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vineet-nayar's picture

Twenty Questions I Ask Myself Every Day

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?

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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satinder-kaur's picture
While I think it is a good detailed article with thought provoking ideas, I think that 20 questions are far too many. I think one needs to have maximum of 5 questions that one should ask everyday.
uday-mishra's picture
A very interesting and pertinent list of questions. Relevant not only for CEO but also for people part of the distributed leadership in an organization! Many a people have made their reservations (and they surely will have a reason for the same), but I for one agree in totality with all the questions. In my view, questioned revolve around key issues like empowerment, trust building, building & harnessing (BOTH) expertise of others, and focussing on value creation as a team. I wish more and more of people in leadership role do ask (EXPLORE) at least 50% of the questions...honest answers will lead to great days for the organization. 
viswanath-vish-sivaswamy's picture
Someone commented that we treat our companies like family. I think it is because we see people in the company and so the affection.

If you remove the "I" from most of the questions and replace with "WE" then many questions will change. For e.g Do I need to know all the answers 'vs' Do WE need to know all the answers. If the leader finds that there is a gap in the cumulative WE, then he/she has to get that organized. It applies to "Does the CEO needs to be CQA?"  May be not. Have a more intelligent person be the CQA. Identifying the intelligent people to sit in the right seats and getting them to answer the 20 questions is what I expect to do with my company. Afterall, our companies are PEOPLE driven. Why try to be People instead of Person.  

satyabroto-banerji's picture
I suggest a change of organization. The questions you ask are relevant for a Chairperson of the Board, or another position that has a visionary and governance role, but no executive responsibilities. A CEO should focus on implementation, reviewing as regularly as possible as to where on stands with respect to key tasks.
nick-obolensky's picture
Hi Vineet

Many thanks for your insights.  I would imagine many would see this is a fundemental philosophical shift to what leadership is about!

Hopefully my recent hack http://www.managementexchange.com/hack/getting-lot-more-lot-less-complex-adaptive-leadership-moving-oligarchy-polyarchy will give some scientific foundation showing why your approach is needed more! And you can find more at www.ComplexAdaptiveLeadership.com

Best

Nick

ram-akella's picture
Hi Vineet,
 
There is a lot in this topic which are way beyond some simple answers. I have gone through your write-up and also the responses. Except in one response, I have not seen any mention of the word "Leader" (inclusive of your write-up). What I would like to understand is what was going in your mind when you were putting these points together. It matters a lot and will be premature to provide any responses. 
 
But, few key things: 
1. CEO (is a title) looks after the entire organisation. (everyone knows this, why am I saying this?). Here are the reasons: CEO exists with varied attributes. A founder CEO's commitment, dedication and passion to take the organisation to the next level will be very different to an appointed CEO wherein the organisation existed from many years. As a Founder CEO, he (she) can answer many questions on day-to-day basis as they are close to every division of the organisation since its inception. Whereas an appointed CEO (assume, this CEO is a complete outsider) has to spend some (probably, 'good') amount of time to know the internals and get prepared (I am not referring to transition period).
 
2. Be it a founder CEO or an appointed CEO, one of the key responsibilities is to "lead" the organisation strategically. (I have purposefully avoided the word "manage"). What I mean here is a clear cut emphasis on being a "Leader". As most of us are aware and what we hear on a day-to-day basis from managers is that they are busy firefighting and bringing work back on-track. This is not what "Leaders" (CEOs) should be bothered about. In fact, these types of managers should not become CEO's as I count it. Key areas of focus for the "Leaders" are a) Strategy, b) Innovation, c) Empowerment - without which it will be very difficult to sustain in the current day market and pass on the profits to the shareholders (owners).
 
I strongly believe that you would be knowing all these points and there is no need to delve deep into these aspects.
 
