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A new CEO asked just 4 questions

by on
in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills,Profiles in Leadership

Within a week of Kevin Johnson becoming CEO of Juniper Networks in 2008, he met with all his direct reports in a group. He told them he wanted to listen and learn, so he asked four questions:

1. What are you most proud of about this company and why?
2. What needs to change and why?
3. What do you hope I do as CEO?
4. What are you most afraid I might do as CEO?

    Johnson ignited a lively meeting and bonded with his management team. Then he left the room for an hour so that his lieutenants could share specific answers to his questions.

    The managers wrote their answers on a whiteboard anonymously. Johnson thus solicited more honest responses when he returned to the meeting.

    Over the next three months, Johnson held one-hour private meetings with each of the top 100 individuals at Juniper. Then he wrote a summary of his observations about the company’s people, culture, strategy and competition.

    “The memo forced me to digest everything I had learned and allowed me to communicate my thoughts in a consistent way with each person who got it,” Johnson says.

    Johnson then asked each of his direct reports to share their impressions of their business unit and their employees. He sought to learn how his managers perceived their people and to identify areas that needed to improve.

    By spending his first few months as CEO listening to employees and developing a plan to enhance the talent level throughout the organization, Johnson gained buy-in. He also made better decisions because he gathered unfiltered insights from a range of voices.

    — Adapted from “My transition story,” Endre Holen and Allen Webb, McKinsey Quarterly.

    image: theaustralian.com.au

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