J.W. Marriott Jr. is Halfway There

When hotel magnate J.W. Marriott Jr. was recently interviewed by the New York Times, it struck me that, throughout his career, Marriott has been implementing a method of leadership that is very similar to the Decision Maker Approach. Marriott describes how he learned the power of asking others for advice as a young adult during an influential encounter with President Dwight Eisenhower. In Marriott’s words:

So here’s the president and the secretary of agriculture, here’s my father [J.W. Marriott, founder of the hotel chain], and here I am. They wanted to take Ike to shoot some quail, but it was cold and the wind was blowing like crazy. My dad said, “Should we go and shoot quail or should we stand by the fire?”

And Eisenhower turned around and he looked at me and he said, “What do you think we should do?”

That made me realize how he got along with de Gaulle, Churchill, Roosevelt and others–by including them in the decision and asking them what they thought. So I tried to adopt that style of management as I progressed in life, by asking my people “What do you think?”

As anybody who has read The Decision Maker can guess, these are two textbook examples of the all-important Advice Process. As the leader of the free world, President Eisenhower didn’t need anybody’s help in figuring out how to spend his free day. But, in just a couple seconds of conversation, he made a potential outsider feel like a vital part of the conversation, making an indelible impression on the young businessman. While others might not remember their conversations with us as vividly as they might remember conversations they had with the President of the United States, leaders at all levels of any size company can always make that outsider, that potentially disengaged employee, a vital part of the conversation and decision-making process. Marriott Jr. sums up this philosophy eloquently:

The four most important words in the English language are, “What do you think?” Listen to your people and learn.

Of course, as anybody who has read The Decision Maker also knows that Marriott Jr. is not following the most crucial step on the decision-maker process: allowing people at all levels of the company not just to give their advice, but allowing them to actually make the crucial decisions that will move the company forward. I’d imagine that the people who work with J.W. Marriott Jr. find him a lot more approachable than a typical business leader, who will exert a tight-fisted monopoly on every element of important decisions. But I’d bet that Marriott Jr. would find his people even more engaged, collaborative, creative, and productive if they weren’t just asked for advice but empowered to make decisions.

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