Michael May, CEO and president of Empower Trainers and Consultants, an Overland Park, Kans., training company that had 1998 revenues of $10.8 million, truly believes in honest communication. To underscore that point, May holds voluntary staff meetings at which anyone can ask the boss anything, business related or personal. Empower staff members who work in other offices participate in these meetings through conference calls.

To keep the meetings on track, May limits each person to only one question. After he writes everyone's question on a board, he begins answering them. That way, the meeting can't be sidetracked by one individual with many questions on the same topic.

May believes that without such meetings, "the rumor mill becomes the method of communication" that dominates a company. He finds that these forums not only keep communication clear but also help him connect with his people. "It keeps me on my toes, as well," he says. One big challenge: convincing people new to the company that there will be no reprisals if they ask the CEO tough questions. "It's essentially a search for truth," says May.