Empowering Questions for the Coach-Centric Leader

August 3rd, 2016 • by Laura Scott •

puzzle peicesWhen I do workshops on Coach-Centric Leadership, we spend a lot of time crafting empowering questions that leaders can use with their teams to empower, engage, and problem solve.

The most challenging thing about this is that sometimes the most empowering questions require that you “play dumb.” When I’m doing a 1:1 meeting with the client I will preface these questions by saying, “Permit me to ask a really dumb question…”

The magic of these “dumb” questions is that they challenge all the assumptions that we are making about what is “true” or possible, we challenge the status quo, and we gain valuable information that otherwise we wouldn’t have uncovered using more direct close-ended questions.

All the best empowering questions start with “What” or “How.” Questions that start with the word “Why” often will put people on the defensive and a person in defensive mode will typically retaliate, clam up, or start to finger point. None of which is good.

I invite you to think about how you can craft four or five open-ended questions starting with “What” or “How” you can have at the ready for those times when you really want to investigate the truth and co-create solutions with your team.

Here’s an example of three empowering questions that I like to use :

“What would be one baby step that you could make this week that would make you feel proud and accomplished and put you closer towards that goal?”

“What are the unknowables that are getting in the way of us moving forward?”

“How might we craft a solution where everybody wins?”

As a coach who has worked with many of the top leaders in a variety of industries, I likely have an answer to all of these questions, but they are flawed, because they are my answers and not my clients.

It’s my job as a coach to empower my clients to craft their own solutions based on their skills, knowledge, and values. The only way I can do that is to shut up and ask the empowering question. And in doing so I learn so much more about my client and what is possible for them and their organizations. The same holds true for the leader. If we can set aside what we know and be curious, we can challenge all of the assumptions, we can exploit the wisdom in the room, and engage and empower others as solution partners.

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