CEO of CVS shares the 1 question she always asks her employees—it forces them to make great decisions

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Strong leadership requires decisive action, says CVS Health CEO Karen Lynch.

But people at all levels of the career ladder often struggle to make decisions and get stuck in an “analysis-paralysis” mindset, Lynch recently told LinkedIn’s “This is Working” podcast and video series.

“People are going to follow people that are decisive,” said Lynch, whose company owns brands including the CVS retail pharmacy chain and insurance company Aetna. “If you’re going to lead, you’ve got to know what direction you’re going in.”

When her employees face a mental block and can’t commit to a choice, she asks them a variation of the same question, she said: “What do you think? What do you think we should do? If you had to make a decision today, what would it be?”

That line of questioning forces people to make a call. “A lot of times, the Socratic method works,” Lynch said.

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The Socratic method, named after the teachings of the Greek philosopher Socrates, responds to queries with more questions designed to prompt people into discovering the answers themselves. You can turn it on yourself to improve your self-awareness — which can boost your creativity and productivity — according to Yale University philosophy and psychology professor Tamar Gendler.

Gendler’s advice: Whenever you don’t know what to do, imagine what Socrates himself would say. The philosopher constantly asked “Why?” in response to just about anything, Gendler said on a podcast episode of “The Happiness Lab” last year. If you keep asking yourself that same question, you’ll increase your odds of eventually reaching a satisfying answer.

“I never try to get all the way there all at once,” she said. “But Socratic questioning can help me understand what direction I need to go, to take the very next step.”

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was also known as a proponent of Socratic thinking in his company’s early days. He conducted probing interviews with job candidates, and reportedly drilled his fellow interviewers with additional questions to narrow down who was most qualified for a role.

“One of his mottos was that every time we hired someone, he or she should raise the bar for the next hire, so that the overall talent pool was always improving,” Nicholas Lovejoy, Amazon’s fifth-ever employee, told Wired in 1999, five years after the company launched.

If Bezos’ questions revealed even a single doubt, the candidate was typically soon rejected: “Jeff was very, very picky,” Lovejoy said.

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