The Multiplier Mindset: A Necessary Shift to Scale
16 February, 2022
Identifying as a "Super IC"
I was trained as an engineer during school. Choosing engineering allowed for so much creative power in and outside my work. Creating new things was one of my passions, and I often spent weekends working on my own projects. When I realized that there was more to making a helpful creation, I decided to specialize in the human-computer interaction field and learned the processes that would focus my creative juices on real-world problems.
I left with many skill sets across various areas when I finished school. I picked up the habit of trying to be a "super IC," meaning if something needed to be done, I would either do it myself or learn the skills to be able to complete it. This was great in the startup world, but I soon found myself pushing myself into a box.
A perfect example of this was when my team needed to create a product video. I spent the week learning video editing tools until I could produce it. That mindset was great for an early-stage startup environment, but this created three problems:
- Since my skill level was beginner, the video quality was also beginner-level.
- I became a bottleneck and spread myself thin.
- It cornered me into activities I didn't particularly enjoy doing but that I was doing as of necessity.
At a point in time, I was doing video production, design, iOS development, web development, and backend development. I had no time to "think" – I felt I was trying to catch a train that kept accelerating and that I didn't want to take. The worst part was that I became fairly good at managing this and locked myself into that mindset – which I paid for in my next role.
Mistakes and Feedback
When my team decided to move on after the startup, I joined another company as a PM. I was trying to learn how to be a PM, but unfortunately, that super-IC mindset was still there. I had a team of engineers, designers, analytics and had to learn how to best leverage their superpowers.
At a later point, I was in charge of upgrading the technology of our website. Of course, I proposed that I could do it, but that day, my manager laughed at me. He said instead of doing it myself; I should invest my time recruiting someone who could do it long-term. This was a moment where I realized my value system had to change to focus on leveraging my team.
That was a critical moment for me, as it forced me to think through a different equation for success. Instead of doing the required tasks, a leader should build a system that completes the jobs. This is precisely the difference between adding linear value and multiplicative value, which all PM, leaders, and managers are seeking to add.
However, super-IC was still in my DNA, as I wanted to control the team similarly to how I would control myself. I was micromanaging my cross-functional team, overwhelming them, and getting in my own way. I received the feedback that my team members felt like I was controlling their lives, and even if it was meant in a good way, that was not the right way to maximize my impact as a leader. In fact, a leader acting that way can easily cause more damage than if they weren't there.
I was managing like a dictator. In one example, I introduced an experiment to the executive leadership team. During the presentation, I was speaking the whole time, knowing all the details and answering all the questions. The head of product told me that it was very clear who owned the project due to the way I was presenting the document. Originally, I would have taken that as a major compliment, but this time, it was a significant piece of feedback: I was not multiplying myself and being a bottleneck.
Learning to Become a Multiplier
I ended up working with the head of product on that feedback and began thinking about how to leverage what my team members do best. Anyone in the team should have been able to explain that strategy of the team to an executive. To make this change, we created a space in our week for the team to understand the current strategy discuss, and challenge it.
After a few weeks in this new practice, the team would not only be more motivated but also produce better work as they had a better context and could make better decisions. In these presentation meetings, they would be the ones presenting their own areas. I quickly learned it was not only easier on me, but more importantly, my team members could have a much higher quality discussion than the mere projection I would deliver myself. The reality is that my team functioned a lot better when I empowered the right members with the right responsibilities and areas of ownership.
Many of my colleagues have shared similar experiences where spreading thin resulted in them hitting a cap to their impact. Learning how to become a multiplier in an organization is a critical step to scale your impact beyond linear. As the proverb says: give someone a fish and they'll eat once, teach them how to fish and they'll eat all their life.
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