For years, bestselling books, articles, and development programs have focused on how important it is for leaders to build trust, demonstrate vulnerability, and empower their teams. Leaders are taught to be curious, listen openly, and care for others. Compelling statistics show that leaders who coach and empower unlock potential and get better results.
At the most basic level, coaching is the ability to ask insightful, inquisitive, and perspective-shifting questions. Powerful questions are eye-opening, supportive, and even provocative. There’s no doubt in most leaders’ minds that asking questions and coaching have great value.
But then they get stuck. They find themselves in a challenging meeting or with a team member who is struggling. They falter and consider, “What question should I ask in this moment?”
Let’s look at five practical, workable, and powerful questions that leaders can ask their teams and when to use them. Don’t forget to make them your own.
1. What life experience has most shaped who you are?This is a powerful way for team members to get to know one another, create connections, and build trust. Sharing personal stories can foster empathy, understanding, and relationships. A new appreciation and understanding of where others are coming from can help virtual teams or those struggling with conflict.
Variation: Who has been the greatest influence in your life? Why?
2. What makes it all worthwhile to you?As you build your relationship with your employees, it’s important to understand what meaning they derive from their work, what they see as their purpose, and what motivates them. With this shared understanding, it’s easier to inspire, develop, and empower others in a meaningful way.
Variation: Why do you do what you do?
3. Where do you have the most impact?We each contribute in a unique way to our teams and to our organization. Sometimes we don’t stop to consider where we have the greatest impact and why. Asking this question helps your employees look at where they have impact as well as where they want to have even more of it. This knowledge can help you tap into their natural strengths, aspirations, and potential in a new way.
Variation: What do you want to build or create in your lifetime?
4. What stands between you and where you want to go?This question is challenging to ask and answer. It’s most powerful when someone is stuck. They may be struggling with an interpersonal issue with a colleague, a project-related challenge, or the direction of their career. Talking through the vision for the future and what might be getting in the way is a great start.
Variation: What are you avoiding doing that you know you should do?