Coach With Questions

Excerpted with permission from “Healthy Leadership – How to Thrive in the New World of Work” by Lee J. Colan and Julie Davis-Colan.

A few summers ago, we enjoyed a family trip to Greece. It is a land of boundless beauty with a long history of tremendous thinkers. While touring the Acropolis of Athens, our guide mentioned that when the restoration of this prized structure was being scheduled, time was budgeted for each worker to spend time thinking! Imagine that happening almost anywhere else in the world, but since Greece’s history is built upon the minds of the world’s greatest thinkers, it makes sense.

One of those great thinkers is the philosopher Socrates, who was born more than 2,500 years ago. Today, he is alive and well in any coach who inspires others to realize their potential. His Socratic method of questioning is a timely and timeless leadership tool for engaging teams and challenging thought processes.

Asking questions serves the needs of your employees and also serves the needs of the leader. It demonstrates interest in your team while providing you with insights into their motivations, passions, challenges, assumptions, and aspirations. The next time you are tempted to tell your team what to do, take a lesson from Socrates and ask for their perspectives first.

Questions Are the Answer

When it comes to coaching, questions are actually the answer. By simply asking questions, your employees will reveal challenges and opportunities that could potentially take you months or even years to identify. Remember, we all want to be seen and heard, and asking questions meets that need. Asking questions and then really listening demonstrates personal respect and a genuine desire to engage and develop your team. Listen for the entire message your employee is communicating with his or her words, tone, posture, eyes, energy, hesitations, fluency, etc.

Healthy leaders listen at least 50 percent of the time. Our client Andrew Levi, an excellent leader of numerous successful businesses, has done a tremendous amount of presenting and explaining in his efforts to build healthy cultures and businesses.

On the topic of listening, he says, “He who talks the most loses.” Ask, be silent, and listen to engage your team. What you discover will help you be a better coach. Healthy leaders make concerted efforts to keep in touch with the realities of their employees. They listen for the truth, even if it turns out to be uncomfortable or inconvenient. Ask your employees what they think and listen to their answers.

But what questions should you ask? Certain coaching questions work in almost any situation. These are five of our favorites to engage your team members:

  • What do you think?
  • Why do you think this is happening?
  • What can we start, stop, and keep doing, to improve our work?
  • And what else? (Repeated as a prompt to obtain more details.)
  • Is this your very best work? (Lee’s mentor asks him this question.)

There is rarely a right answer to a wrong question. Asking questions without a clear objective is like playing the question lotto. Occasionally you might get lucky and win, but most of the time you will come up empty-handed. That’s a loss for you and for your team member.

There are four main reasons to ask questions:

  1. To understand
  2. To assess
  3. To innovate
  4. To motivate

It is important to know your objectives before you start asking. Within each objective, your question might focus on the person or the project/process. The following table serves as a guide to keep your coaching questions purposeful.




Click HERE to purchase your “Healthy Leadership” book today!


Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. and Julie Davis-Colan, M.S. have been encouraging and equipping leaders for healthy growth since 1999.  Lee is an organizational psychologist. Julie is a corporate health strategist.  In addition to advising CEOs, between the two of them they have authored 15 leadership books that have been translated into 10 languages.  Learn more at


75 Best Sales Questions to Close More Deals

Guest Post by Paul Cherry Have you ever faced a situation where the sale seemed to be just about sealed,...

10 Questions to Ask Your Mom or Grandma on Mother’s Day

My Mom, Clara Tiede, was the best Mom I could have ever had.  With one year of Junior College she became a...

5 Questions for Helping Others with their Struggles

Guest Post by Dr. K. Shelette Stewart A few years ago, when I resigned from my leadership role at Harvard...

4 Best Icebreakers For Team Meetings

Guest Post by Dr. David Burkus Originally posted @ Icebreakers are not just games or...

Do You Have a Hard Time Saying “No”?

Excerpted from Chapter 24 of “Now That’s a Great Question.” Click HERE to listen to Chapter...

Four Words

Excerpted with the permission of the authors from Chapter Three of Power Questions: “Four Words. ...

You need Questions…. Not Answers….Start here

Guest Post by Diana Kawarsky You’re a new hire in financial services, maybe an Analyst or Associate who...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.