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The entire Navigate the Chaos collection of all 365 blog posts is now available in a paperback entitled Navigate the Chaos (795 pages for $24.99). A smaller collection of thoughts from the Navigate the Chaos collection is available in paperback entitled Wonder (94 pages for $4.99)

How often do you ask others what they think?

Today is November 19 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you ask others what they think?” This question assumes three things. The first assumption is that you have people around you who you respect, admire, or care about on either a personal or professional level. Second, this question assumes you have a growth mindset and remain open to hearing the opinions of others, even if those thoughts run counter to your own.

Finally, today’s question mandates that you set yourself aside and place others before your own self. These three tasks are not for the weak but they are important and can help you implement today’s strategy available as you navigate the chaos. People who navigate the chaos like Bill Marriott Jr., the son of Alice and J. Willard Marriott, the founder of Marriott International, has emphasized the value of asking others what they think throughout his career.

Marriott attended St. Albans School in Washington, DC, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in finance from the University of Utah, where he became a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity. He served on an aircraft carrier as an officer in the United States Navy Supply Corps. Marriott has described how he learned a lifelong management lesson from an offhand remark made by President Dwight D. Eisenhower when he and his wife, Mamie, were guests at the house of Marriott's father in 1954.

According to Marriott’s blog post:

“Back in 1954, I came home from the U.S. Navy Supply Corps School for Christmas. My father was a good friend of Ezra Taft Benson who was at that time the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Somehow, they finagled to get President Eisenhower to come down to our family farm in Virginia. It was a cold winter day; it was about the 22nd of December – wind was blowing, it was 20 degrees outside. The staff had put a lot of quail and pheasants out there for Ike to shoot because they knew he loved to shoot birds. And they said 'Mr. President, what do you want to do? It is awful cold out there. Do you want to go out and shoot birds or do you want to stay in by the fire?' And I was standing behind him and he turned all the way around, looked me in the eye, and he said: 'What do you think, Bill?' And I thought, 'Oh my goodness!' I said, 'Mr. President, it’s awful cold, let’s stay in the by the fire.' He said: 'Good Idea!' So, we stayed in by the fire.”

Reflecting upon this story that happened when he was 22-years old, Marriott concluded those words “What do you think?” are central for those leaders who want to demonstrate the highest levels of interest in their people.

For Marriott “Those words show that your boss is interested in you, interested in your opinion and that he or she is willing to pursue what you are thinking about. I think that’s how Eisenhower got along with all those people he had to deal with during the Second World War as a general. He had to deal with Patton, Stalin, and Roosevelt, and with Marshall, Churchill, De Gaulle, and crazy Montgomery. They were a real bunch of characters. Ike got through it all and led us to victory. Because I am sure a lot of times, he asked that question ‘What do you think?’ He did not necessarily do what they told him to do but they knew he was interested in what they had to say.”

Marriott used these four words as the basis for his management of his family’s hotel business. According to Marriott, "So I tried to adopt that style of management as I progressed in life. The four most important words in the English language are, 'What do you think?’ And that is why I would visit over 200 hotels a year to meet with our associates. You can talk about all the technology, distribution and other things that are taking place. If you take good care of your associates, they will take good care of the customers and the customers will come back. We are in the people business. We do not manufacture anything. We just take care of our guests.” As you go about today, how often do you ask others “what do you think?”

Today’s reflection is linked to the May 16 Navigate the Chaos post and its question “how often do you build an open network?” While ‘what do you think?’ may indeed be the four most important words in the English language when it comes to management and leadership, the answers will vary in proportion to the size and type of your network. For example, if you have a closed network of 100 people, their answer to the question ‘what do you think?’ may have a high degree of similarity. If, however, you have an open network of over 100 people, their varied backgrounds might result in a wider spectrum of answers to the question ‘what do you think?’

  • How often do you ask the question ‘what do you think?’

  • Do you listen with intention or do you ignore the answers?

  • Do you find yourself asking the question to the same people over time?

  • Who else should you be asking the question to?

  • Is there someone who should be asking you what you think but they are not? If so, how does that make you feel?

  • How do you think asking such a question can help you navigate the chaos of life or work?


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