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And Then What? Reveal Your Leadership Blindspots With This Question From A Top Gun

Leaders require collaboration with countercultural thinkers – those who will challenge them to think differently, push hard to consider all options, and ask tough questions. For former Navy Top Gun David Markert, the toughest and most pivotal question is “and then what?”


Innovate or fall behind. Even in a world that’s getting more uncertain by the minute, where threats can come from anyone and anywhere, the competitive imperative for nearly all businesses is still that simple.

For former Navy Top Gun instructor and current director of business development at Progeny Systems David Markert, the toughest and most pivotal question is “and then what?” Since his childhood through his military career and now in his leadership role in the private sector, Markert relies on this one question to help him and others around him see the future, reveal blindspots and focus on the system.

In an interview for the MIT Leadership Series, I spoke with Markert about “and then what” and more. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Gregersen: You’ve worked in a lot of systems throughout your leadership career in a lot of different contexts. From your work, your world, your story, what are a few things that matter most when it comes to leadership and managing in uncertainty?

Markert: Somebody once described an executive to me as someone who must manage things they’re not an expert in. It’s probably a very good definition. You can have a background in a lot of different things, but you can’t be an expert in all things. All you can do is figure out what ground truth is. The military has a planning process that many think is rigid and perhaps not suited for modern day. It’s called “Courses of Action” and you’re supposed to present to the Commanding General three courses of action – distinct, different courses of action – as if they’re plausible and feasible, and how you would staff them. In weighing the best course of action, the General asks a lot of questions. Same goes for business leaders. What are other ways to do this? What are other ways to solve this problem? Are we doing something we’ve always done because that’s the way we do it or are we doing something different and unique? Or are we doing something because it’s the right answer?