32 Questions a Mature CEO asks

Guest Post by Paul Kearns

Note from Bob:  These are not only great questions for CEOs, but these are also great questions for Executive Teams!

1. What is the purpose of my organization? Am I here to serve shareholders, customers or society? How can I make serving all key stakeholder groups mutually inclusive?

2.  Have I defined value in clear  and simple terms? What is our output and at what cost? Are we able to charge premium prices for our products/services because of their high quality?

3.  What is our market value and is it sustainable? Are our advantages easily replicated by others and can we realise greater human potential to truly differentiate us?

4.  Is our business staying in tune with changing societal expectations? Are we maintaining our societal legitimacy or do we just aim to stay inside the law?

5. Do we apply responsible governance across all of our people? Who is ultimately responsible for our wider obligations to all of the people involved, both inside and outside the organization?

6.  Am I trusted? How will I know and what will I do if I lose the trust of our customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers and society at large?

7.   What are my core values? What values underpin my own thinking, actions and behaviour?

8.  Do I live by clear principles? Are my values translated into my guiding principles for myself and the whole of the organization? Do I practise what I preach? Do I act when I see those principles being ignored by others?

9.  Am I driven by the pursuit of maximum value? Am I doing everything I can to ensure we create the maximum value we can with all of the resources at our disposal? Do I instil this same drive in all of our human capital?

10.  How far into the future am I prepared to look? What is the reach of my vision? Do I really understand how important it is that it is shared by all our people?

11.  What is our immediate mission? I don’t know what the future holds but am I determined enough to set a crystal clear priority over a specific timeframe; against which I am prepared to be judged?

12.  What am I accountable for? …. and how will I hold my executive colleagues accountable?

13.  Do I have a clear, well-conceived and coherent business strategy? ….. and is it cohesive in pulling everyone together?

14.  Do we have the right culture? Do I fully appreciate how important it is? Can I accurately articulate the sort of culture we need today and am I constantly aware of how my decisions might affect it? How will I monitor it and will I know when we are deviating from it?

15.  Do I really understand the power of the whole system? Is my whole organization working as a smooth and effective whole system? Where are the failures and leaks in the system and am I ensuring we are doing everything possible to resolve them?

16.  When I make business decisions do I always consider the full people implications? Does any cost cutting integrate the full, knock-on effects on revenue and customer satisfaction? Are the new sales targets likely to result in greater stress and staff fallout? Do I need to completely re-think the decision-making process around here?

17. Am I evidence-based? Do I demand that all decisions are based on the best available evidence? Do all decisions have feedback loops built-in to check whether they have been effectively implemented?

18. Am I passionate about never-ending improvement? What is my own management philosophy? How can it be anything else, other than the pursuit of continuous improvement, forever? How do I demonstrate that I follow this philosophy myself in everything I do?

19. Do we have an effective quality assurance system? Is everyone checking their work against the needs of the business? How would I react if any employee confronted me with their concerns? Would I respond positively and thereby reinforce the system?

20.  Do I encourage and enable all our people to be as innovative as possible? Do we have a simple system in place for employee ideas? Do we ensure they are all properly assessed and effectively implemented? Do we fully recognise and reward good ideas? Do we access knowledge and insight available from our wider human capital connections?

21.  Are we trying to manage a performance process instead of a value system? Do I really understand the difference? Have we got too many KPI’s and how many of them conflict with each other? Shouldn’t we only measure everyone’s contribution to value?

22.  Am I running a true, learning organization? Why am I still asking for how many training days we do per year? Shouldn’t I be asking better questions about how we all learn together (including our suppliers and wider stakeholders)?

23.  Do I fully factor in the impact our business decisions have on our people? If we increase sales projections do I consider the extra pressure and stress levels? If we reduce headcount what is the downside in terms of output and service quality?

24. What is our return on human capital? Does anyone in my organization have a sensible answer to this one? Do we need to completely re-think our accounting and reporting methods?

25. Are we all doing our best to work together? Is bringing about change here like wading through treacle? Do I really know what a highly cooperative organization feels like? What am I going to do to improve levels of cooperation? Am I as cooperative as I could be when others demand things from me?

26. What do I know about the people risks? Have I got someone regularly assessing our people risks? Are any of our people by-passing control systems? Do we already have a ‘rogue employee’ in our midst? How will I know? Is my own behaviour increasing risk?

27. How do I justify my total remuneration to any employee? On what principles, if any, is my remuneration based? Would I still want to do this job if I got paid a lot less? Is my total commitment to the job determined primarily by money?

28. Do I attach enough importance to my own communication? How often do I ensure someone has received the correct message? How much concern do I have for the way others perceive my communications? What evidence do I have that I am an effective communicator? Am I always open to communications from others, who I should be listening to?

29.  I want us to be flexible and agile but do I know how? Are we organized to be as adaptable as possible? Do we still have a silo mentality even though we pretend to be a matrix? Have we pushed down decision making to the lowest possible level and have we ensured we have the capability for making the right decisions in the right place?

30.  If I had to offer primacy to one stakeholder group which would it be? Isn’t this the wrong question? How can shareholders be more important than society at large – that doesn’t seem to make sense.

31. Is the thinking and behaviour of my top team collegiate? Do we all respect each other and aim to reach the best possible decision with all voices heard? Does anyone dominate decision making? Do we spend enough time in an efficient, decision making process or do we tend to rush into implementation?

32.  Am I authentic? Does our publicly available company information and reporting truly reflect who I am and the underlying health of our organization; or is the presentation of our image more cosmetic than substantive?

Paul Kearns is a founder and Chair of the Maturity Institute (MI); a new professional body established in 2012 to address the professional development needs of leaders and managers for a reinvigorated capitalist system focused on producing maximum societal value. He is also a Senior Partner in UK-based advisory firm, Organizational Maturity Services (OMS LLP).  Paul is also the author of several books including “Organizational Learning & Development – from an Evidence Base” and “HR Strategy.”

Bob Tiede


Bob has been on the staff of Cru for 53 years. He currently serves on the U.S. Leadership Development Team and is passionate about seeing leaders grow and multiply their effectiveness. Bob and his wife, Sherry, live in Plano, TX and are blessed with 4 incredible children and 9 remarkable grandchildren.



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