We all know effective leadership is contingent upon a dynamic mix of both hard and soft skills. Every business and organizational enterprise requires leaders who have mastered certain industry-relevant hard skills: engineering skills, financial skills, preaching skills, IT skills … the list of hard skills is as long as the number of old and new enterprises. But top-drawer leaders know the lessons of enterprise success include the necessity of mastering the soft skills of effective human engagement. A recent article by Rasmus Hougaard caught my attention in this regard.
His anecdote recounts the story of Bill Marriott Sr., the founder of the Marriott Hotel chain, inviting then U.S. President Eisenhower to hunt quail on his Virginia family farm. When the day arrived to go hunting it was cold and rainy with driving winds and freezing sleet. The hunting group gathered around the sitting room fireplace to decide whether or not to venture out into the harsh elements. The youngest in the group was Bill Jr., a 22-year-old Navy ensign. After some discussion, President Eisenhower turned to young Bill and asked, “What do you think?”
Undaunted, Bill Jr suggested they stay inside and enjoy the fire. But the encounter with the President stuck with him all his life. The most powerful person in the world had asked his opinion, and in so doing Bill Jr. learned the importance of leaders eliciting varied views and seeking consensus. Bill went on in life to consider Eisenhower’s simple question to be the four most important words in leadership, “What do you think?”
Hougaard says that this simple question is so very important because it embodies three imperatives of exceptional leadership: break out of the leadership bubble, show true humility, and see others as equal.
By asking that simple question, “What do you think?” we can get the feedback we need to improve thinking, gain the benefits of divergent perspectives, find team-building consensus, and break free of our own myopic “bubble thinking.”
By asking that question we show the humility that comes with a strong and courageous leadership style that is willing to consider other opinions as worthy of consideration, and possibly an improvement on our own thinking.
And by asking that question we make a statement that everyone in our circle matters, that we all have different opinions, perspectives and levels of expertise that should be valued, respected and honoured. Hougaard writes, “Seeing others this way helps support diversity and inclusion and puts the organization’s needs before personal preferences. It allows leaders to seek common ground and be open to constructive collaboration.”
Of course, sometimes tough decisions need to be made by the organizational leader. But by breaking out of the leadership bubble, showing humility, seeing others as equals, and creating space for collaboration by asking, “What do you think?” we increase the likelihood of better decision-making and fostering a strong organizational culture.
And if ever there is a relevant and welcoming environment in which to ask, “What do you think?” it’s in our Corpath forums. Over the years this question has been asked multiple times in my Corpath forum as updates are shared and presentations made.
Whether it’s in our Corpath forum, in our business boardroom, on the shop floor, having coffee with our spouse, or chatting with children…we can rarely go wrong asking, “What do you think?”
Blessings for your leadership journey,
Gordon Dirks, President (Interim), Corpath Business Forums