The One Question Successful CEOs Always Ask

The Wall Street Journal’s yearly report on CEO pay captured widespread attention. In the midst of an economy battered by the pandemic, Paycom Software’s founder and CEO, Chad Richison, earned an astonishing $211 million in 2020. Not far behind, Robert Kotick of Activision Blizzard brought home $155 million, and Leonard Schleifer of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals made $135 million. From established giants to burgeoning enterprises, those leading the charge reap substantial benefits.

I’ve always been fascinated by the high-achieving leaders who drive progress, influence, and enduring success. It appears that the most effective leaders share a common practice—a specific question they consistently ponder, setting them apart from other senior executives. This crucial question that enhances performance is, “What needs to happen next?

Top CEOs don’t just toil away at tasks; rather, they allocate time to strategize, looking ahead to future goals and planning immediate steps to realize those aims. This question can be reframed in several ways, such as “what’s missing that might impede my goals?” or “beyond existing tasks, what further actions could secure a victory?” Essentially, they focus on integrating new elements rather than merely executing ongoing plans.

Leaders in business understand that volatile periods necessitate shifts in approach, and the essence of leadership lies in adapting, pivoting, and innovating. Instead of clinging rigidly to a plan, they stay receptive to superior options and proactive in identifying gaps.

Leadership isn’t confined to those with a CEO title—it's about devising strategies, not just following them. Learning from top CEOs shows us that a key aspect of leadership involves daily reassessment and innovation of strategies. To foster growth and lasting success, adopt this simple yet profound question and repeat it until it becomes second nature: What needs to happen next?

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