fireman2 - accidental diminisher

The “Accidental Diminisher”: Subconsciously destructive leadership styles

In her book "Mulitpliers - how the best leaders make everyone smarter”(Published 2010), the researcher and consultant Liz Wiseman describes a model for classifying both positive and negative behavior of managers and team members and has thus coined the term“ Accidental Diminisher ”. In this article we summarize the most important insights from the model for you.

“A leader is best

When people barely know he exists;

Of a good leader, who talks little,

When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,

They will say, 'We did this ourselves.' ”

—Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Have you ever worked with someone who has inspired you and made you grow beyond yourself? Great, if you can answer this question with yes - then you have come into contact with a “multiplier”. 

Multipliers are managers who empower and mentally strengthen their employees so that they believe in themselves and ultimately perform better. 

The opposite of multipliers are “diminishers”. This type of leader makes employees question their own intelligence and ability and often takes themselves a little too seriously.

The problem of unconscious behaviors or "Accidental Diminisher"

One could argue now that very few executives show such extreme behavior that they would really be classified as diminisher. Correct? Yes and no.

The whole thing can be seen very nicely in a graphic by the American author Liz Whiteman, who developed the concept of multipliers and diminishers. 


The normal distribution shown here shows that conscious diminishers only make up a very small proportion of managers. The “Accidental Diminishers”, on the other hand, are much more relevant than people who are not even aware of their counterproductive behavior and who have developed their leadership style with the best of intentions.

Like Liz Wiseman in Podcast with Monkhouse & Company himself says:

 "About two-thirds of the negative behavior we see happens with the best of intentions."

-Liz Wiseman, author of “Multipliers - how the best leaders make everyone smarter”

In order not to fall into this trap yourself, it is worth taking a look at these most common, unconsciously occurring negative behaviors.

The most common Accidental Diminisher types explained

In the following we will use the most common types of "Accidental Diminisher" imagine and perhaps encourage a little self-reflection.

1. The optimist

The optimist has the good intention of always making the team believe that anything can be done. What's the problem with that? Employees have the feeling that the manager does not value their effort and leaves no room for failure. What can you do about it? Optimists should show their employees that they understand how hard work can be and that success is not guaranteed.

2. The Savior

The rescuer always tries to ensure that his employees are successful and have a good reputation. What's the problem with that? Employees become dependent on the leader, which ironically has a negative impact on their reputation. What can you do about it? Rescuers should remember that when employees come to them with a problem, they may already have a solution in mind and ask them about it, rather than directly playing problem solvers themselves.

3. The quick reply

The goal of the quick reply is to move the organization forward quickly. What's the problem with that? In reality, the organization is only moving forward slowly because there is a backlog of decisions and changes. What can you do about it? Quick replies should wait a certain amount of time (e.g. 24 hours) before replying to emails that fall under someone else's area of responsibility so that that person has the opportunity to respond first. 

4. The idea type

The idea type has the good intention of using his ideas to stimulate his employees to come up with ideas. What's the problem with that? Employees are overwhelmed by all the ideas, which leads them to either shut up or spend too much time pursuing the idea of the day. What can you do about it? With every new idea, idea types should ask themselves whether they would like their employees to start working on it immediately. If not, you should bring the idea in later.

4. The pacemaker

The pacemaker dashes forward by setting high standards for quality or speed. What's the problem with that? Employees become spectators or give up when they see that they are not meeting the standards. What can you do about it? Pacemakers should regularly remind themselves to stay in sight so others don't give up or get lost.

5. "Always on"

The “always on” type tries to constantly exude enthusiasm and share your point of view. What's the problem with that? It takes up the whole room for itself, so that at some point the employees ignore it. What can you do about it? “Always On” types should only express thoughts once - instead of repeatedly - and immediately provide a reason why employees should be convinced of it. 

6. The protector

The protector tries to protect his employees from power games in the organization. What's the problem with that? Employees do not learn to fight for themselves. What can you do about it? Protectors should expose their employees to uncomfortable situations in small amounts so that they can learn from their mistakes and build resilience.

7. The strategist

The strategist's goal is to find a compelling reason why the team should go beyond the "status quo". What's the problem with that? The employees do not try to find their own solutions, either because they rely too much on the strategist or because they question him too much. What can you do about it? Strategists should not answer all open questions themselves, but rather define the “why” and “what” and let the team be responsible for the “how”. 

8. The perfectionist

The perfectionist strives to help his employees do outstanding work that they are proud of. What's the problem with that? Employees feel kiritized, discouraged, and stop trying on their own. What can you do about it? Perfectionists should set clear standards right from the start so that employees know exactly what “outstanding” and what “perfect” means. Employees can then evaluate themselves based on these criteria.

How does the Accidental Diminisher become a multiplier?

Trying to foster Perception of yourself and others of executives often differ from one another. You may not even realize that you tend towards one of the types described above. In order to help managers to better understand their leadership behavior, the establishment of 360-degree feedback is an idea.

360 degree feedback is a core element for both Management and employee development. Would you like to try out 360º feedback in your own team? It's very easy with Echometer.

If you then find yourself in one of the "Diminisher" types, these three steps will help you to become a multiplier:

  1. Stop giving answers and ask questions instead. 

By asking the right questions, you can make people stop and think so that they can answer for themselves without you having to present it to them.

  1. Spray your ideas in small amounts. 

By not getting rid of all the ideas at once, but distributing them, you give others more space to think about your ideas. 

  1. Expect full work.

By showing your employees that they are responsible for their work, they learn best. Instead of correcting the work of others, make it clear what should be improved. Encourage others to find solutions as well as problems.

Criticism of the concept of the Multiplier & Accidental Diminisher

At first glance, the division into multipliers and diminishers seems plausible, and in particular the accidental diminishers seem like a groundbreaking discovery. However, the question arises whether the whole thing can be seen in such black and white. For example, do you really have to completely give up your optimism to be a good leader? 

In addition, the approach lacks scientific evidence. As with other attempts to define team roles, such as after Belbin, one can assume that they are not suitable as a psychometric instrument. Rather, they represent an intuitive method of reflecting on the behavior of team members or managers and thus improving teamwork.

Ultimately, it is like personality traits with these types: we are all somewhere on a spectrum and pigeonholing is of little help - as long as you try not to take yourself too seriously, to reflect and to “empower” team members to be on the right track.

Articles you may also be interested in

Trying to foster Psychological Safety in your team?

In that case, our psychologists designed an agile retrospective for you.

Book a 20-minute online demo now and find out how you can use Echometer to promote agile work in your organization.