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STANFORD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS - Bloom Energy, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, has developed an innovative fuel cell system that produces clean, reliable, and affordable energy.

The head of the company, K.R. Sridar, a renowned aerospace and environmental scientist, is what author Greg McKeown Stanford MBA ’08,  calls a “multiplier”—a leader who uses his intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities around him. He recruits A+ talent, gives them a good deal of pressure but little stress, and allows them to take risks until the right technology emerges.The result? Bloom Energy has become a pioneer in the green-tech industry.

Sridar is just one of the 150 leaders from across different countries and cultures whose managerial stories form the backbone of a new book by McKeown and Liz Wiseman, former Oracle executive, entitled Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter (Harper 2010).

Socially- and environmentally-focused leaders will find much in the book to support them in their work, especially given the complexity they now face and the need to rely on the knowledge and perspectives of a large group of individuals across sectors and disciplines.

“What’s required is leading in a radically different way that gets light bulbs going off in people’s heads, ideas flowing, and solutions emerging,” says McKeown, a partner at The Wiseman Group, a leadership research and development center in Silicon Valley. “The only real way social innovators can succeed is by acting as multipliers. A multiplier agenda is subversive because it attacks something embedded in our culture and organizations that holds people back—namely the assumption that the leader is the smartest person in the room and should be constantly proving it. Breaking free of top-down leadership is the key factor that can spur social enterprise all over the world.”

In Multipliers, he and Wiseman show that, as the late business theorist C.K. Prahalad, an advisor to the book, noted, the key to leadership success is not how much you know, but knowing how to access what others know. “At Bloom Energy, Sridar signals to his people that there’s a higher peak than ‘genius,’ and that is genius making,” says McKeown.

The ability to bring out the natural intelligence of one’s constituents motivates another social innovator featured in the book, Elaben Bhatt. The founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a million-person union for the poorest Indians, Bhatt educated her members about the democratic process and empowered them to take leadership of the organization.

Mulitpliers details how, in a fascinating embodiment of SEWA’s mission and management philosophy, member Jyoti Macwan became the English-speaking general secretary for the organization. “Joyoti could have spent her work years figuring out how to survive from day to day,” write the authors, “but because of Elaban’s leadership, she has used her intellect solving complex problems that reach across international boundaries.”

Among others leaders advancing social causes whose inspiring managerial approaches can be found in Multipliers are Sean Mendy, director of Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula in California; Shai Agassi, CEO of the clean tech company Better Place; and Irene Fisher, founder of the Bennion Center at the University of Utah, a campus student service organization.

McKeown became involved in writing the book while an MBA student at Stanford. “I was introduced to Liz Wiseman and we spoke nonstop for three-hours,” he says. “We quickly realized we shared a passion for developing leaders who could access more capability in the people around them. It was clear we could research and develop this idea to make a difference in organizations and our culture more broadly.”

Multipliers hit #25 on Amazon’s list in just its first week. McKeown is now working as an advisor to help leaders make the shift from behaviors that stifle others’ creativity and commitment to those that stretch them to deliver results that surpass expectations.

For more on the book, free resources, and a survey that will tell you whether you’re a multiplier or not, visit the book’s website .

- Marguerite Rigoglioso

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Also on Stanford Knowledgebase:

  1. Getting Leaders Onboard is Key to Successful Change
  2. Ashoka Founder Drayton: Helping the Social Sector Change the World
  3. Heath Book Explores Paths to Realizing Change

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