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8 questions to ask your CEO that make you look smart

8 questions to ask your CEO that make you look smart
StrategyStrategy4 min read

Being afraid of looking stupid is not a great reason to stay silent during a meeting with your CEO.

Especially when there's a simple set of guidelines that can help you figure out whether your question is worth asking.

According to Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job," your question should do at least one of the following:

  1. Show your interest in the big picture
  2. Show that you're a problem solver
  3. Show that you're an innovator and someone who thinks outside the box

Business Insider asked Taylor and Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of "The Humor Advantage," for some examples of questions that meet these criteria. Below is a list of their best suggestions.

A word of caution: Before you ask your CEO anything, Kerr recommended asking yourself, "Are you just trying to show off and look smart? Or do you genuinely have a question that will move the conversation forward?"

"We've all been in situations where - maybe we're wrong - but we perceive that an employee is merely trying to show off with their question," Kerr said.

So don't be that employee. Consider the ideas below the smartest ways to frame the questions you already have - not the ones you couldn't care less about.

1. 'How can I be of greater help on that?'

This question accomplishes two things, Taylor said.

One, it shows that you think like an entrepreneur, as opposed to just a cog in a wheel. You're trying to go above and beyond your stated job duties.

Two, it shows that you have leadership potential because you're putting yourself in your CEO's shoes: What might they need from you?

If you feel uncomfortable singling yourself out, Kerr also suggested asking: "What can my team do to help contribute to the success when it comes to X project?"

2. 'It seems that ABC company is making inroads in the XYZ area. Do you feel that's one of our biggest competitive threats?'

You're demonstrating that you've done your research and you're aware of industry trends, Taylor said.

3. 'Do you feel we could increase revenue by doing X?'

You're showing you're both an innovator and a problem solver.

Make sure you've fully researched your proposal, Taylor said, and make a good case for it. Your CEO might press you for more details.

winding road

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Ask about the road ahead.

4. 'What might this mean for the future? Is this part of a longer strategic decision for us?'

This question would be an appropriate follow-up if your CEO has just mentioned something about expanding overseas or another big company change.

You'll wind up making your CEO look good because they get to talk about their long-term plans for the organization. In turn, they'll think highly of you.

5. 'Have you thought about John for this task?'

This way, Taylor said, you're showcasing your ability to tap into emerging talent for existing company needs. Again, it's about leadership potential.

Note that you don't have to be John's manager to make this suggestion. If John happened to tell you the other day that he'd be interested in a certain opportunity, feel free to recommend him for a related task.

If you haven't yet asked John about this particular opportunity, you can always say, "I don't know how he feels about it yet, but it just seems to be that he has really great skills [in this area]."

6. 'I can see how this idea is really, really going to help my department. But I'm a little concerned about how this might impact our salespeople. Do we have a strategy to [work with them]?'

Kerr said you're demonstrating concern for your entire company, as opposed to your team alone, which means you're thinking like a leader.

"CEOs are driven nuts by people working in those dreaded silos," he said.

7. 'What does success look like for you?'

You can pose this question to your CEO when the company is embarking on a major change or new project, Kerr said.

Alternatively, you can ask, "How do you think we should collectively define success?"

8. 'What question do you think we need to be asking that we haven't asked already?'

You might not want to ask this question in a company-wide meeting, Kerr said. But in a smaller meeting, it could be a very smart question, prompting bigger-picture and more creative thinking.

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