6 Dos and Don’ts to Be a Multiplier

6 Dos and Don’ts to Be a Multiplier Communicator March 2015, Volume 38, Issue 7

6 Dos and Don’ts to Be a Multiplier
March 2015, Volume 38, Issue 7

Leaders can be diminishers or multipliers, says Elise Foster, expert leadership coach and 2015 NAESP Conference speaker. In her 2014 book, The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our Schools, she and coauthors Liz Wiseman and Lois Allen define leaders who shut down their team members’ thinking “diminishers.” Multipliers, on the other hand, extract and extend the genius of others.

During her #naesp15 pre-conference workshop, Foster will explore how principals can bring out the best in their staffs. To prepare, review these multiplier dos and don’ts, adapted from Foster’s November/December 2014 Principal article, “Multiply Teacher Talent.”

Don’t be “the idea person.” Do be the idea balancer.

It is easy to get caught up in seeing “what’s possible.” Meanwhile, teachers may find a flood of ideas and suggestions to be immobilizing. As a principal serves up the strategy du jour, others may be intrigued and may begin pursuing the ideas, thinking, “Yes, we should introduce manipulatives in math class!” or “Yes, let’s create a schoolwide math council.” However, as soon as they begin to make progress, another idea flows forth, distracting them and sending them off in a new direction. Each teacher ends up making a millimeter of progress in multiple directions.

It is easy to be seduced into layering on ideas when you see the possibilities. However, it’s more important to find the balance between sharing all the ideas that pop into your head and just enough right-sized, actionable ideas. Before sharing your next idea, you might ask yourself if you want the teacher to act on it right now. If not, put it into a holding tank in your brain or on paper, pulling it out when the time is right.


Don’t be a rescuer. Do be a supporter.

As educators, you undoubtedly want to see others succeed. Consider the frequent example of a principal stepping in to solve a quick discipline issue during an observation. This act might seem harmless: The student regains focus and now the teacher can demonstrate her teaching practice. We call these leaders “rescuers.”

Rescuers, however, interrupt the natural performance cycle. They starve people of vital learning necessary to be successful. When leaders play the role of rescuer, they create a cycle of dependency. Teachers who are allowed to make the mistake, on the other hand, have the first-hand experience necessary for the reflection that completes the learning cycle. When teachers bring you a problem or signal a need for help, ask, “How do you think we should solve it?” They have already run through several possibilities before reaching out, and if they haven’t considered potential solutions, next time they will know better.

Don’t supply all the answers. Do ask questions.

Most administrators have been praised for their personal, and often intellectual, merit. They often assume that their role as leader is to have the answers.

A powerful first step toward shedding diminishing tendencies is to stop answering questions and start asking them. This is a difficult transition because we learn at a young age to swiftly answer all questions presented to us. In fact, most administrators will tell you much of their day is spent answering questions from staff, students, and parents. Shifting from giving answers to asking questions is perhaps the most powerful change a leader can make. When you ask big, provocative questions (especially ones for which you don’t know the answer), you shift the burden of thinking to teachers, staff, and students. You might even take this to the extreme by leading your next meeting or conversation by only asking questions. Or more simply, you might begin by asking yourself:

  • How might I be shutting down the ideas and actions of others?
  • What am I inadvertently doing that might have a diminishing impact on others?
  • How might my intentions be interpreted differently by others? What could I do differently?

What brilliance will you uncover when you shift from answers to questions?

Read Foster’s full Principal magazine article here.

Register for Foster’s session at the 2015 NAESP – Best Practices for Better Schools™ Conference here.

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