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  • Writer's pictureTony Richards

4 Questions Facing the CEO Every Day

Four big questions loom before every CEO in business and organizations today.

What? Why? How? When?

All CEOs have to answer each of these critical and powerful questions. In addition, they need to know which one to answer first and in which order to answer the others. Too many leaders today respond to the wrong questions and in the wrong order. Sequencing or the order in which one does things always makes a difference. There is always a perfect order for every method and when we use the wrong sequence, we are not effective. For example, a safe with a combination lock has a certain combination which will open it. Using any other combination will not. It’s the same with any plan, process or procedure. Using the wrong sequence will not effectively “open” it.

Effective CEOs know that two of the four questions take priority. When a CEO makes a choice about which question, they choose to answer first tell us much about their mindset and methods.

The most effective CEOs first ask What, then they ask Why?

When you answer these two questions first, you begin to define the direction the organization should go and to form a process to get it headed in that direction. Your answers should have a direct relationship to the mission and vision of your organization, so you should define your problem areas first. Asking What? Does that. “What is our biggest challenge we are facing?” Once you have decided on the answers to that, you are ready to move on to Why? “Why are we doing this?” One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is to assume that everyone knows the WHY. We shouldn’t have the right to assume such things because, in almost 100% of the situations, not everyone knows WHY and if they do, you cannot clearly articulate it to you or anyone else.

When you start thinking about your followers’ reasons, fears, and needs, you can understand the resistance they are most likely to create. This will enable you to rethink your purposes and find ways to get into your followers’ frames of reference. You can always. Avoid inevitable conflict because you have already prepared for and overcome most objections by thinking through the WHAT and WHY.

Where many leaders miss the mark is not being aware of implementing a HOW and WHEN is the amount of change and pain it creates. If we think differently, we can see differently. How people think shapes the actions they choose. At the executive level, you must understand that when you decide to make decisions to must consider a large variety of viewpoints. Making people part of the change, even if it is simply the person who answers the phone can be vital to any program.

The reality is that you cannot continue to be the same company you were in 1977 because you are not facing 1977 problems and challenges.

Quite possibly the most difficult situations I have seen leaders struggle with over the last five years is the dichotomy of preserving the past versus shaping a new future. The actions of preserving the past heritage of an organization will almost always be reactive in nature. A futile attempt to lay hold of and clamp down on the status quo. This leads nowhere but downward into a doom loop. While maintaining the core of who you are is important, overemphasizing it too much is deadly. If you go too far into the proactive action of shaping a new future, you scare everyone to death and by attempting to hang on to everything they hold sacred, they will heavily resist your efforts. The reality is that you cannot continue to be the same company you were in 1977 because you are not facing 1977 problems and challenges.

We have moved from a world of absolutes to a world resembling more ambiguous tendencies. That means we have to ask the right questions in the right order to produce the right answers now more than ever. We are in a time period in business where the marketplace landscape is moving faster than ever, and the ground is literally shifting under our feet. In the past, we have chosen what we considered the safe route. This means to kick the can down the road for the next CEO to deal with and let’s continue to do things the same way that leaders before us operated.

That plan no longer works.

I’m not sure it ever did.

For more resources from a CEO Coach, sign up for Tony’s Monday Morning Coaching Memo.

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