Confession: I was a benevolent dictator

Updated: Jul 28

by Bob Tiede, LeadingWithQuestions.com


Editor's note: This article is chapter 1 from Now That’s A Great Question by Bob Tiede, LeadingWithQuestions.com. Used by permission.



I thought the job of a leader was to be directive i.e. to tell his/her 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 me with an idea, I applauded them for their idea and then shared with them two or more things that would add horsepower to their plan.


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 about 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 Liz Wiseman, speaking on Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter—the same title as her book.

Liz Wiseman at Global Leadership Summit

I thought, “This is going to be [a] great session—because she will be talking about leaders like me!” But I was in for a big surprise.


Liz started 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 be really impressed with their wisdom and grateful for their help. But when you bring a “multiplier” a problem, they ask you, “What do you think the solution might be?” 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 believe you will go away thinking, “Wow! I am so glad I asked. Those additional ideas will really improve my plan!” They do not realize that you will go away thinking, “Nothing I ever bring him/her is good enough!” But 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 say, “Will you help me with my project?” They want to give you responsibility but no authority, and then tell you exactly how they want you to execute their project, step-by-step.


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.


“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” by choosing to “ask” instead of “tell!”

  • When a staff member comes to me with a problem I ask him/her, “What do you think the solution might be?”

  • 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 I 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.”


Questions for further thought and discussion

  • How might you describe a “diminisher” and a “multiplier” to someone else?

  • What examples come to mind of Jesus serving as a “diminisher” or as a “multiplier?”

  • What situation have you dealt with recently in which you did more asking than telling? What results did you see?

  • What are some steps you might take to move in the direction of asking more questions as a leader?


Bob Tiede’s “benevolent dictator” recovery began in 2006 after he stumbled upon a book that helped him understand the benefits of leading with questions rather than “telling with kindness.”


As Bob soon discovered, “A leader who leads with questions will often be 10 times more effective than a leader who only leads by telling!” Today, Bob helps leaders everywhere move from “telling to asking.” He has served with Cru for 47 years, 15 of them on the U.S. Leadership Development Team. His blog, LeadingWithQuestions.com, is followed by leaders in over 190 countries.


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