listens to you, is interested in what you say and gives you opportunities to learn from experience, then you have a multiplier,” she says. “If you feel that somebody is taking your ideas, taking credit for them and always wanting to have the final say, they are probably a diminisher.”

Ultimately, working for a detractor is a pretty miserable experience. Fulfilling their every whim and request can leave you feeling burned out, frustrated and lacking in self-confidence.

“To counteract this, ensure that you have your own goals clearly laid out. Have a plan of your own development so that you can fulfil your own purpose at work,” says Haig. “Ensure that you also fulfil your own goals and hobbies outside of work too — this will help with your self-confidence and efficacy.”

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Some may be able to speak to their detractor’s line manager, but this is obviously risky. Instead, it can also help to think about changes you can make as an individual. You might not be able to change your manager’s bad attitude, but being accountable, trustworthy, honest and open can have a positive impact on you and your colleagues. “By showing encouragement for your team members you will make more of a positive change than you realise,” Haig adds.

“Find a mentor from elsewhere in the organisation — this will help you gain an additional perspective and help boost your confidence whilst building your network in the organisation,” she says. “If all of the above doesn’t work and you feel your career is being hindered, then it may be time to look for another role elsewhere.”