Asking Great Questions

With 14 years in the coaching business, I have witnessed the industry grow from a fledgling movement to an industry gaining traction with individuals and companies to expanding to the point where now coaching is being viewed both as a profession and as a desirable skill set for leaders and managers. Companies are falling all over themselves trying to create a “coaching culture,” both for recruitment and for retention reasons as well as to improve employee engagement. One of the key coaching skills is asking high-gain questions or powerful questions. This year I collaborated with Canadian coach and author, Jennifer Britton, to write The Mentor Roadmap Workbook, a resource and journal for mentors and mentees in the business world. In our workbook, we identify asking powerful questions as one of three essential coaching skills. Asking powerful questions allows you to get at the heart of a matter. The most neutral questions will start with “What” or “How.” Powerful questions are usually simple such as:
  • What’s working?
  • What’s not working?
  • What is your intuition telling you?
  • What is next?
  • What are you avoiding?
  • What makes you most proud?
In training mentors to ask powerful questions, I will often use a deck of 54 cards called “Open-Ended Questions for Coaching Mastery.” Designed by fellow coach Marcy Nelson-Garrison, you can order the deck of cards at The questions are divided into three categories — Simple & Curious, Expanding Awareness and Taking Action. It’s amazing how the questions apply to a variety of situations — a career planning discussion, a corrective action conversation, a mentoring session, etc. Here is a story of one my mentors who very effectively used open-ended questions with his mentee: Dave, the mentor, had been working with his mentee, Josh for about five months. Josh was high-energy, assertive and liked to work independently. As this was Josh’s first job out of college, he was eager to make an immediate impact. As a good mentor, Dave was always on the lookout for learning opportunities for Josh. He found one in an upcoming major trade show. Getting Josh to be able to attend this event involved getting approval from two different departments, which Dave gained. Josh was copied on all the email correspondence. However, when the approval came through, Josh quickly jumped to making his own travel arrangements without checking with Dave. A little frustrated with his mentee’s impulsiveness, Dave used the situation to ask open-ended, impactful questions: “Who was coordinating this opportunity?” Josh’s response was that he was used to being a “lone wolf” and that was why he forged ahead. Dave then asked another great open-ended question, “What about this situation makes you feel like you are alone?” This simple question gave Josh pause and had him consider the need of coordinating with others and the effects of leaping too soon. It also enabled Dave and Josh to have a meaningful conversation about the importance of good communication. As we get back into the routine of life this September, notice when someone asks a really great question. The kind of question that stops people in their tracks and really makes them think. What powerful questions will you ask this month?

Tags: Business coach, questions


Susan Combs

Susan Combs, MBA and Professional Certified Coach, works with coaching clients to create fresh starts, enhance their leadership skills and increase their confidence. She is an authorized licensee of the Fit Leader's Program. Susan provides one-on-one coaching, DiSC team-building training and manages corporate mentor programs. She lives in Lansing with her son, Max, and their golden retriever puppy. Visit or for more information.

CAWLM is now 517 Magazine!

517 Magazine

Embodying the best elements of Capital Area Women’s LifeStyle Magazine and Greater Lansing Business Monthly, 517 Magazine is your guide to living and working in Lansing.

Click here to read 517 Magazine!

Social Media