'I Don't Know. What Do You Think?'
In the early 2000s, Frank Maguire, an early senior FedEx executive spoke to my Vistage entrepreneur group. I was impressed by his focus on making employees feel good about themselves and their work. So I read his book, You're The Greatest: How Validated Employees Can Impact Your Bottom Line, and have always remembered the many strategies and tactics he explores in it.
Among the main points I liked in Frank's book is a quote he took from Bill Marriott, the founder of the hotel chain. Marriott said that the seven most important words in business are: "I don't know...what do you think?"
That line made me realize that what I had learned about leadership up until that point was not exactly right. I had believed that leadership was about making decisions, directing a team, and monitoring results. I thought that I was supposed to know the answers and give them to those working for me. I was wrong.
It didn't take me long to realize that I don't have all of the answers. But I didn't at first understand that when you let someone else come up with an idea and give him or her credit for it, you'll make that person feel better about his or her contribution.
As a leader, you must realize that your expertise only goes so far. Those who achieve any level of success can only do so with a team of very smart people.
Building a great company is about having an impact on others, and that starts with your employees. If you can keep quiet long enough to let the ideas come from your people (even if you want to blurt them out), chances are they will be right. And then, if you give others credit for those ideas, they'll want to come up with more, and other employees will want to follow suit.
There are a lot of things you can do this year to improve your business. I can't think of one that is more important than following these seven words from Bill Marriott, and then really listening. If you've hired right, your staffers will know what to do. Let them feel what it's like to really contribute to a winning effort. They'll love you for it, you'll build loyalty, and grow your business even more.
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