Office of Learning & Organizational Development

The Dark Side of Winning

On Father’s Day, Danney Williams son of a former Arkansas prostitute, reached out to Bill Clinton via Twitter to wish him well. Danney believes he is Bill’s son based on his mother’s interactions during his time as Governor in the mid-1980s; and, he is requesting that Bill take a paternity test.

Even though Bill Clinton exhibits many qualities as a professional that are associated with positive leadership behaviors, there are obviously places in his persona that lack integrity. In today’s blog post, we are going to step out of the light of the positive effects of winning and talk about the dark side… What are some of the negative effects of the power that comes from winning, and how can this success cloud our previously logical judgment?

While there are certainly a host of social, psychological, and physical benefits to winning the down side is ever so real. Ian Robertson, in his book “The Winner Effect,” discusses research study, after research study, revealing successful people with high power can exhibit lower empathy scores, view the people they work with as means to accomplish their goals, operate with a double standard for themselves and others, and even have a heightened sense of control in situations that are completely uncontrollable (e.g., gambling).

In one study, researchers found that leaders also personally validated themselves and their decisions if those around them did not speak up to challenge their perspective. As an underling, the political risk of speaking up is very real. Oftentimes challenging the boss, or going against what is considered to be the flow of the conversation, can prove itself a threat to another’s opinion of you (cue the unhappiness effect) and will not achieve the desired result anyway. Leaders who have a strong sense of control and power tend to take on a lead by force mentality that will leave all others who do not comply “bloodied and bruised” along the way.

In closing, winning can prove to be a personally fulfilling venture, but no one is immune to the flipside of its effects. Creating methods to hold yourself accountable, and keeping yourself humble the more successful you become, are both important ingredients to obtaining the kind of positive power that will be sustainable for the long term.

Don’t Choke.

In just five minutes of watching ESPN, we see celebrity sports personalities who practice seemingly unlimited hours and who get paid boundless amounts of money…choke. Any Atlanta Falcons fan is still wondering where they threw their remote in the fit of rage after their team blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl.

So, how does it happen? How do proven winners on track to win seemingly screw up the very thing that they are good at doing?

The answer that research presents? They want to win too badly.

Researchers from University College London studied students in a contest to determine what happened in the participants’ brains when they psychologically choked. Their findings revealed that when students were motivated by financial rewards, the deeper their desire to win, the more likely they were to choke as a result of dopamine-fuelled motivation. In essence, wanting to win too badly can actually have negative effects on your performance in the form of a high-level screw up.

Incentives such as money, but also power and status, ignite the dopamine production centers in your brain in the presence of a potential reward. When your brain produces too much dopamine your body can loose its sense of calm and go into overdrive. Too little dopamine and your body can feel anxious and lack motivation to execute the task at all.

What’s the secret to a smooth performance? Ian Robertson, neuroscience researcher, suggests putting yourself in the “Goldilocks Zone.” You need to train yourself to want to win with just the right amount of desire and motivation. Starting with remaining calm and exercising self-control, you can gain power over your mind and reduce your chances of choking when winning at something means the most to you.

Diminishing Behaviors in Leadership

“Yes, I said copy me on every email…Really…EVERY. SINGLE. EMAIL.” ~ A Former Diminishing Boss

According to Wiseman and McKeown’s work “Multipliers,” on the opposite end of the spectrum from those who increase intelligence and productivity are the leaders who diminish it. The behaviors that this type of leader exhibits tend to result in exerting power by force. Research reveals that the “Diminisher” mindset seems to credit intelligence with scarcity and elitism. These leaders may secretly or overtly think, “Really intelligent people are a rare breed, and I am one of the few really smart people… I get IT.”

When enacting with a leader who exhibits diminishing behaviors, you may notice these trends…

The 5 Disciplines of a Diminisher:

The Empire Builder – The opposite of Talent Magnet, this person hoards resources and underutilizes talent.

The Tyrant – The opposite of Liberator, this person creates a tense environment that suppresses people’s thinking and capability.

The Know-it-All – The opposite of Challenger, this person gives directives that showcase how much they know.

The Decision Maker – The opposite of Debate Maker, this person makes centralized, abrupt decisions that confuse the organization.

The Micro-Manager – The opposite of Investor, this person drives results through personal involvement.

The diminisher mantra says, “They will never figure this out without me.” This can be taken both in arrogance and selflessness. What I would like for everyone to understand is that, according to Wiseman and McKeown, diminishing behaviors can actually be enacted with the “heart” of helpfulness and good intentions. But, when you tie your child’s shoe every time, you may never give them the opportunity to learn how to tie it themselves crippling their ability to do a very simple task on their own; hence, the same goes for you team at work.

I would say personally not one of us aims to actually diminish energy unless we are just overtly power hungry people; but, in the case of this study the authors framed “accident” as if it is not as much of a disturbing behavior as the outright extreme behaviors they list for “outright diminishers.”

Are there cases of individuals decreasing intelligence and team performance without really meaning too? Of course there is…

Here are a few Accidental Diminisher Behaviors to note:

  • The Idea Person – My ideas will spark creative thinking.
  • Always On Person – The more I explain the more others will get it.
  • The Rescuer – I need to make sure that people are successful.
  • The Pace Setter – I need to keep up the pace so that the group can be inspired to speed up; but, in reality, I just want to get ahead.
  • The Rapid Responder – The faster I respond and make decisions the faster my organization can work to enact them… for immediate results.
  • The Eternal Optimist – We can do anything!