3. Now, about "Head of the organisation"; my take on this is very simple. No matter who the head is and what title he (she) will be referred to as; there is only one boss: the customer. I don't think anyone will deny this. In simple terms, Customers are the originating source, of all the money company possesses; they are the ones who provides opportunities for us to innovate. The key message I would like to pass on here is "Building Relationships", true long-term relationships with customers. CEO's does have a role to play in this by being principled and customer-centric.
 
One last thing before I sign-off now is about this sentence (mentioned in your write-up)  that caught my attention "I try to avoid the traps that are so easy to fall into as a CEO". Instead of avoiding the traps the thinking has to be changed to "welcome the opportunities that are very difficult to learn as a CEO". It is easy to learn as an employee, bit difficult to learn as a manager and very difficult to learn as an executive considering age, experiences and principles (all in positive connotation).
 
The thoughts on this subject always flow in continuum. I would like to sign-off here and await your response.
 
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and providing an opportunity to contribute to your thinking.
 
Regards,
Ram
anilkumar-neelakandhan-pillai's picture
Hi Mr Vineet ,

Though all these 19 questions are very relevant today , I am confining to the Q (19) only

A CEO need not be the master of all trades , need not be even an expert in any thing , but  not only HCL, all organizations, big and small , need a Head  - whether you call him a CEO or COO or MD or President or Chief of Staff as in the Armed Forces  , it is irreleveant .

The position of the Head of the Organization is the convergence point of all functional heads. As individuals think differently , conduct differently, there is an inherent trait amongst almost all  human beings to supress ones  peers,  thereby get ahead/rid of  probable contestants for the next level of heirarchy , there is bound to be clashes or fights regularly coming up. 

The role of the Head of the Organizations whether he is a CEO or President or MD or  Chief of Staff is to act as a moderator  , as a philosopher , as a person who gives soothing words to the one who is wounded in an internal or external war , as a  mentor and friend for all the employees to approach when ever required . Who says that the CEO of  HCL technologies should be a master of  cloud computing ? 

Now assume  a hypothetical  condition that  there is no  Head or CEO in   a 60,000 strong Organization as HCL . The immediate fall out would be   

>>>>>>  total confuion  and disalignment  ..... and one upmanship of all the Functional Heads would transcend to down the line and may rupture the entire fabric of the organization.

>>>>>> But very soon the cleverest of all the functional heads would  emerge as the acting head and once that position is conferred to him , he would cement it by some stunning moves

So there will always be a Head ... only thing is  he/she may not be visible to outsiders  as a CEO , but surely a  central man would emerge ... it is a universal rule . It can be compared to the formation of  Neutral Point when we combine the three Phases R, Y, B in  Star Connection

Thanks a lot for provoking the thoughts and seeking opinions ... A very encouraging act

venetia-koussia's picture
GREAT QUESTIONS!
HOW CAN WE CHANGE OUR MINDSETS AND HAVE LESS EXPECTATIONS FROM OUR CHILDREN AND OUR COMPANIES?
WHAT DO I MEAN? MANY OF US SEE OUR COMPANIES LIKE OUR FAMILIES AND WE WANT THE BEST FOR THEM - WE THINK WE DESERVE THE BEST AS WE TRY VERY HARD TOWARDS THIS END. ISN;T IT VERY SELFISH? MAY BE THEY CAN DO BETTER IF WE CAM MOVE AT THE SIDE (INSTEAD OF BEING ALWAYS IN FRONT) AND WE SERVE THEM.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
fernando-nunes's picture
Vineet, all the questions proposed are really useful, but one would still be missing:

21. Do all the employees in my companies ask the same questions everyday?

It is simple as that, but when you ellaborate about the possible answeres for this question you may find a whole new world of initiatives to be deployed. The idea behind those answers could lead us to discussions from "generations differences" to "effective communication medias".

