Twenty questions I ask myself every day

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On weekdays when I am at home, and not travelling, I get up early, get connected to the rest of the organisation through mails and calls, do  an hour of yoga, and then drive to the office, arriving there around 10:00 a.m. I usually work until 8:00 p.m. and then head home to my family.

During the day, I try to avoid the traps that are so easy to fall into as a CEO. The most dangerous one is thinking you should know the answers to all questions that arise. This is ridiculous, of course. How can I possibly know the answers to questions that have to do with customers, relationships, technologies, solutions, countries, and offices that I have no direct involvement with?

This article was originally posted on the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX), an open innovation project aimed at reinventing management for the 21st century.

Impossible. But, for centuries, the world’s organizations have been built on the idea that the CEO knows everything. If he does not know, he should act as if he does. Today, everyone knows the CEO doesn’t know much, but assuming that he should (or hoping that he does) is a very hard habit to break.

I believe that the CEO should be the Chief Question Asker, not the final provider of answers. And so, especially during the early hours of the day, I ask the following questions of myself:

  1. Is my organization as ready to transform itself as I think it is?
  2. How can we accelerate the growth of the company by transforming the “how” of what we do and not just “what”?
  3. What can I do today to further our commitment to “put the human being back in business”?
  4. By focusing on human beings, can I reduce the uncertainty in our business?
  5. Do the people who work for me believe they know more than I do?
  6. Do they actually know more than I do?
  7. Do I act as if I know they know more than I do?
  8. What will help us grow faster: more control or more value creation?
  9. Should people who create value be governed by people who control it?
  10. Am I too focused on control?
  11. Am I obsessed with control?
  12. What things do I control that I should not control?
  13. How can I give more control to others in the organization, especially employees who create value?
  14. What rules could we get rid of today that would increase our ability to create value?
  15. Could we throw out the entire company rulebook?
  16. When 50 percent of the world’s population is under 25 years old, why should they be working in an organization structure created a thousand years ago by emperors and generals?
  17. Would my children want to work in a company like mine?
  18. Would my employees’ children want to work in a company like mine?
  19. What would happen if there was no CEO at my company?
  20. What would happen if there was no CEO at any company in the world?

Of course, I don’t have the answers to these questions (why should I?), but I think a lot about #19. If you have a view, please be in touch.

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How can a company “take a chip out of the marble façade of the office of the CEO?” asks Vineet Nayar – a provocative question coming from someone who himself is a CEO. One method: Post his 360 feedback on the intranet for all employees to see.


Hi Vineet

What an awesome post, and coming from a CEO, all the more valuable. I think you have hit the nail on the head.

I think questions 2 and 7 are fantastic as is number 9!

Leaders who have the humility and absence of self-deception in order to be able to answer these questions, will make a different world within their organizations and hopefully set a standard for others to emulate/improve upon.

I personally believe that organic/universal processes are the most powerful because they follow the basic tenets of the universe, and hence your idea of absence of a CEO is very powerful to me. There are enough examples in world history of evolved societies that had a shared governance around a common set of values. And these were all very powerful nations in their day and time. It was in fact the shift from such collaborative governance to singular leadership that actually led to their decline.

Is it healthy to have an alpha-male at the top of an organization or at it's peripheries? Interesting thought...

"On weekdays when I am at home, ..."
Why not get back to my family at 5 pm to spend some time with my children?
Why has my company to grow and cannot stay at a human-scale?
Why means "put the human being back in business” working > 10 hours a day?

"On weekdays when I am at home, and not travelling..." why am I not at home?


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