30 Questions Every Leader Can Ask to Become a Better Coach

Whether you’re a CEO, teacher, parent, project leader or any other kind of a leader, you need to know how to coach your team. The need for coaching has never been greater. Gallup’s research shows that a team that is highly engaged has double the chance of job performance and success.

First off, there’s a lot of questions of what coaching entails. As a starter, here’s what coaching is not:

  • Coaching is not ordering people around because you have authority or a title.
  • Coaching is not “fixing” a person.
  • Coaching is not creating a dependency or indulging in “open-ended therapy.”

In “Unlocking Potential,” executive coach Michael Simpson defines coaching as the “building a relationship of trust, tapping a person’s potential, creating commitment and executing goals.”

Executive coach Marilee Adams says that life’s toughest issues are not solved by having all the answers, but by asking the right questions. Coaches who continue to ask powerful and provocative questions help individuals develop a sense of internal purpose and commitment for the long run.

Simpson suggests that powerful questions leaders ask may fall into three areas:

  1. Engaging with purpose (Opening)
  2. Advancing to commitment.
  3. Obtaining commitment (Closing)

First, start to ask your questions around purpose, whether it’s the purpose of the coaching process or the purpose of the meeting:

  • What specific needs, issues or opportunities bring you to coaching?
  • What are the most important strategies, goals, or outcomes that you need to accomplish personally or professionally?
  • What do you want to accomplish as a result of our coaching relationship?
  • What legacy do you want to leave in your life/ your family/ your career?
  • What do you see as your “best self” five years from now?
  • What contribution can you make in your current role at work?
  • What do you need to achieve this year?
  • Can you make that goal more specific?
  • How will you know when you’ve achieved that goal? How will you measure success?
  • What will be different as a result of the time we spend time together?

Second, your questions should now help the individual move towards commitment. Ask questions to help him/her anticipate and address barriers to accomplishing the goal.

  • What are you currently doing that is working towards your goal?
  • What are the obstacles? How have you addressed similar situations in the past?
  • If you have unlimited resources – time, money, people, information and technology – and knew you could not fail, what would you try?
  • What resources (including time, money, people, information, technology) do you have that you can call on?
  • What are the benefits of going after these anticipated goals and outcomes?
  • What would be the costs or negative outcomes of not doing these things?
  • What is the single most important thing to do now to advance towards your goal?
  • IF you went to your respected person or expert with your problem, what would this person suggest to you?
  • If you saw someone else in your situation, what would you recommend?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest), how motivated and likely are you to make your goal happen by that time frame you have committed to? How might you alter the plan to move it closer to 10?

Third, ask questions to obtain commitment. This is where you summarize, narrow the focus, and select options and confirming next steps. Closing the conversation means that the individuals have a clear summary of what they are going to commit to.

  • What are the two or three most important things for you to focus on before our next coaching session?
  • Based on what we have discussed, what seems most important for you to focus on now?
  • We have talked about a lot of important information today. If you were to put headlines on the key areas you want to focus on, what would they be?
  • What will you do in the next 24 hours (or week or month) to move forward towards your goal?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how motivated are you to take care of this commitment?
  • What will it take to turn that rating of a 6 into a 9?
  • Can you think of anything that might stop you from doing it? How will you overcome the barrier?
  • Moving from vision and big picture, what actions would you like to focus on over the next 30, 60, or 90 days?
  • What do you see as the best way of holding you accountable? [1]

Question: What is your favorite question? How will you be using these questions in your leadership?


[1] Simpson, Michael (2014). Unlocking Potential: 7 Coaching Skills That Transform Individuals, Teams & Organizations. Grand Haven, MI