Take a look at both of the above lists and think about your office behavior. Can you see times when you have intentionally or accidentally diminished the thinking and actions of those around you? Look at the behavior that sounds most like you and ask a trusted colleague if they agree? If so, resolve to stop this behavior immediately and intentionally for 30 days. After you begin to remove this behavior from your life, then you will hopefully think twice before you do it again. Your team will thank you for it in the end.

The 5 Disciplines of a Multiplier


Liz Wiseman, former VP for Global HR at Oracle, and Greg McKeown, Researcher, conducted a study of 150 senior executive leaders; and they found that the best leaders were not only geniuses themselves, but they were genius makers…

Multipliers are leaders that amplify the smarts of the people around them… As a result of their leadership, people in the organization get smarter and more capable; they invoke individuals to use their unique gifting; they create an atmosphere of genius – innovation, productive effort, and collective intelligence.

Sound like you? I thought so. Let’s take a closer look at the 5 Disciplines of Multiplier Behavior:

Talent MagnetAttracts talented people and uses them at their highest point of contribution and the cycle repeats itself.

Liberator – Creates an intense environment that requires people’s best thinking and work with enough space to get the job done.

ChallengerDefines an opportunity that causes people to stretch to meet it.

Debate maker – Drives sound decisions through rigorous debate looking at all sides and all points of view to make the best decisions.

Investor – Gives other people the ownership for results and invests in their success; they believe that there is enough success for everyone.

In this way, “Multipliers” operate with a WE mindset that thrives on team performance. Each person is alive and contributing to the group dynamic, and people are in tune with each other’s needs. What types of behaviors do you exhibit that mirror the items on this list? What are your behaviors that don’t?

If you are not sure about the patterns in your own leaderly behaviors, ask someone on your team that you trust, and then be ready for their honest response! Make a game plan for yourself to become more like a Multiplier to gain twice the amount of productivity from your team.

The Mind of a Multiplier


Liz Wiseman, former VP for Global HR at Oracle, and Greg McKeown, Researcher, conducted a study of 150 senior executive leaders; and they found that the most effective leaders were not only geniuses themselves but they were genius makers… What does that mean? Wiseman and McKeown coined the phrase “Multipliers” to represent the types of leaders that multiply team intelligence…

The researchers found a continuum of behaviors of leaders that on one end – led to knowledge multiplication or receiving 2.1X the amount of intelligence and energy from the group. And, on the other end, diminished knowledge and energy and led to a transactional task management approach. Diminishers received about a 50% rating of the productivity in their employee base.

The study found that “Multipliers” are leaders that amplify the smarts of the people around them…They are genius makers. Everyone around this type of leader gets smarter and more capable; they invoke individuals unique intelligence; they create an atmosphere of genius – innovation, productive effort, and collective intelligence.

Multipliers look at the world under the premise of these basic assumptions… All of their actions, reactions, and inactions come from this paradigm below:

  1. If I can find someone’s genius, I can put them to work.
  2. People’s best thinking is given, not taken.
  3. People get smarter by being challenged.
  4. With enough minds, we can figure this out.
  5. People are smart and will figure things out.

“Multipliers” live by the mantra, “They are smart and will figure it out.” Learning “how to” operate in every circumstance can be a stretch for their employees that they can manage themselves. These are the leaders that care, but give their folks enough resources, support, time and space to figure out how to get the job done.

Do you identify with the mind of a “Multiplier” or do you think differently? Which one of these statements above sounds the most like you? Which one sounds the least like you? Up next, we will discuss patterns in leader behavior that reinforce the “Multiplier” paradigm.

Addition by Subtraction: Removing “Diminishers” to Increase Group Productivity


“Anyone… anyone… anyone…”

All of us can relate to the feeling of being in a meeting room where the energy is so stagnant that breathing feels like a chore. Looking around at our colleagues, checking our email on our iPhone, drinking endless amounts of caffeine just to cope with the meeting agenda… Knowing that you will NEVER be called on by name allows for you to just sink further into you chair, not thinking, just “being”… Presence alone is enough to get you by in that meeting until you can get back to your office and do all of the work that is piled high on your plate.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of the workforce today can relate, as unengaged employees going through task-by-task in their job, not thinking, just being. Most of us understand that work-life can be transformational when you have an excellent supervisor; but these leaders often seem few and far between. As many as 35% of all managers are even labeled “unengaged” when it comes to workplace behavior.

Bosses that exhibit “Diminishing” behaviors, as referenced in Lis Wiseman’s book “Multipliers” can cause us to not only underperform, but downright make us want to leave our workplace. As many as 50% of workers leave jobs to get away from their managers and 58% of employees look around at least once a month (Gallup, 2016). A recent survey from Career Builder found that “1 in 5” people are determined to leave their employer this year.

But, when we remove people with diminishing behaviors from our teams we gain back tremendous amounts of productivity, group intelligence, and creativity. In the next series of blog posts, we will discuss behaviors that multiply intelligence and behaviors that diminish it as found by the work of Wiseman and her team.

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