Will you hold me accountable?

Published by Eric Hiler on June 14, 2021

I love the book Multipliers by Liz Wiseman. It has challenged me as a leader more than any other leadership book I've read. While I fall short of being a pure Multiplier and allow those (usually unintentional) behaviors of a Diminisher to sneak back in on occasion, this book still influences my leadership ten years later. I doubt its influence will ever fade, at least not very much.

Why? How is it that this particular book has had such a profound impact on me? First, let's give Liz and co-author Greg McKeown all the credit for their brilliant work and insight. However, I think there's one more key ingredient. It's a choice I made when I spoke the words "Will you hold me accountable?" to two different people.

Multipliers gave me language to name certain leadership indicators that either inspire me or irritate me. Multiplier and Diminisher. If you've read the book, you know what they mean. If not (and with apologies to the authors), it's pretty simple: Multipliers lead people to their best, often helping them to find more inside themselves than they even believed possible (the data shows up to 2x more). Diminishers, on the other hand, don't. The people they lead report giving about half of their capabilities. This 4x swing of potential outcomes should be enough to grab any leader's attention.

After the second time I read the book, I came to an important realization... It might be hard to see myself as a Diminisher. Who sets out to "diminish" other people? I know I don't. But let's not forget, we are masters of fooling ourselves. We tend to judge other people by their behaviors while judging ourselves by our intentions. "I wasn't yelling at you. I was communicating an important point passionately because of how much I care." Right, and the other person walks away 6 inches shorter, diminished.

I needed an outsider's perspective. So I bought another copy of the book and gave it to my CFO. I asked Chuck, "Will you read this book and hold me accountable to be a Multiplier?" He graciously accepted. In addition, I gave my copy of the book to my wife and asked her to read it. I wanted it to inform our parenting, where I also want to be a Multiplier and need accountability.

Some time passed, and nothing happened. I went about my business, leading my team and our company. I did my best to be a Multiplier, and I thought I was doing well. Until one day I walked into Chuck's office and he asked me to shut the door. This was common. We discussed private financial information regularly so I didn't think anything of it. Then he asked me to take a seat. This was unusual. He never cared whether I was seated or standing. So I took a chair, and he said, "Well, you did it. You diminished someone today." WHAT?!? NO I DID NOT... That's what I was thinking. My instant reaction was to tell him he was wrong. Apparently, I really did need this accountability. My actual response was, "Really? Who?" He said, "Me. In the management meeting this morning." My eyes widened. Not only was I not expecting to hear I'd been a diminisher, I certainly never diminished my CFO in front of the rest of the management team. I can assure you - it never happened. In spite of my conviction that he must be mistaken, I asked what happened. He explained that I completely ignored him when he presented an update on a project he was working on and felt like he'd wasted his time and didn't matter. I was dumbfounded.

From his perspective, he was working hard on a project and finally had a chance to get everyone up to speed. He was proud of his work and progress. He got nods of acknowledgement and a couple of encouraging comments from his colleagues. He got a blank stare from me. Nothing.

From my perspective, I already knew a lot of what was going on. I listened for new info, thinking through the implications. I knew Chuck had everything under control. I squared the new info in my mind, making sure there were no surprises and adjusting my thoughts accordingly. Check. Done. Cool, let's move on. I moved on to the next thing, never even acknowledging him, his team, nor their hard work and excellent progress.

Great job, Chuck!
Really appreciate your work on this, Chuck.
I'm glad to know you've got this covered, Chuck.

There were a thousand different reactions available to me. Instead, I made one of the biggest leadership mistakes in the book. I was silent, too in my own head and too in a hurry to move on. People want to be seen. They want to be appreciated. Failing to do so is diminishing to them. It's a failure of leadership, a failure I've made too many times. I had no idea I did anything wrong. My instant reaction was to give myself a pass because I know how much I think of Chuck and how grateful I was that he had everything under control. However, I stopped myself, swallowed my pride, and asked for his forgiveness (that's a whole other topic for another time). He accepted, and we were good. Actually, I was better for the experience.

The point of this story really has nothing to do with leaders recognizing and appreciating their people (although that's a fine takeaway). The point is that I learned a lesson from this experience because I asked for accountability. If I never asked Chuck to hold me accountable, I highly doubt he ever would have brought this interaction to my attention. It was nothing, until held to the standard of a Multiplier. Then it became an extremely important leadership lesson for me to learn. Again.

The question "Will you hold me accountable?" is among the most powerful tools in the leadership tool belt. It's available to anyone willing to use it. Will you?