Leader as Coach: Powerful Questioning

Powerful questioning

The most powerful questioning does not require a question at all; but silence.  That silence that allows the person to take their thinking where they need to take it, rather than where you think it should go next.

That’s it.  That’s all there is for today’s post!  That’s not true, but I want you to ponder further about the power of silence before we move on.  It is an underused “question”.  I suspect because we tend to think we are not adding value if we are saying nothing.  But we ARE adding huge amounts of value, just by keeping quiet and being their sounding board.  This may be the first time they’ve unpacked everything, so they need to go where they need to go to find the learning that they need to find.

Try it.  Keep stum.

There is a knack to this though.  That is, in knowing they are still thinking and realising new stuff; and knowing when they are telling you stuff they already know.  The stuff they already know is not particularly useful – unless by saying it, they find out new stuff beneath the surface.  So if you suspect they are telling you old stuff, just check in to see how useful this is or whether they need to say it out loud in order to process it properly.

But now I am side-tracking (into re-contracting).  Back to powerful questions.

After silence, the best powerful questions are the ones that create a response of “good question or “that’s a tough question” followed by more silence as they delve deep for the answer.  You know this is new thinking if it doesn’t trip off their tongue.  That’s exactly where you want them to be – pondering new things, gaining new insights, getting to those aha moments.

But you don’t always know it’s a powerful question until after it’s been said – and they’ve told you it’s a good question as they stall for time.  You can’t plan a powerful question.  You can’t lift it from some magical list of powerful questions.  The question is only powerful in that moment, in that context, with that person, given where they are and what they want from the coaching.

There are some principles though, that are more likely to lead to you asking a powerful question:

  1. keep them short
  2. ask them one at a time, not as multiples or repeats of the same question all in one breath
  3. ask the question that is right in that moment, given where they have got to – not that fantastic question you’ve been holding onto for 5 minutes, because that will no longer be the question for where they are now
  4. ask them for the sake of your coachee’s new thinking, not so that you can find out more
  5. don’t get to action questions too soon – look underneath the surface for assumptions, beliefs and obstacles that may prevent action or cause unhelpful action

There you have it.


And questions that evoke silence.

Try it.  See what a difference it makes to the other person’s thinking.


For more coaching competencies, you may wish to read these additional posts:

Meeting ethical guidelines and professional standards

Establishing the coaching agreement

Establishing trust and intimacy

Coaching presence

Active Listening