Regards

Fernando

radhakrishnan-nr's picture

Hey Vineet, finding answers to these questions are critical and imperative. But before you can think out of the box for a solution, practically, your day-to-day business priorities impacts them. So some of them are internal, most of them are external or at least predominantly influenced by external environment. It calls for a specialized position to be created in every organization, say, like a 'thought leader'. This person's only role is to practically RESEARCH and understand the business scenarios, identify some of the best practices followed internally and by peer businesses. Thinks profoundly and provides perfect business solution. Don't you think this is a value add? Power of amalgamation of two minds? One thinks practically, one implements? These are my suggestions/ thoughts from a CEO perspective. I'd love to hear from you on your opinions. Radhakrishnan NR - http://caplabs.blogspot.com

elad-sherf's picture

Vineet,

Your post (and other post on HBR.org) inspired me to think out loud about the issue of the all knowing CEO. I think you approach that states knowingly that you do not know everything is courageous and a step in the right direction. The answer to the future problems will not come from a top-down approach. Thank you for inspiring me. Here is a link to the post: http://bit.ly/cGwVzd

Elad

 

alvaro-triana's picture

A good idea that has functioned for my clients is that we have created a Management Committee with no CEO as the maximum authority of the organization, where a leader rotates each week the role of the decision maker for the critical issues of the business.

This approach arose because it was difficult to legitimate the role of the CEO (with two family members and main shareholders working for the company).

Try and empower then your management committee, step back from sending the message to the organization that you are the guru, and the wise guy where they can kick you upstairs all of their issues and empower the team to deal and solve them collectively.

 

frank-schwab's picture

I do not agree that a CEO should be the CQA. It is ok too ask questions. In terms of value creation a CEO should also answer questions, take decisions, provide direction and show leadership and be a role model of the company. Questions help a lot, still customers, staff and people in generell love answers, direction, solutions ...

I would be very interested in your perspective and influence on the "HOW" 

 

elad-sherf's picture

Hey Frank,

Great point. I don't think that a CEO should never give answers. It is not about the act of giving answers by itself. It is about when and how you give answers.

There a couple of problems with giving answers. First, as Ed Schein writes in his new book, Helping, we usually don't understand the real problem and by giving a quick answer we damage the relationship. Second and connected to that - by giving answers we create dependency and do not let other people grow (see more on this here: http://bit.ly/D9kDo). Third, as this post demonstrates, sometimes we don't really know the answer. CEO's (and other managers) know less about certain issues than their partners to the firm and as such, should use their experience and ability to ask general question that will help the experts make sure they considered everything. The questions add a different perspective to the expert decision. Finally, after we asked all the questions and decided if we know enough or not, we can make a better decision if one is needed.

Now, the fact that people, as you say "love solutions" should not mean we should give it to them. Giving them solutions is the easy path for them. If somebody else gave me the solution, well, I have no responsibility for it... not responsibility, not accountability... sounds familiar?

Interesting discussion, let’s keep it up

Elad

elad-sherf's picture

Great questions. I do however find that asking so many questions could be a little disorienting. Many of them fall under the same category and I would collapse them to create more clarity for myself and others around me.

I think that questions 14, 15 and 16 touch on a very important point. The idea of using rules as a mechanism of control is over-dated and in many cases has lost its usefulness because the business environment has changed and because the accumulation of too many rules (even good ones) is dangerous (see more on this here: http://vimeo.com/10286141). Almost every rule you will be eliminate will be a positive step. Instead, it is time to create employees with judgment and practical wisdom.

I also love question number 19. First, because it goes into the idea of self reflection which is so important for leader and managers (http://bit.ly/diyGJa). I just wrote in my blog today about the fact that we are sometime blind to the way the people we work with everyday perceive us (http://bit.ly/9xWkrH). But more than that. It actually acknowledges the fact that the role of the CEO has changed, and, if as you say, he does not know everything, what is his role... like everybody else he needs to find a purpose, and that purpose will change from company to company. My initial thoughts - ask people smart questions, create a supporting culture, envision future.

Very interesting post. Thank you for sharing.

Elad

 

tory-gattis's picture

My view on #19 (and 16 and 20) is here: http://managementexchange.com/content-46 (including the attached pdf of charts)

I'd love to discuss it with you in more detail if you have an interest:  tgattis (at) openteams.com