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Growth Mindset Through Powerful Questioning

One of the top coaching trends continues to be the demand for managers and leaders to adopt coaching skills. The top reasons being to improve overall leadership effectiveness including the areas of communication skills, business management strategies, and self-confidence among others.

question mark illustration

This is how I got into coaching. I was an account manager at a global marketing agency with big ideas about where I wanted to take my career. In agencies, working in a complex and rapidly changing environment while constantly under the pressure of deadlines, is a way of life. At that time, I was identified as "high potential" talent but not quite ready for a senior leadership role. Some of the feedback for career growth was to "be more strategic". This had been feedback I had received a few times earlier in my career and I was not sure what to do with it. My reaction each time was, "what does that mean and how can I learn to be more of it?".

My boss at the time was a seasoned leader who had been in the business nearly 30 years. He saw something in me. One day he pulled me aside and said, "you're a natural coach." I had never heard the term "coach" used in a business setting. He helped me to understand the power of coaching skills as a potential pathway for evolving my skills to be more of a strategic leader.

Shortly after, he supported me in finding a local coaching program where I could hone my leadership skills. Here I learned about the basics of coaching while maintaining my full-time role at the agency. In 2008, I enrolled in ICF training and became a certified coach within a few years. This was the start of my transformation from manager to strategic leader and executive coach.

One of the most transformative skills I learned through coach training is the art of powerful questioning. I love this quote from Andrew Sobel, "Powerful Questions challenge our thinking. Using them can increase effectiveness by creating an opening for deeper exploration."

Over the next 10 years, I honed the skill of powerful questioning in my own leadership approach, and trained hundreds of other employees on how to develop a growth mindset through powerful questioning. The results were undeniable in showing an increase in client satisfaction scores and incremental business through existing accounts.

What shifted?

The formula is simple. However, the application and practice are crucial if you want to truly transform conversations and create deeper connections.

  1. Ask open ended questions

  2. Be present to the response

  3. Follow the energy

When should I use powerful questioning?

  • When feeling stuck in the tactics and losing sight of the bigger picture

  • When tension is high in a conversation or meeting environment

  • To explore the root cause of a problem or challenge

What is the difference between open vs. closed questioning?

Closed questions prompt a "yes" or "no" answer from the receiver.

  • Are we going to make our goal this year?

  • Would you like some support at this time?

  • Can we come up with new ideas?

Open questions allow the receiver to give further explanation.

  • If there were no limitations, what would you like to see happen?

  • What kind of support do you need while making this decision?

  • What is the desired outcome?

What does it mean to be present to the response?

  • One of the indicators a powerful question has been asked is when the receiver takes a pause to think more deeply about their response. It's important here to allow there to be a pause. Allow for silence and give the receiver space to explore.

  • What I've found most effective is asking one powerful question, then pausing to allow the receiver to take it in.

  • The opportunities for listening are not only in the words of the receiver, but in what is not being said with words. What is body language saying? What is the energy in the room telling you?

What does it mean to follow the energy?

  • Focus on what's important to the receiver and set our own interests aside.

  • Don't assume we know the answer of what needs to happen next. Be open to a different outcome.

  • Be like water and go with the flow!

When we stay present and curious as coaches this creates more space for exploration of creative ideas, new insights, and fresh perspectives to be revealed by our clients.

Have fun exploring!


Source and Recommended Reading: “Power Questions” by Andrew Sobel and Jerold Panas


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