John Willard "Bill" Marriott Jr. is the executive chairman of Marriott International. Although it started as his family's root beer stand, Bill grew it into the world's largest hotel company, with more than 6,000 hotels in 120 countries and a $38 billion market cap.
Over his 60-year career, he helped turn Marriott into a global name brand.
Starting as just a family business, Marriott has since grown to over 225,000 employees, and with that many people under his tutelage, few know leadership better. Always the quintessential workaholic, not much -- if anything -- has been able to slow him down.
Except for one life-threatening experience in December of 1989, which taught him a few valuable lessons about life and leadership. The hospitality icon shared what happened with me during our time together earlier this year at the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year forum in Monaco, where was awarded the U.S. Entrepreneur of the Year Overall Award.
"I was in a situation where I had two guys that wanted to be president of the company. They were killing each other to get there and they almost killed me" Marriott recounted.
During that time, he suffered not one but three heart attacks, all within a few weeks of each other. "It taught me that there's no place for conflict in senior management," he said. "People have different ideas, but there's no sense in going after each other."
Asking and listening, a simple albeit challenging exercise, played a large part in his success as a leader. "There's a wonderful question: 'What do you think?.' That's how you get your team on board. It's very important to listen to your people," Marriott told me.
Much like conflict among senior staff, there's no place for ego as a leader, either. In Marriott's words:
"Bury it at the door. Don't come walking in thinking you know it all. Because once you start doing that people won't listen to you anymore, because you have all the answers. And if you have all the answers, then your people are going to stop listening to you, stop talking to you, they are going to just ignore you. And when they start to ignore you, you die as a leader."
Successful leadership involves a constant question and answer process. A bloated sense of self-importance interferes with this process.
Next time you feel the need to interrupt someone on your team, listen instead. Better yet, ask a question. That way, at least if you disagree with their idea, you'll have a deeper understanding as to why.
By hearing them out, not only will they not harbor resentment, they'll respect you too.