“What do you think?” This mantra was cited by the last two CEOs interviewed for the “Corner Office” section in the Sunday New York Times.
J.W. Marriott Jr.
For J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr., executive chairman and former CEO of Marriott International, the phrase he uses is, “What do you think we should do?”
Bill learned this from President Eisenhower. Ike was visiting one Christmas when Bill had just completed school. The adults were deciding whether to go quail hunting in the cold or to sit by the fire. Eisenhower turned to the young Marriott and asked “What do you think we should do?”
In that moment Bill recognized the President’s strategy for getting along with others and executing as a leader - by including people in his decision-making process. Marriott quickly adopted the President’s question “What do you think we should do?” to foster his own inclusive decision-making throughout his career as a leader.
For Jenna Fagnan, president of tequila manufacturer Tequila Avión, the question is, “So what do you think you should do?”
Fagnan learned this from one of her first mentors – her boss. Early in her career, Fagnan worked for a man who always challenged her with this question. She would go into his office and dump a situation on his lap. He would invariably ask, “So what do you think you should do?”
She realized that in those moments, her boss was wearing a mentor hat. He could have easily said, “Here’s what I think you should do.” He knew the answer, but by including her in the process, he forced her to think for herself and grow as an individual and as a leader.
Susan Docherty, the head of the US Sales, Service, and Marketing team at General Motors, shared a similar approach in her interview a few years ago in the Corner Office of the Sunday New York Times. She intentionally involves others in decisions, even when she already has an opinion and knows where she wants the decision to go. She relentlessly inquires, “What do you think? What would you do?” She is often rewarded with a fresh perspective and new insights from people who are not as close to the situation as she is.
Why does “What do you think?” work?
Because people support that which they help create. They crave control. They want to be respected and heard. And they want to make a difference.
When we dictate, mandate, and command others, people lose interest. They are not vested in the success of our decisions. They often have a different idea or perspective, but we were too busy railroading them with our decision to ask. By dictating the outcome, we, in essence, reveal that we don’t really care what they have to contribute. And by not asking, we communicate that we don’t really respect or appreciate their perspective enough to stop and listen.
Alternatively, by simply asking the question, “What do you think?” we share the decision with other people, offering them the opportunity to help create the outcome. This inevitably fuels engagement and enthusiasm, not to mention, ownership and accountability.
Ultimately, people show up every day hoping their work matters. When we stop and ask people “What do you you think?” we are communicating to them, “You matter. Your perspective is important. You can make a difference in this decision.” As leaders, this is our job.
What do you think? What would you do? I’d love to hear your perspective.