As a startup coach, I know that many CEOs are drawn to making resolutions around the new year. But, let's face it--most are faint memories by February. As a founder and CEO, if you want to make your company strong, it's a better move to ask the right questions that will help propel you past the sell-by date of most resolutions.
While only you know what the right questions are for you, your team, and your business, here are some thought starters.
1. If you were a new CEO coming into the business with fresh eyes, what opportunities would you pursue?
We already know that the pandemic, the effects of work shifting to the home, and all the turbulence of the year have created massive disruption and opportunities. It's a good time to take a look around you with a beginner's mind. What new possibilities and directions might be out there for you and your company right now that weren't in your line of sight even six months ago?
One of my clients, for example, is the founder and CEO of a gaming company. As she and her team looked at current trends and brainstormed new ideas, they saw that they could use their gaming platform for education. Rather than build curriculum themselves, they partnered with an edtech company to help them accelerate their entry into the space.
2. All businesses made shifts large and small last year. Which of those changes caused the most positive impact, and how can you capture even more leverage out of them?
The landscape of work inside of your company probably looks very different from how it did a year ago. Remote work required a rethinking of your processes, tools, and culture. For example, you may have gotten much more disciplined about documenting everything and you probably redesigned your onboarding process for new employees.
One of my clients, the CEO of an A.I. company, said that his company had gotten so much more done in the heart of the pandemic because they were so crystal clear on their goals, but that clarity diminished in the fourth quarter as the feeling of crisis mode abated. As we reflected on that, he realized that the company could get a lot more effective just by returning to a more disciplined approach to creating and tracking clear goals.
3. What capabilities do you need now and do you have people with those attributes?
It's admirable to want to maintain your current employees. But as tempting as that is, first do an assessment of your business now and where you think it's headed. You might need people who have sales experience with a new set of customers, for example, or people who can cover multiple functions, like marketing and product management. Or you might need to add employees who bring more rigorous discipline around tracking business metrics.
Think about where your business is going and who you will need to help take you there. Then assess the skills inside of your company, as well as the skills gaps.
4. How will you lead your people through our current uncertain times?
The vaccine against Covid-19 is here and people are beginning to get shots. Rays of optimism are all around. However, you and your employees have already endured about 10 months of difficulty being housebound, dealing with kids not in school, health issues, social isolation, and looking into an unpredictable future. Realistically, this uncertainty will continue well into 2021.
As they face many months of uncertainty, your people are tired and stressed. So create a philosophy to help you lead your people through this.
One example is the Stockdale paradox. Admiral James Stockdale, when he was a prisoner in Vietnam, said that his fellow prisoners who thought they'd be released by a certain date would be disappointed and ultimately remain profoundly demoralized. The people who could keep the faith that they would one day be released but recognized the very difficult current state that they were facing ultimately made it out. This is extremely relevant for the time we are living in now. Think about how you can help your team accept the reality of what's going on, while activating their sense that we will get through it.
5. You spend so much time taking care of your team's well-being. How about yours?
A common issue with all of the CEOs and founders I work with is that they bend over backward to make sure their employees are in good shape. But themselves? Not so much.
You need to make sure you are protecting one of the most valuable assets of the business, and that's you. Make sure you take time to recharge. For many of my clients this means committing to a fitness program, eating right, and getting enough sleep. Additionally, to keep your mood elevated, you might read inspirational literature, start to meditate, or watch funny movies with your spouses or kids. You also need something to look forward to, so plan a short fun road trip or some other diversion to give yourself a mental break. Experiment with any of these techniques to see what works for you. But remember that taking are of yourself during times of stress is non-optional.
Strong leadership often requires asking the right questions. Use these to spark your thinking and plan for a breakthrough year.