The 8 Questions Leaders need to Coach – Part 2

Leadership Blog  |  4 minute read

Ric Bulzis

Written by Ric Bulzis

The 8 Questions Leaders need to Coach – Part 2

In part one we looked at the importance of coaching in today’s business environment and established the direct connection between coaching and leadership. Although often referenced as an essential element of leadership, there are few guides for leaders as to how to ask the sort of questions that can open the door to intense, energising coaching conversations that stimulate both parties and lay the foundations for breakthrough achievement. Continuing our list of eight killer questions we move onto five more that are a little harder to ask, but which can deliver significant rewards in terms of clarity, new thinking and deep understanding. We pick up with number 4…


  1. 4. What unpopular action might lead to progress?

No one particularly likes to call a breakdown – to point out where things are coming apart or where actions are not producing intended results. But breakdowns are essential to breakthroughs. By asking directly what the unpopular action would be, leader-coaches can guide their reports to be better and bolder at calling these out. They can work with them to explore the impacts and how progress can only result from making these bold, but initially unpopular calls. Helping individuals to not only be aware of potential breakdowns, but to actively seek them out as ways of accelerating progress is one of the most powerful aspects of coaching.


  1. 5. If you could give yourself or someone else one piece of straight feedback, what would it be and, what’s stopping you give that feedback?

Two questions in one here, and definitely one’s for you to ask yourself as well as your coachees. It is a powerful combination that works in several ways. Probably we all have one piece of feedback we’d like to give to someone else – so the question here is what is stopping us? Once again assumptions, potentially rackets and background commitments could be the answer – so it is useful to unearth and explore all of these. We are less good at giving ourselves honest feedback but, having explored why we’d not speak straight with someone else, it becomes easier to ask the same question of ourselves. 

  2. 6. Could you tell me what I’m committed to as a leader of this team?

As with other questions this must be asked from an authentic desire to really understand  - it cannot come across as a trick question. What’s important for any leader is to listen not for playback of what you’ve said you are committed to, nor even for what your team thinks you should be committed to, but for a real resonance with your true commitment.

Not only will this identify where your own background commitments are but identify the truly shared commitments that drive success. Ideally all your direct reports will be able to honestly share a consistent, accurate, understanding of your true commitments that are perfectly aligned with declared commitments. But coaching is not about answers, it is about exploring the spaces where progress can be made. The natural gaps in understanding of commitments are opportunities to create breakthroughs.


  1. 7. How ‘at stake’ are you for your team’s success right now?

Another one for leaders to honestly ask themselves as well as their direct reports. Part of leadership is shouldering responsibility to shield the team and allowing them to play all out without fear of consequence. Putting yourself fully at stake – not just in terms of recognition, role and job security, but fundamentally, psychologically fully investing in a future possibility, not only frees your team to go all out to deliver it but frees you as leader to completely dedicate to success. Asking this question in these terms not only creates a clearing for radical, breakthrough thinking, but creates real energy and vitality in a team.


  1. 8. What are other possible interpretations here?

This final question can be one of the most useful, but also most dangerous. Stepping away from interpretation, putting aside assumptions and judgements, and focusing on facts is core to the breakdown process. So, asking direct reports to consider alternative interpretations might seem counter intuitive. But the mental act of considering alternative points of view is also a powerful approach to create new options, opportunities and alternative ways forward. Leaders should never use this question to quash or dismiss the concerns of their team members nor to reinforce their own righteousness. However, well handled, this approach can help individuals move past anxiousness about situations or seemingly insurmountable problems and to re-engage with alternative solutions.

In common with other aspects of leadership careful selection of language, close listening to the little voices of direct reports and clear understanding of the role of context are all crucial to coaching. To be effective today’s leaders must become skilful coaches. The eight questions highlighted over the past two blogs can start that journey - but continual investment in environments and cultures that support open, honest and safe communication are the essential foundations on which they can build.


Published 01/09/2022

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