powerful coaching questions

“Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen.” – Pete Carroll

What if I gave you some key coaching questions to provoke your thinking – for real change and action? How would it feel if you had a list of questions to help coach your staff to achieve and to accelerate their progress?

But first of all – why do we need coaching at all?

Coaching has always supported individuals, teams and organizations to maximize or improve their performance.

It provides space for you to build your resilience and resourcefulness; gain new perspectives; improve your performance; manage the energies of yourself and others; strengthen your leadership, and attain your personal and organizational goals.

Coaching is also beneficial to organizations, supporting them to improve their team dynamics, functioning and performance; boost creativity and innovation; manage change; complement development initiatives, and attract and retain employees.

Coaching isn’t something you have done to you, though. It’s with you – in a collaborative process. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

One of the ways coaches make this happen is by asking powerful questions.


Powerful Questions

“The power to question is the basis of all human progress.” – Indira Gandhi

One of the coach’s superpowers is their ability to ask powerful questions (and, of course, to listen deeply to the responses). These are questions that are simple, get to the heart of the issue, resonate with you and stimulate you to think deeply – long after the conversation has ended.

Good coaches choose concise, open-ended questions that prioritize “what…?” or “how…?” above “why?”

Why you may ask? Asking “why?” can invoke just a one-word response and/or defensiveness… whereas the what/how sort of question opens up conversational space to work through challenges and offer solutions.

The goal of coaching is to ask questions that help people to access their own resourcefulness – their strengths, experiences, power, values, wisdom and possibilities.

You can ask these questions of yourself – or use them to further your staff / team’s development and enable them to find solutions and achieve their goals.


10 Powerful Questions to Get You Started


Here are 10 questions that you can mix and match to get you started…

1. What is the issue?

This question invites the person to describe the issue, and it is useful for summarizing the issue or challenge at hand.

The answer does not need to be long and detailed. If you’re rambling – or if you’re asking / coaching someone else and their response is going off track, try asking one of the following:

  • Can you give me the bottom line?
  • Can you summarize what is happening, in one sentence?

2. What makes this an issue, now?

This helps to establish what makes this an issue now. This question can help to bring out other useful information that might not come up spontaneously.

For example, I once had a client who readily talked about the issue, yet there was something blocking our work together. I inquired into the timeliness of this challenge, and it turned out that her husband had recently passed away from a long illness – which she would have never raised if I hadn’t asked this question.

Inquiring about the timeliness – now – can bring in important contextual information.

3. Who owns this issue / problem?

This reminds the issue-owner that only they can change things. That is – you can only change what is in your own control. It also highlights what or who else is at play. You can only coach the person who is in the room.

4. What would an ideal solution look like?

This taps into optimism and resourcefulness – flexing the ability to come up with positive solutions. It can be a powerful way to shift someone’s (or your) energy, particularly when they (or you) are feeling stuck.

5. What have you already tried?

This shows the person’s thinking so far and is helpful at inventorying what has already been done. It can be a reality check in terms of what has worked (or not). And it also flags if not much has been done so far.

6. What are the consequences of doing nothing?

This highlights the pain of staying stuck – it helps the person see what will happen if they stay in the status quo. This question often provides motivation towards movement, for example to move beyond the challenge and look for solutions.

7. What’s blocking your ideal outcome?

This question helps to identify obstacles that stand in the way of a solution. It can also help the issue-holder to identify which obstacles are within their sphere of control or influence and prioritize which areas to focus on as they move towards a solution.

8. Imagine yourself at your best (your most resourceful). What would you do?

This frees you to create possibilities and consider options for change. The person you’re coaching often knows the best course of action. You’re tapping into that resourcefulness.

9. Which action(s) will you take?

This question helps to narrow down the options, helping the solution to become more concrete. It also helps to build commitment on the part of the issue-owner as they start to own the prioritized actions.

10. What’s the next step? – And when will you take it?

This hones down the actions required, with more precision. It also asks for a commitment to a specific time.

These questions are by no means comprehensive and obviously, you don’t have to use them all, in sequence, or worded in this way. By all means, adapt, add, and develop your own repertoire of open-ended coaching questions that you feel comfortable using – and that open up people’s thinking.

Some of my favourite ‘extras’ include:

  • What would you advise your most trusted colleague to do in this situation?
  • What would you do if nothing stood in your way?
  • What else can you think of?

Don’t be afraid to “borrow” other people’s questions as you develop your own favorites. And do remember the golden rule: don’t ask a question if you are not prepared to listen to the response.

This bank of coaching questions provides a good foundation for your self-coaching or coaching of others, in your leadership role – and in your family and social life. Not only that – they also provide your springboard to leadership success.


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