Are you a Multiplier or Diminisher? by Lathasha Subban

New SABPP book on HR Risk Management: HR Risk Management: Managing People Risks and Leveraging Opportunities by Marius Meyer & Penny Abbott
October 26, 2017
WORLD AIDS DAY 2017 – Lathasha Subban
December 1, 2017

Source: Multipliers, How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (Author Liz Wiseman)

Recently at the SABPP Launch of the Leadership Standard Journey, held on the 26th October 2017, the attendees were introduced to the concept of “Multiplier and Diminisher”. It was excellently explained by speaker Selo Govender, Head of People Development, Human Resources, COE: People and Organisational Effectiveness at Sasol Group Services.

It was comforting to embrace the impact of such a concept when launching the Leadership Standard in South Africa, and to acknowledge that it is practiced in South Africa within Sasol. The idea positions leadership to drive growth through talent, leadership inspiration and practices – three very important aspects that supports excellent leadership standards.

The “Multiplier and Diminisher” concept was created by author Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown in the book entitled Multipliers, How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. The first part of this article draws on Wiseman’s and McKeown’s work, while the second part focuses on the relevance thereof within the context of the new South African leadership standard.

Source:  Wiseman, L.  Multipliers Descriptors and Diminisher Descriptors: Multipliers, How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter

As Selo Govender spoke about the important of culture and employee inclusion within Sasol, the slide on Multipliers Descriptors and Diminisher Descriptors, sealed the importance of leadership standards and principles, that by evidence, makes a positive impact on the success of an organisation. The Multiplier description focuses key elements of Talent Management, Liberator, Challenger, Debate Maker and Investor. These elements are core for authentic and excellence in leadership style and manner.

The Multiplier description drives the elements that lead people with confidence and trust, and most importantly accountability. The model creates a relationship between leadership and employees that is balanced and feed off each other to develop each other. It is a sharing platform, with ownership and sound decisions the fruit of the style.

The Diminisher descriptor, describes elements fitting to the “diminisher” meaning, i.e. “To make smaller or less; reduce or lessen, to detract from the authority, reputation, or prestige of”[1].

A complete opposite to the Multiplier description and literally destroys the growth and moral of the company. A definite contrast to each other, however both a reality. Many organisations still confuse management with leadership, and many organisations still have diminishing leadership driving them.

The reality bites further with people positioned as leaders drive their people with Diminisher descriptors like Empire Building, Tyrant, Know-it-all, Decision maker and Micro-Manager. By allowing such stains on what true leadership should be, is at the detriment of the people who are faced with “Diminishers”. In fact, it is it a detriment to the credibility and reputation of Leaders within organisations and Human Resources, as they are both responsible for the “people/talent” of the organisation. They are the custodians of the employees, and must lead with “Multiplier” competencies.

The SABPP Leadership Standard is delivered in the midst of the crisis of leadership within the country and work environment. “Poor leadership is holding back the development of the South Africa we want to see, so the SABPP, Talent Talks and Wits have committed to bring forth action and lead with a standard of excellence in leadership. The effects of poor leadership can be seen across society:

  1. Private companies are limiting their own profits by not leveraging the role of leadership in driving performance, others are simply maximising profits at the expense of key stakeholders such as employees, customers and society at large;
  2. Public service organisations and government departments in all three spheres of government are under-performing when it comes to service delivery and ethics, as a result of ineffective leadership;
  3. Non-profit organisations are stagnating, limiting their own growth or moving backwards, due to a lack of leadership in crafting better strategies and execution plans.


The period 2015-2017 has presented us with several cases of poor leadership in each of the above three categories.  Some of the reported cases in the media are as follows:

  • State Owned Enterprises becoming financially compromised, thereby increasing the State’s risk of debt defaults on its contingent liabilities and thus investment ratings agencies downgrading the country;
  • Companies in several major sectors of the economy such as construction charged with collusion and anti-competitive behaviour;
  • Ongoing violent protests at universities and in several towns throughout the country;
  • Several schools achieving (sic) a 0% pass rate in the matric examination, attributed to poor leadership by principals.


Some of the possible causes of leadership failures are as follows:

  • People with functional knowledge or technical expertise move into leadership positions without leadership training or skills;
  • Different and divergent perspectives and definitions of leadership with the result that different leaders try different approaches, some of them failing in practice;
  • Managers attempting to apply management theories from overseas without adapting them to the South African context;
  • A lack of leadership vision and strategy, and many execution gaps;
  • Poor decision-making skills by leaders resulting in disillusioned followers;
  • Ineffective and outdated leadership and management practices frustrating employees and customers;
  • A lack of accountability and responsibility;
  • Poor governance and ethics;
  • Inadequate leadership development inside and across organisations;
  • Managers often do not have the right qualifications and/or the right leadership skills to take their organisations and people forward;
  • Chasing short-term targets at the expense of long-term sustainability and social relevance in the broader society.


The results of poor leadership are manifold and include, amongst other things:

  • Waste of resources and disengaged workforces;
  • Inability to perform or compete internationally on key benchmarks;
  • Inability to build and sustain high performance organisation cultures;
  • No or poor corporate citizenship;
  • Slow progress in implementing the National Development Plan (NDP);
  • Poor service delivery;
  • The perpetuation of a “business as usual” approach by not making any difference to the country’s big problems: Education, Inequality, Unemployment, Poverty, Health and Crime;
  • Many lost opportunities to resolve South Africa’s problems as a result of the inability of leaders to form and build effective public-private partnerships.”[2]

The consequences of poor leadership, is diminishing to not just an individual but to an entire workforce, a society and even a country. It seems that even though Leadership is an old and familiar friend, we have not been very good at spending prolific time with it, making it comfortable in excellence to drive a high standard of delivery and introducing it to our leadership in a “Multiplier” expectation.

There is no room for poor leadership any more. It should not be tolerated, accepted, disguised or feared. It should not be promoted or hidden. Leadership should not be allowed to be a “Diminisher” in any form. And we have a responsibility to ensure that poor or diminishing leadership is eradicated.

It was refreshing to hear Selo Govender promote the “Multiplier” elements of leadership, and challenge the audience to identify it and grow within their organisations. It was hopeful that even within the leadership crisis, we have a standard and the “Multiplier” to steer us in the right direction.

SABPP Leadership Standard Framework 2017


And hence I leave readers with this game changing question, Are you a Multiplier or Diminisher? I challenge leaders to embrace the South African leadership standard and to unleash the potential of our workforce.  Let us build better organisations and an empowered society by becoming multiplying leaders.

This article was written by Lathasha Subban, Head: Knowledge and Innovation (SABPP)

For more information on the SABPP Leadership Standard contact or  The book on Multipliers is available from  A special word of thanks to Selo Govender from Sasol for inspiring me with her presentation to write this article.  She is indeed a multiplier!


[2] SABPP Leaders Standard Guideline, 2017, Author: Marius Meyer CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP)