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Powerful Questions - how to coach

Core attitudes


Good skills and a clear and flexible process are important, but excellence in coach-mentoring needs a foundation core value sometimes expressed as: commitment to evoke excellence from the coachee-mentee, and commitment to their own development from the coach-mentor.  It is this commitment and competence together that are the essentials of being a good mentor and coach (1).  


More assumptions and beliefs for coach-mentors: to maintain a commitment to support the individual; build the relationship on truth, openness and trust; the mentee is responsible for the results they are generating; focus on what the coachee-mentee thinks and experiences; the conversation is built on equality (2).


Finally, Nancy Kline (3) suggests that coaches and mentors should avoid listening with suggestions and direction in mind; resist the urge to drive a client to action prematurely; and avoid confusing competence with how much input and direction is given.


A clear and flexible process


Having a process in mind, even if it is in the background, helps give overall direction to coaching-mentoring conversations:


  • The GROW model (4): what is your Goal, what is the current Reality, what are then your Options, and What are you going to do / When are you going to do it / Will this action meet your goal / Who needs to know /What support will you need / How and when are you going to get that support / What certainty 1-10 have you of carrying out the actions agreed / What prevents it from being a 10? 

  • In GROW, often forgotten is to first ensure Awareness and Responsibility by questioning, i.e.: In what way will this help?  What other problems might there be? What else? What would you gain / lose by doing / saying that? I don’t know where to go next with this – where would you go?  Imagine having a dialogue with the wisest person you can think of. What would he or she tell you to do?

  • The seven Cs (5): 1  Contact, 2 Contract, 3  Clarification, 4  Challenge, 5  Choice, 6  Change, 7 Closure

          1.   Who am I? Who are you? What common ground is there? How useful is ‘difference’ in this context?

          2.   What are our objectives - is it OK if they change? Frequency/location/length of  meetings? Confidentiality?

          3.   So what you are saying is that you…? How does that work? What felt worst/best about that? What consequences?

          4.   Why?   Why not? When you said you … how helpful was that in the situation? So, what were you best & worst at there?

          5.   and   6.  So, what are you going to do?   (see W of the GROW model above)

          7.   How useful was that last exchange/our last meeting? How far are still on track to meet the aims we first talked about?

  • The ‘skilled helper’ model (6):  What do you want?  What will be different when you've gained your result? What resources do you already have?  What other resources can you draw upon? What is the next step? 


Questions to set a supporting context


This means anything surrounding the actual conversation which might help or hinder, from physical aspects to ground rules and shared expectations. First look at the Contact & Contract stages above, or: 

  • The ‘Four Ps’ (7) are another option: 1 Procedural: Where? When? How frequently? How long? 2 Professional: What specific aspect are we going to work on? What do you want to achieve? How does that sound to the mentor? How are we going to work together?  3  Personal: How are we going to celebrate success? How will we deal with any setbacks or disappointments? 4  Psychological: How open, effective and trusting is this all so far? Are there any particular issues to deal with?


Questions to help set real goals


It can help to habitually begin a mentoring session by asking a goal for the session itself:

  • What would you like to get out of this session?

  • I have an hour for this, where would you like to have got by then?


Achieving rapport and openness will be a helpful by-product when you first discuss, and then explore in more detail, short or medium-term goals / end goals / ultimate vision with questions like:

  •  What are the key challenges you face at the moment?

  • What’s in your Green, Amber and Red zones (8) just now [going well / worrying / going badly]

  • What is your picture of eventual success? What gives you the most energy in your work?



 Bearing this in mind, which challenge would you want to explore first?

  • Is there some activity within this which you’d like to be more fluent with?

  • How will you know when you have got what you’d like in this?

  • If you had ______ , what would that bring you? How will that feel?

  • How much influence do you have over this?  Who else wants this to happen?


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