Coaching on How To Ask Powerful Questions

Guest Post by Henna Inam

Previously posted at TransformationalLeadership

If there were one single tool that would help you inspire greater creativity, drive stronger engagement, and get better results,would you try it?

It’s called a question.

Voltaire said “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers”.

In my executive coaching practice, asking the right questions is the single most important tool I use to help others discover and grow themselves as leaders.

Here are ten ways asking questions can help us be more effective leaders and create breakthroughs in our impact.

1) Inspire Creativity & Innovation – Asking the right questions can cause us to think imaginatively about what could be possible. Making a statement causes people to start to judge (agree or disagree with your statement) and can bring up resistance. When we ask the right question we help people tap into the part of the brain that is creative. Some examples of questions to inspire creativity are:

  • If we were to totally delight our customers what would that look and feel like to them?
  • What does success look like in this situation?
  • If resources were not constrained what could be possible here?

2) Sell Your Product or Idea – What is the single most important thing that stands in the way of you selling your product or idea? It is insufficient knowledge of the buyer’s needs, wants, and constraints. Questions that help us better understand the needs of our customers help us build alignment. Some examples of questions are:

  • What are the most pressing issues or challenges you face?
  • If we were to create the perfect solution for you what would that look like?
  • Why is this need area important to you?

3) Improve decision-making – Many organizations are restructuring to get flatter hierarchies and wider span of controls. As leaders in these structures we can no longer afford to hold on to decision making authority or expect to be the expert in every situation. Questions allow us to learn and tap into the expertise of our people who are closest to the issue at hand. They can help us challenge our assumptions about a situation. Some examples of good decision-making questions are:

  • What are your criteria for making this decision? Why?
  • What options did you consider?
  • What is your recommendation and why?
  • What options did you reject and why?
  • What assumptions have we made that we need to test?

4) Create a culture of learning and resilience – When we start with “a beginner’s mind” we always learn more. If we always know all the answers, how do we learn? The ability to take calculated risks and rapidly test and learn from failures is a key trait of learning organizations and successful leaders. Some examples of questions are:

  • What did we learn from this situation?
  • What would we do differently in the future?
  • How and where else can we apply this learning for greater success?

5) Direct the focus of a discussion – Leaders can use questions to shape the course of a discussion. As leaders we have great power to direct the conversation in a way that builds capability in people and creates a positive vision of what’s possible. Some examples of questions are:

  • What’s working well in this situation?
  • What did we do to create that positive outcome?
  • What could be a vision for this project that would really excite you to be part of it?

6) Engage and influence Others – Connecting or building a relationship with others is a huge part of leadership. In particular, working across organizational boundaries can sometimes feel like the battle lines are drawn as each area has unique goals. How can we use questions to influence and work with others we have no authority over? Here are some examples of questions:

  • What are your goals in this situation?
  • What are some constraints you’re facing?
  • What could be possible if we were able to remove these constraints?
  • How can we work together to make this happen?
  • How can I support you in your goals?

7) Coach and help others grow. Questions are a great coaching tool to help others discover their own best answers. The Socratic method is well-known for helping learning stick. One of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou is “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” As a leader how we make people feel about themselves is a key part of our leadership legacy. How do we instill confidence and let them know they are supported? Questions are critical in the coaching process. Some examples of good coaching questions are:

  • What does success look like in this project to you?
  • Which of your strengths will be critical to leverage?
  • How can we make sure this project helps you develop?
  • What support do you need from me?

8) Get commitment to change – The greatest challenge to any major change initiative is changing human behavior. How well does telling people what to do work for us? What works if we want a change in behaviors? Helping others identify their own motivators, constraints and barriers. Some examples of good questions to capture commitment to change:

  • What are your objectives and goals? Why are they important to you?
  • How can we make sure that this initiative helps you achieve your goals?
  • What do you see as the barriers to implementation?
  • How do we work together to resolve them?

9) Motivate ourselves to meet goals – Are there times you wish you could better motivate yourself toward goals? These questions are great to ask ourselves periodically. Some examples of questions are:

  • Why is this goal really important to me? What’s already working well?
  • What have I done to create that success?
  • What special talents or strengths do I have that can help me achieve my goals?

10) Grow in Our Own Self-Awareness – Some examples of questions are:

  • What are strengths I have that can be leveraged at work?
  • What brings me joy in the work that I do? What is a personal brand I can create for myself that inspires me?
  • How can my strengths taken to an extreme become derailers for me?

The above are thought-starters. I encourage you to print this out. Create your own list.

Here’s the real challenge to asking good questions. It requires a shift in our own mindset as leaders. We have to let go of three ego needs that hold us back.

  1. Let go of the need to be superior or to prove ourselves (e.g. I’m the smartest person in the room so let me tell you everything I know).
  2. Let go of the need to control outcomes (e.g. the best and most efficient way to do this is my way, so let me just help you by telling you what to do).
  3. Let go of the need for perfection or need to succeed without any tolerance for failure (we have to do this perfectly because anything less than success will make us or me look bad).

This is where executive coaching really works to uncover limiting beliefs and paradigms we have so we can let our curiosity naturally flow through. Do these apply to you?

Many of my executive coaching clients have found this Socrates method of learning and teaching a key driver of growth in leadership, engagement and results. Try it for yourself!

Additional Resources:

Henna-InamHenna Inam is the CEO of Transformational Leadership Inc. Her company works with organizations to help women realize their potential to be authentic, transformational leaders. Her clients drive breakthroughs in innovation, growth, and engagement. Her corporate clients include Coca Cola, UPS, Novartis, J&J, and others who know female leadership talent is good for business. To accelerate your own growth connect with her “HERE.” Connect on Twitter @hennainam.




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