5 Ways To Answer Questions Like A CEO

In my work as a consultant, I’ve had the privilege of posing questions to over 1,000 business leaders. As a result, I’ve been on the receiving end of many great answers from some of the most respected CEOs on the planet. Unfortunately, I’ve also heard answers from less-skilled managers.

There are key differences between both. Here are five ways to answer questions like a CEO.

1. Answer a yes-or-no question with a “yes” or “no” before you provide details.
Does John Thomas work at Google?

Bad answer: “John Thomas? I knew him back at the University of Michigan. He and I were in the same engineering lab. This one time …”
Great answer: “Yes. He works at Google now. We went to college together, and we’re Facebook friends.”

2. Answer a number question with a number answer before you provide details.
How much did your sales decline during the last recession in ’08?

Bad answer: “The Great Recession was a really hard time for us. It felt like we were running a marathon in quicksand. No matter what we did …”
Great answer: “Twenty percent. Fortunately, the compensation of our team was largely variable, so we all made a bit less income during that period and avoided layoffs.”

3. Say what your goal was, what you did and what the results were.
What happened in that job?

Bad answer: “Well, it was in the South. I was not used to the South. Wow, were the summers humid. And the mosquitoes? Big as birds …”
Great answer: “My mission was to set up a new food bank in Atlanta. The goal was to recruit 20 restaurant partners, hire the first five employees and serve 100 meals a day within three months. Things moved a little more slowly than I was used to, so I had to get creative. We hired a video crew, interviewed restaurant managers and customers and gave free social media advertising to the restaurants if they signed up with us. This allowed us to achieve our goals a month earlier than planned, and my bosses were thrilled!”

4. Answer from the other person’s point of view.
Why do you want me to invest in your ice cream stores?

Bad answer: “Because we need the capital to grow.”
Great answer: “Because 10% return on invested capital is what you say you want, and that is what we have delivered reliably on a per-store basis for over 50 years.”

5. Share just enough information to prove your point, but not more.
Why should we buy from your company?

Bad answer: “For starters, here’s our 150-page brochure, a 25-page PowerPoint slide deck and a dozen customer cases about some companies that are nothing like you, as well as a bunch of random anecdotes – whatever comes to mind!”
Great answer: “Three reasons: 1) Gartner group did a survey of our industry and rated us #1 in the three areas that are most important to you. 2) We know this space better than anybody. Our team published the #1 book on this topic, both in sales and review ratings on Amazon. 3) We offer a 100% money-back guarantee.”

Geoff Smart is chairman and founder of ghSMART. Geoff is co-author, with his colleague Randy Street, of the New York Times best-selling book, Who: A Method For Hiring, and the author of the #1 Wall Street Journal best seller, Leadocracy: Hiring More Great Leaders (Like You) Into Government. Geoff co-created the Topgrading brand of talent management. He is the founder of two 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. SMARTKids Leadership Program™ provides 10 years of leadership tutoring and the Leaders Initiative™ seeks to deploy society’s greatest leaders into government. Geoff earned a BA in economics with honors from Northwestern University, and an MA and Ph. D in psychology from Claremont Graduate University.