Becoming a Family History Multiplier – “Multipliers,” by Liz Wiseman, May 2017 Book Club Selection
Would you like to multiply your genealogy research and preservation efforts? As a parent, do you need tips in bringing out the best in your children? Could you improve your interactions with colleagues? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’ll want to discover the world of multipliers and diminishers and how it relates to family history work.
Multipliers begins with this quote:
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. (Bono)¹
Have you ever helped someone one-on-one with their family history and at the end of the session, they remarked how smart your were instead of feeling how smart they were? If so, you might be an accidental diminisher, someone with good intentions who unknowingly keeps others from fulfilling their potential.
We all have Accidental Diminisher moments. The secret to the Multiplier effect is knowing what your vulnerabilities are, spotting them in action, and turning these situations into Multiplier moments.²
What then is a multiplier? Someone with a growth mindset, who recognizes that intelligence is continually developing. A multiplier thinks, “people are smart, they’ll figure it out.”
Although Multipliers was written as a guide to business leaders, applications to the family setting and to working with others on family history abound. In the book Liz details five types of multipliers: the Talent Magnet, the Liberator, Challengers, Debate Makers, and the Investor. Here is my take on each type with an application to family history work.
The Talent Magnet
The Talent Magnet finds the native genius in an individual and then names that genius. He also super sizes that genius by giving the individual a task or assignment that will require some stretching. How could this apply to family history? Think of the geniuses you have in your family – musicians, artists, writers, computer whizzes, analysts, etc. Identify their genius, then involve them in a family history task using their talent.
I recently asked my computer whiz son to take my raw DNA from AncestryDNA, compare it to my mother’s DNA, and extract my unique matches so I could narrow down my dad’s line. Unfortunately my dad passed away before I could test his DNA and this was the next best thing to determining his DNA matches. My computer whiz wrote a little computer program, put all the data in a beautiful spreadsheet and saved me hours and hours of time.
The Liberator listens more and talks less. She gives people space to discover and space to make mistakes and learn from them. She demands people’s best work. Do you sometimes program too much of family history; giving set tasks or showing people what to do every step of the way. Have you ever been guilty of grabbing the computer mouse and just doing it yourself when teaching a newbie?
Combat this diminisher tendency by asking lots of questions, listening much more than you talk. For example, when looking at a census online with someone, let them discover what the columns mean. I created the Finding Franklin census activity for youth just for this purpose. Youth are given a sheet with questions about Franklin Delano Roosevelt that can be answered in the census records. As they search, they begin to learn how useful census research can be. Guided discovery is the best way to learn.
The Challenger encourages others to take on the impossible in a big way. If your family gets the assignment to create an engaging family history activity for the family reunion, do you think of all the ideas, then give assignments? Or do you brainstorm with your family members, listening, and giving credence to all the ideas.
Debate makers define the questions. They look at all of the evidence of a brick wall problem, then form a team to assemble the data. When the team comes together, the debate maker sparks the debate where all findings are discussed, then a decision is made together. Do you tend to make decisions for your organization yourself, or do you enlist everyone’s opinions, have a discussion, then make a decision together?
Family history includes lots of brick walls: any problem that seems impossible to solve. Rather than giving up or just making a decision that your guess is correct, what about asking other family members to take a look at the evidence and have a discussion? You could also utilize an online forum or form your own research group.
Several years ago, I was asked to be part of a Royston research group. Each of us had been researching the same family, trying to connect to our common ancestor, Thomas Royston born 1610. We emailed documents, opinions, and ultimately did a Y-DNA test to further our work. Without that research group, I’d still be researching in my own little corner of the world, not sure if I was correct in my assumptions or not. With the help of the group, I was able to connect my Texas Roystons to Thomas Royston, the earliest Virginia settler.
The Investor gives ownership of a task and backs up people with the resources needed to complete that task. He teaches and coaches when needed and holds people accountable for their work. The opposite of an investor is the micromanager. Have you ever given a child a household job to do, then proceeded to hover over them as they did the job? An investor will give a task back that’s not done adequately, encouraging excellence. The key is to give complete ownership, provide any help or backup, and expect a job well done. What if something fails? It’s okay to let it happen, but talk about it, and focus on the next opportunity to succeed. We all learn from our failures.
In our family history work, we have so much on our plate, why not enlist the aid of everyone in planning the next family reunion? Could your teenagers create a video for the family reunion? Would a young adult couple make a game for the children? We planned an ancestor skit night at our last family reunion and asked each nuclear family to perform a skit. Some were more polished than others, but giving complete ownership of the skits to the families proved to be a good experience for all of us.
Thoughts from Liz Wiseman
Nicole and I met Liz Wiseman at RootsTech 2017 when she spoke on Rookie Smarts. I was impressed with her research and unique insights into leadership. After reading Multipliers, I reached out to Liz with a few questions and she graciously shared these insights.
How has researching multipliers changed you?
I am less interested in assessing whether or not someone is a good leader (a multiplier) or a bad leader (a diminisher), but more interested in understanding what provokes and surfaces our inner diminisher. I see good leadership not as a set of characteristics, but as a collection of moments. Great leadership is about creating as many multiplier moments around you as you can. And, if you lead like a multiplier by rule, people around you will forgive you for being a diminisher by exception.
What is the first step someone should take in becoming a multiplier?
The one thing we would suggest you do is to ask really insightful and interesting questions that make people think. This is a practical step and it applies across all of the disciplines. For example, whether you are trying to become a Liberator, a Challenger, or a Debate Maker, asking insightful and interesting questions will get you started down the correct path. So, if you are looking to build one skill, start with questions.
If you want to work on one assumption, we would suggest trying “People are smart and will figure it out.” One way to do this is ask, “How is this person smart?” That one question can interrupt any tendencies to judge people in a binary fashion and can work like a fast pass into the Technicolor world where Multipliers live. (Multipliers, FAQ p. 309)
How does the concept of multipliers and diminishers relate to parenting?
In my research studying the best business managers, I too have noticed an interesting crossover – their leadership profile is remarkably similar to that of great parents: Both set high expectations, offer stretch challenges, give people space to think and act independently, but hold others accountable. Of course, the opposite holds true as well; the worst leaders (both at work and at home) either coddle their people or operate through fear, blame, manipulation and micromanagement.
These similarities exist because parenthood is perhaps the purest form of leadership. After all, you can’t fire your kids, and they don’t “report” to you. Once they can escape the crib or outrun you, it’s difficult to compel them to compliance. Rather, they must voluntarily follow your lead. This requires parents to exert influence while exercising control sparingly. (from an article to be published for Mother’s Day in Fortune.)
Summing it all up
In our lifetime, we will play many roles: family historians, parents, and employees to name a few. We will all be thrust into leadership roles many times in our lives. If we can learn to be multipliers instead of diminishers, just think what we can accomplish. We can utilize the geniuses in our family. We can ask more questions. We can challenge someone to do something difficult. We can debate tough problems. We can give complete ownership of a task. In short, we can multiply the efforts of our existing resources – our family, friends, and associates.
Best of luck in becoming a family history multiplier!
¹ Bono, “The 2009 Time 100: ‘The World’s Most Influential People,” Time, May 11, 2009 as quoted by Liz Wiseman, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, (New York: HarperCollins, 2017), 1.
2 Wiseman, Multipliers, 193.