coaching leaders – 4 varieties of powerful questions

At a basic level, questions are designed to elicit information from another person. In simplistic form, the answer is for your benefit. You don’t know something, so you ask your direct report for information. She gives you the answer. You now have the answer and (in theory) need not ask the question again.

But, what if there were questions which do more than simply invoke a response? What if there were questions which could help your team to provide answers for their own benefit? Answering such questions would require creative thinking about a solution rather than simply firing back an answer to you. Trained coaches call this process of asking powerful questions ’appreciative inquiry’.

As a manager of people, your powerful questions will facilitate your team to better understand their situation, their motivation and what it is that they are prepared to commit to in order to achieve an outcome. The benefits are significant. Your team will become more self-reliant. They will develop creativity in problem-solving and they will start to self-direct rather than constantly await direction from you.

Here are 4 varieties of powerful questions you can use with your team:

situation questions:

These are coaching questions which require the person being coached to be clear and specific about current circumstances.

How do you feel about the current situation?
What appears to be holding you back?
What appears to be standing in your way?
What is causing you to bring work home?
What most concerns your about [X]?
Who is driving you crazy and why?
What is causing you to worry most at this moment in time?

refining questions

These are coaching questions which require the coachee to ‘chunk down’ a goal into manageable increments.

Can you give me your goal | target | solution in one sentence?
What would be the minimum achievement that would make this a success?
What do you mean exactly when you say [X]/
How can you break this down into sub-goals?
Which of these can you delegate and get it off your plate today?
If you could start with just one thing and park the rest for now, what would that one thing be?
If you look at your list of to-do’s which one thing cannot be postponed another moment?

resource questions

Resource questions get the coachee to consider which experience, qualities, skills they already have and invite them to bring these to the table.

Whom could you ask for help to achieve your goal?
Who could support you and what do you need them to do exactly?
Which skills that you already have can help right now?
Whom do you need to be in order to do this?
When you were last in this situation, how did you fix it?
Which qualities that you have can be useful in this situation just like this?

accountability questions

Accountability questions gain commitment from the coachee and invite them to ensure that they hold themselves to high standards

How would you like me to hold you accountable?
How will I know that you can be relied upon to do this correctly?
Who needs to be assured that you are responsible for this?
How would you like to assure me that you have got this under control?
If you were in my shoes, what would you expect of you?


As you will have noticed, several of these pose what is essentially the same question in different ways. The reason is that some words will resonate better or have a more powerful effect on the mind of the person than if you were to phrase them differently. Feel free to amend these and to make them your own. Your challenge as a Manager is to use questions rather than instructions as often as you can.

Remember that Powerful questions are inextricably linked to that which coaches call ‘deep-listening’. In the same way that you are making your team dig-deep to reflect upon a question, so you must dig deep and listen to not just the answer but to the language being used and the manner in which it is being expressed.

coaching that works for your team

As an experienced registered coach, I love working with individuals and teams helping them to remove obstacles and find creative solutions to their professional and personal goals. Please contact me to find out how you can increase your team’s performance.

Author: Mark
Hi! Did you enjoy this content? I can help business such as yours to leverage the very best from your people through world-class training and coaching. Just call me on +44 7743 912 492.

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