Are Current #edpolicies Turning Schools into “Brainpower Wastelands”?

Quick question:  How many times have you heard a politician claim that "schools just need to learn to do more with less" in the past few years?

Bajillions, right? 

The simple truth is that most communities are flat broke, and EVERYONE — including people working in private sector — are being asked to do more with less.  Productivity just plain matters in an era when nobody has two nickels to rub together.

And while it might surprise you, I don't have ANY trouble with the suggestion that schools find ways to get more out of the resources that they currently have.

I'm just as likely to think conservatively as the next guy, and the way I see it, if I have to find ways to stick to a budget and to stretch a buck, governments should do the exact same thing.

More importantly, I'm CONVINCED that ANY organization — particularly those that rely on human capacity to drive growth — CAN get more out of the resources that they currently have at their disposal as long as they take the right steps.

Need proof? 

Then pick up Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown.

After spending years studying leadership in some of the world's most profitable companies, Wiseman and McKeown come to a startling conclusion:  Multipliers — the term that Wiseman and McKeown give to successful leaders — can get TWICE as much out of their employees as their peers.

Think about the implications of that fact, y'all.  Imagine being able to DOUBLE the productivity of schools without adding ANY resources at all. 


Better yet, leadership that multiplies the potential and productivity of an organization ISN'T all that difficult to pull off. 

According to Wiseman and McKeown, Multipliers — the leaders who really ARE finding ways to do more with less — embrace a few core beliefs.


  • assume that the people working within their organizations are capable and talented.
  • identify — and then take advantage of — the unique strengths of EVERYONE in their organizations.
  • get more out of their organizations because they recognize the intelligence of their employees as the most important resource to develop in times when cash is tight.

Multipliers hire the right people and then actively work to get out of the way — and the results, explain Wiseman and McKeown,  are highly motivated employees:

"When people work with Multipliers, they hold nothing back. They offer the very best of their thinking, creativity, and ideas.  They give more than their jobs require and volunteer their discretionary effort, energy and resourcefulness. 

They actively search for more valuable ways to contribute.  They hold themselves to the highest standards.  They give 100 percent of their abilities to the work — and then some."

(Kindle Location 277)

Diminishers, on the other hand — the leaders who literally squeeze the intellectual humanity out of organizations — operate under a completely DIFFERENT set of core beliefs. 


  • see intelligence as a static resource that can't be developed in employees.
  • regularly dismiss the potential in people that they don't recognize as intelligent.
  • create dependent environments where every important decision is made by a small handful of people who they've identified as intelligent.

Because of this commitment to the notion that there are only a few smart people in every organization,  Diminishers create "brainpower wastelands" where huge amounts of human potential is overlooked, undervalued, and/or completely wasted (Kindle Location 391).

Worse yet, Diminishers harm the long-term hopes of the organizations that they lead by crushing the confidence of — or completely chasing away — talented employees.  Who REALLY wants to work for bosses that don't believe in them, y'all. 

So the key question for people who care about public education AND working within a budget is a simple one: 

How are the current #edpolicy recommendations being made by the political candidates in your life facilitating environments that multiply the human potential in your community's schools?

Do their views make it clear that they intend to tap into the talents of ALL practitioners, or are they more concerned with identifying — and then rewarding — and then turning key-decision-making over to — a small handful of superstars that are supposed to save our schools?

Will their suggestions create the kinds of workplace environments that stretch EVERYONE working with the kids that you care about? 

More importantly, will their suggestions create the kinds of workplace environments that encourage teachers to "hold nothing back" because they are empowered — and inspired — by organizational leaders to make real change?

If not, then they're lying to you when they say that they've got a tangible plan to help schools do more with less. 

As Wiseman and McKeown prove time-and-again, doing more with less IS possible — but only when organizational policies and leadership practices multiply the human capacity of EVERY employee. 



Related Radical Reads:

Collective Strength Means More than Individual Talent

Three Things Every Parent and Policymaker Needs to Know about Merit Pay in Education

What Can Educational Policymakers Learn from Amazonian Disasters?


8 thoughts on “Are Current #edpolicies Turning Schools into “Brainpower Wastelands”?

  1. EC

    Interesting. I see my district as doing a lot of what you call “multiplying”–basically, our school’s administrators give us a lot of freedom, encourage collaboration, and work with us as colleagues. That’s part of what makes our school such a good place to come to every day. But I do worry that the trend is for more and more authoritarian school administration, leading to scripted, rote, boring classes…

  2. Bill Ferriter

    Darcy wrote:
    ..there is just so much positive energy that is generated when one is able to multiply instead of diminish.
    – – – – – – – – – – – –
    Im with you here, Darcy.
    So why is it that multiplying behaviors are so rare in school leadership?
    Ive always wondered — at least here in the States — if the high stakes accountability world that we live in makes it less likely for school leaders to embrace the kinds of empower others behaviors at the center of Multipliers. After all, if your neck is on the line, what motivation do you have to turn control over to other people?
    When Im on a roller coaster, I hold tight rather than let go and hope.
    Maybe thats the thinking behind school leaders. Holding on tight just feels right when youre on such a ridiculous ride.
    Any of this make sense?

  3. Darcy Mullin

    I saw Liz Wiseman speak two weeks ago and have been mulling over a post in my head. This post encapsulates my thinking perfectly…now how am I going to write it? 🙂 The post may still come, but I sure enjoyed reading yours. I love the ideas in multipliers…there is just so much positive energy that is generated when one is able to multiply instead of diminish. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Liz Wiseman

    Great application of the Multiplier concepts to our educational challenges and opportunities. Nicely written and thought provoking.
    Lead the way!

  5. Bill Ferriter

    So heres a question for you, Samuel: What percentage of your classroom — either K12 or college — teachers were Multipliers?
    More importantly, if you were going to be a multiplier as a teacher after you graduate, what kinds of choices and actions would you take?

  6. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Dan,
    Thanks for the kind words about the post — and more importantly, thanks for working to be a Multiplier rather than a Diminisher. As a full time classroom teacher, I honestly HOPE that we have more leaders who commit themselves to multiplying behaviors simply because it means that my work environments will improve.
    So heres a question for you: Do you find that pressures from outside the school limit the wind-em-up-and-get-out-of-the-way approach to leadership that you hope to apply in your school?
    Sometimes I wonder just how possible it is for principals to create the kinds of environment that I care about simply because your hands are tied too.
    Rock on,

  7. Dan Wimters

    Great summary of the book, Bill. As a leader I subscribe to their theory of leadership and I still finding myself leaning toward micromanaging and forgetting to give allow the teachers at our school to lead and flourish. Excellent reminder.

  8. Samuel Anderson

    Hi Mr. Bill Ferriter,
    My name is Samuel Anderson.I am a student in EDM 310 at the University Of South Alabama.
    I found your post to be very interesting! I feel personally we do not have enough “multipliers” in the education profession. Great Post!

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