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Confession: I was a benevolent dictator

This leader thought the job of a leader was to be directive -- i.e. to tell staff what to do. Here's how he recognized his mistake.

5 min read


Lead and command


I thought the job of a leader was to be directive — i.e. to tell her/his staff what to do.

I loved my staff! I wanted the very best for them. I wanted to do everything I could to help them win!

My strategy for their development as leaders was for them to hang around me. I frequently said, “A lot more is caught than taught! If you just hang around me you will learn a lot!”

My strategy for helping them to succeed was to let them benefit from everything I knew that would help them climb the mountain successfully. When they came to me with a problem, I gave them step-by-step instructions on how to solve it.

When they came to with an idea, I applauded them for their idea and then shared with them two or more things that would add horsepower to their idea.

When I asked them to take on a new project — if they said “Yes!” — I asked them to pull out a legal pad and I gave them step-by-step instructions on how to do it.

And when one of my staff left my office, I smiled with the thought that they were walking away so impressed with my wisdom and so appreciative that I had given them the perfect road map to success. I was absolutely clueless to how my “over-helpfulness” was actually making them feel.

Several years ago, at the Global Leadership Summit put on by the Willow Creek Association, I saw that one of the speakers was going to be Liz Wiseman, speaking on “Multipliers” the same title as her book.

I thought, “this is going to be great session because she will be talking about leaders like me!”

Was I ever in for a big surprise.

Liz started her talk by talking about “Diminishers.” And I soon realized she was talking about me! The more she shared, the lower I sank in my chair. What I had thought were “Multiplier” traits were actually “Diminisher” traits.

When you bring a “Diminisher” a problem, they not only solve it for you, but they think you will really be impressed with their wisdom and you will be so grateful for their help. When you bring a “Multiplier” a problem, they ask you, “What do you think might be the solution?” They let you solve your own problem.

When you bring a “Diminisher” an idea they tell you what would make your idea even better. They think you will go away thinking, “Wow, I am so glad I asked — those additional ideas will really improve my idea!” They do not realize that you will go away thinking “Nothing I ever bring her/him is good enough!” When you bring a “Multiplier” your idea, they say, “Wow! Great Idea! Tell me more!”

When a “Diminisher” asks you to take on a new project, they will most often phrase it as “Will you help me with my project?” In other words, they give you responsibility but no authority. Then, they tell you exactly how they want you to execute their project.  

When a “Multiplier” asks you to take on a new project, they share that they have a “leadership-development-rich opportunity” for you. They invite you to take on this new assignment. If you accept, they make you the project director — giving you authority with responsibility. They ask you to do draft one of the strategic plan to successfully execute the project. They will ask you to let them know what resources you will need to succeed and how they can help you.

One-word definitions:

  • Diminishers are Tellers
  • Multipliers are Askers


  • “The leader of the past may have been a person who knew how to tell, but certainly the leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask.”  ~  Dr. Peter Drucker
  • “When you give advice, the brain is basically asleep. If you engage them and ask questions that help them come to their own insights, it comes alive.” ~  Dr. Henry Cloud
  • “An effective leader will ask questions instead of giving direct orders.” ~ Dale Carnegie

Today I am a recovering “Diminisher.” The temptation to “tell” is ever present, but by an act of my will I now seek to be a “Multiplier,” choosing to “ask” instead of “tell!”

  • When a staff member comes to me with a problem, I ask, “What do you think might be the solution?”
  • When a staff member comes to me with an idea, I say, “Wow! Great idea! Tell me more.”
  • When I ask a staff member to take on a new project, I share that have a “leadership-development-rich Opportunity” for them to consider. I state that I would like them to consider becoming the “(Name of project) director.” If they agree, I ask them to draft the “strategic plan.” 


Bob Tiede has been on the staff of Cru for 45 years. He currently serves on the U.S. Leadership Development Team and is passionate about seeing leaders grow and multiply their effectiveness. Tiede is also an Author and Blogger. His e-book “Great Leaders ASK Questions – A Fortune 100 List” (downloaded by leaders in over 100 nations the first week it was released) is available for free download at

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