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What Do CEOs Worry About Most?

November 3, 2015, 6:00 PM UTC
Stressed young man sitting at office desk
Photograph by Getty Images/Image Source

Some management consultants study their clients and deliver their advice from on high. Ram Charan, the globe-trotting advisor to CEOs, employs a different method: He leads them through a Socratic teaching exercise by asking questions that provoke more questions.

It turns out CEOs are willing to divulge their deepest concerns when led through such a process. Charan fielded questions from a roomful of worldwide CEOs Tuesday morning at the Fortune Global Forum in San Francisco. Unsurprisingly, the top topics on the minds of business leaders include culture, people, and knowledge.

Unsurprising perhaps, but the concerns of the CEOs are revealing nonetheless. How can CEOs pay attention to their existing businesses and plan for their next ones? What are tricks or changing corporate culture with existing employees? How should a CEO pace growth? How can business leaders create a community to learn from each other?

Global CEOs often double as or retire to become board members, and many of the questions Charan fielded centered on their concerns. How can directors get visibility in the second and third rung of their organizations? How can they validate the information senior management is telling them?

Charan had more questions than answers, though he did note that the board of Singtel, the Singapore phone company, devotes a week each year to extracurricular fact-finding missions.

The Socratic method is a great way to spark conversation, to get students to find the answers for themselves. The executives at Fortune’s conference, which runs through Wednesday morning, will spend the balance of their time exploring these critical topics.

For more from Fortune Global Forum, watch this video: