The One Question Effective CEOs Ask Themselves Everyday

Jaws dropped last week when readers devoured The Wall Street Journal’s annual CEO compensation report. Despite the pandemic-savaged economy, Paycom Software founder and CEO Chad Richison hauled in a whopping $211 million in 2020. Robert Kotick, CEO of the video game maker Activision Blizzard, came in second place with $155 million, while Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer scored $135 million.

From global titans to fast-growing startups, those at the helm enjoy outsized rewards. Besides admiring the hard-charging leaders who drive growth, impact, and sustainable success, I’ve long been curious as to what makes the most successful leaders tick.

It turns out that the most effective executives have something in common. A simple question that they ask themselves on repeat that separates them from their chief lieutenants. The simple and powerful question that drives performance:

“What needs to happen next?”

The most successful CEOs don’t just put their heads down and crank out the work. Instead, they prioritize heads-up time where they look toward longer-term objectives and determine what needs to happen right now to manifest those goals.

We can ask the same question in different ways, including “what’s currently missing that could derail my objectives?” or “outside of the current directives, what additional steps can we take to ensure the win?” Simply put, they’re more focused on what needs to be added to the mix than just executing the current plan.

Titans of industry recognize that turbulent times create changing conditions and that the core of leadership is to adapt, pivot, rethink, and reinvent. Rather than dogged persistence or an unwavering commitment to an existing plan, they remain open-minded to new and better alternatives. They take the initiative to question what’s already in place and to discover what’s missing.

Whether you currently have a CEO title or not, the true definition of a leader is someone who can craft a strategy rather than simply follow one. We can learn from the most effective CEOs that a core part of the gig is to question the plan each day, challenging existing models while inventing new ones.

If you’re looking to drive growth and sustainable success, borrow this simple question and repeat until it feels like a worn-out baseball mitt.

What needs to happen next?