Review of ‘Multipliers’ by Liz Wiseman


One of the reasons why leading a church is hard work is the problem of what David Allen calls “new demands, insufficient resources.” For example, youth ministry is vital to the health and future of the church, but we all know how hard it is to get volunteers to work with junior high students. Even Jesus faced this problem: “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Matthew 9:37).

The first solution to the problem of new demands and insufficient resources is specific prayer. “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38). God sees the new demands, but unlike us, He doesn’t lack sufficient resources: “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Complementing prayer is a second solution: the right people. Jesus taught us to pray for more “workers.” Paul described the Church as a “body” with variously gifted “parts” (1 Corinthians 12:12–31). The unfortunate fact is that too many pastors and other ministry leaders try to respond to new demands on their own — with only the gifts, talents and resources God has given them personally.  They fail to see the gifts, talents and resources God has given them corporately, in their congregations. The consequence of this failure is burned-out pastors and leaders on the one hand and bored, frustrated and underutilized followers on the other.

Liz Wiseman wrote Multipliers, now out in a revised and updated edition, to figure out how leaders can grow both the intelligence and capability of their organizations. Although she wrote it for a business audience, I couldn’t help but see its relevance to the problem of new demands and insufficient resources in churches too.

Let me try to explain:

Multipliers vs. Diminishers
Wiseman begins the book with this observation: “There is more intelligence inside our organizations than we are using” (emphasis in original). Multiplication taps into this intelligence. Its logic can be understood through three statements:

  1. Most people in organizations are underutilized.
  2. All capability can be leveraged with the right kind of leadership.
  3. Therefore, intelligence and capability can be multiplied without requiring a bigger investment.

As a former staff and senior pastor and a current church member, I agree with the first statement wholeheartedly. Too many people in any given congregation sit in the pew on Sunday morning … but nothing else. They are spiritual consumers, not spiritual producers.

Regarding the third statement, I certainly hope my church can do more without investing in additional staff and buildings. I’d like to see a more productive and efficient use of what we already have before we lay out more money for sparkly new stuff.

The second statement, then, is key: We need “the right kind of leadership.” Wiseman calls these leaders Multipliers and contrasts them with Diminishers. Multipliers tap into the intelligence of their organizations, grow it and increase the capability of their team members and of their organization. Diminishers “shut down the smarts of those around them.” Multipliers begin with the assumption, “People are smart and will figure this out.” Diminishers begin with the assumption, “They will never figure this out without me.”

According to Wiseman, no leader is entirely a Multiplier or entirely a Diminisher. Instead, all leaders perform on a spectrum, with both Multiplier and Diminisher tendencies. This means leaders can move either way on the spectrum.

Two important questions now arise: How do Multipliers lead? And how do I become a Multiplier?

Multiplier Practices

Wiseman’s research indicates that Multipliers lead by engaging in five specific roles:

  1. The Talent Magnet: “[T]hey attract and deploy talent to its fullest, regardless of who owns the resource, and people flock to work with them because they know they will grow and be successful.”
  2. The Liberator: “Multipliers establish a unique and highly motivating work environment where everyone has permission to think and the space to do their best work.”
  3. The Challenger: “They seed opportunities, lay down challenges that stretch the organization, and in doing so, generate belief that it can be done and enthusiasm about the process.”
  4. The Debate Maker: “Multipliers engage people in debating the issues up front, which leads to decisions that people understand and can execute efficiently.”
  5. The Investor: “Multipliers deliver and sustain superior results by inculcating high expectations across the organization.”

Now, before you dismiss this as so much business-book gobbledygook, try thinking of Jesus’ leadership in terms of Wiseman’s five roles:

The Talent Magnet: Jesus’s disciples, despite not being religious, political, economic or academic elites, established a religion that is still thriving 2,000 years later.

The Liberator: Jesus empowered His followers to preach the same message as He did, with signs and wonders following (Matthew 10:1–42; Mark 6:6–13; Luke 10:1–24).

The Challenger: Read those three Synoptic Gospel passages cited above, then reminder that Jesus commissioned His followers to do these things in His absence. Not only that, He left the task to “make disciples of all nations” both to His first-century followers and to us (Matthew 18:18). The Great Commission is a perpetual challenge that Christ has called and empowered us to fulfill.

The Debate Maker: We rightly think of Jesus as a master teacher, but we fail to appreciate how often He taught by means of debate. In his book, All the Questions Jesus Asks, Stan Guthrie notes that Jesus asked 295 questions. That number doesn’t even include all the questions Jesus was asked by others.

The Investor: Could any expectation be higher than what Jesus told His disciples in John 20:21: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”?

Please don’t misunderstand me. Multipliers is a business book, not a ministry book. It’s written from a secular perspective, not a biblical one. It addresses a specific question in leadership — how to leverage capability through leadership. It is neither the first nor last word on leadership, let alone the first or last word on the pastoral leadership of Christian congregations.

Still, it has incredible diagnostic value because it helps identify the kinds of practices that do (and don’t) make the best use of resources in an organization, including, in my opinion, the local church.

Becoming Multipliers
So, how can pastors and other ministry leaders become Multipliers?

To answer that, we need to depart from Wiseman for a moment and remember the words of Jesus himself, “Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Matthew 9:38). Ministry is not about making widgets but about making disciples, and the only person who can make a disciple is one who is himself being discipled. Ministry is spiritual work and requires spiritual growth, which comes first and foremost through a prayerful relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Ministry is also relational, however. And the ministry of leadership requires that we work in relationship with the spiritually gifted people God has placed in our pews. Wiseman offers five pieces of advice to business leaders as they resolve to move from the Diminisher to the Multiplier side of the leadership spectrum, and I’d like to tweak these for ministry settings:

First, start with the assumptions: Do I assume that my congregation is spiritually gifted to do the ministry (Multiplier) or do I assume that I must do it myself or micromanage them in the process (Diminisher)?

Second, work the extremes (neutralize a weakness; top off a strength): Am I surrounding myself with others whose ministry strengths complement my ministry weaknesses? Am I working hard to develop the ministry gifts that I am best at personally?

Third, run an experiment: Am I actively trying to develop new Multiplier habits by identifying my Diminisher tendencies and replacing them with Multiplier assumptions and practices?

Fourth, brace yourself for setbacks: Change always involves a measure of failure. The apostle Peter, for example, was the first (and only) apostle to walk on water, but also the first (and only) apostle to sink after walking on water. If Jesus picked Peter up and got him back on the boat, He can do the same for you.

Fifth, ask a colleague: If “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Corinthians 12:21), then Christian leaders cannot isolate themselves from either their ministry peers or the people they lead. The title of Reuben Welch’s classic book on Christian community gets it exactly right: We Really Do Need Each Other.

So, back to the problem of “new demands, insufficient resources” that I mentioned at the outset of this review. Yes, it is a real problem that pastors and other ministry leaders feel deeply. But prayer to our infinitely resourceful God and wise leadership practices can help us more fully utilize the capabilities of our spiritually gifted congregations. There are, after all, more spiritual gifts in our congregations than we are currently using.

Are you the kind of leader who can multiply them?

Book Reviewed:
Liz Wiseman, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, rev. ed. (New York: Harper Business, 2017).

_____
P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.S.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

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