Tag Archives: diminishers

Self-Deprecating – Good! Other-Deprecating – Not So Good!

self-deprecating, self-depreciating
having a tendency to disparage oneself

People can be energized, or absolutely drained, by what a boss/supervisor/”leader” does.  Some leaders, the folks that Liz Wiseman calls “Multipliers,” energize the people around them.  Others, the folks that Liz Wiseman calls “Diminishers,” drain the very life out of those around them.

In case you can’t figure this out, it is better to work with/for a Multiplier than a Diminisher.  And it is better to be a Mulitplier than to be a Diminisher.

Here is a specific clue:  is your leader one who uses “self-deprecating” humor or “other-deprecating” humor?  If “self-deprecating” means “having a tendency to disparage oneself,” then “other-deprecating” would mean “having a tendency to disparage others.”

Call it what you will — criticism, mean-spirited slamming, competition run amuck — but whatever you call it, it is energy draining with a very negative outcome.

Consider these two quotes from Wiseman’s book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter:

On a whim we added “Great Sense of Humor” to our leadership survey.  Our suspicions proved right.  The humor of the Multiplier is very George Clooney-esque – a self-deprecating wit and an ability to put others at ease, allowing people to be themselves.  As one journalist wrote of Clooney, “After fifteen minutes, he made me feel comfortable in my own house.”  A Clooney costar said, “He has a way of daring you…which can be irresistible.”


Some leaders seemed to drain intelligence and capability out of the people around them.  Their focus on their own intelligence and their resolve to be the smartest person in the room had a diminishing effect on everyone else.  For them to look smart, other people had to end up looking dumb…  They create a vortex that sucks energy out of everyone and everything around them…  these leaders were idea killers and energy destroyers.

For them to look smart, other people had to end up looking dumb. It is almost as though these “diminishers” in a leadership position view those they “lead” as their competitors – “I’ve got to show that I’m better than/smarter than/more successful than those I lead.”  Which means, of course, that they are not leading at all – they are driving away:  driving away initiative, driving away cooperation, driving away ambition, driving away their team.

Self-Deprecating – Good!  Other-Deprecating – Not So Good!

Can A Diminisher Become A Multiplier?

Can a person really change? Can a diminisher become a multiplier?

I know of no question more difficult than this one.  And, to quote again from Cecil Eager, the owner of The Gruene Mansion Inn in New Braunfels, “you can teach someone how to check someone in – but you can’t teach friendly.”  If a person is not friendly to begin with, you can’t teach friendly, and such a person seldom becomes “friendly.”

I keep thinking about this as I read business books.  So many books describe the way the world could be/should be.  But to actually move from here to there is one tough assignment.

At the moment, I am reading through Multipliers:  How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman.  (Read Bob Morris’ review of this book, on our blog, here).  The book has this great narrative about the difference between a leader who is a diminisher, (thus, in reality, not a leader at all), and a leader who is a multiplier.  It is a graphic depiction, a really clear image; one that makes sense.  A person in a leadership position either has the ability to help people become more than they would be without such a leader, or they can diminish someone, literally de-motivating people, squeezing life right out of them.  This is the very essence of leadership

Liz Wiseman quotes Bono at that the beginning of her book:

“It has been said that after meeting with the great British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, you left feeling he was the smartest person in the world, but after meeting with his rival Benjamin Disraeli, you left thinking you were the smartest person.”

Wiseman defines a leader who is a multiplier:

Some leaders make us better and smarter.  They bring out our intelligence.  This book is about those leaders, who access and revitalize the intelligence in the people around then.  We call them Multipliers.

The Multiplier is the exact opposite of the diminisher.  From her opening story, about an Israeli Tank Commander candidate who flourished under one leader, but was practically paralyzed by a leader who was a diminisher, we get the clear impression that leaders really do fall into one of these two categories.  I think I agree.

But here is the question:  can a true “diminisher” become a true “multiplier?”  Though she has a final chapter tilted “Becoming a Multiplier,” and though this chapter provides some encouragement on this question, I’m just not sure.  Maybe I would say it this way – if someone wants to become a “multiplier,” that is a signal that there’s a good chance that they already have that spark in them to begin with.  But I’m not sure a true diminisher can ever become a full-blown multiplier.  I’m just not sure people can really change.

But, I hope I’m wrong.


By the way, the real mystery from reading this book is this:  how do some of these diminishers ever get promoted to leadership positions to begin with?  Maybe the fastest way to fix this problem is this approach:

#1 — don’t promote any diminishers.

#2 – find those with a spark of multiplier ability, and nurture/cultivate/train/encourage such a spark in the people who have the best chance of becoming multipliers.