71 Powerful Questions to Ask When Coaching an Employee

Coaching employees is a critical part of effective leadership and management. It involves having regular one-on-one conversations to provide feedback, guidance, and support to help team members develop skills, improve performance, and achieve their goals.

Asking the right questions is key to productive coaching. Powerful, open-ended questions encourage employees to think critically, identify solutions, and determine the actions they need to take to get better results. Rather than telling the employee what to do, the leader’s role is to ask good questions that spark self-reflection and move the employee toward identifying the next steps.

This post will cover 71 powerful questions across several categories that managers can ask when coaching employees, including:

  • Questions to Set the Foundation
  • Questions to Uncover Perspectives
  • Reflective Questions
  • Problem-Solving Questions
  • Goal-Setting Questions
  • Growth Questions
  • Accountability Questions
  • Empowerment Questions

Asking the right coaching questions makes employees feel heard and understood while driving productivity, engagement, skill-building, and professional development. Read on to learn 50 impactful questions to integrate into your coaching conversations.

Questions to Set the Foundation

Building rapport and trust is crucial in any coaching relationship. Ask open-ended questions to better understand the employee’s goals, motivations, strengths, and areas for growth. Some examples include:

  • What do you enjoy most about your role?
  • What are you most proud of accomplishing in the past year?
  • What are your top strengths that you bring to the team?
  • What are some areas you’d like to grow and develop in over the next 6-12 months?
  • What motivates you in your work?
  • What are your short and long-term career goals?
  • What do you hope to achieve in our coaching sessions together?

Starting with a solid foundation allows you to establish trust and have more meaningful coaching conversations. When employees feel heard and understood, they’ll be more open to feedback and growth opportunities.

Questions to Uncover Perspectives

Asking the right questions can reveal how your employees think through problems and uncover any blindspots in their perspectives. Getting their point of view allows you to understand their thought process better. Here are some examples of powerful questions to uncover perspectives:

  • How do you view this situation?
  • What factors or considerations influenced your approach?
  • What assumptions did you make when deciding how to handle this?
  • How would you describe your thought process when faced with this issue?
  • What blindspots might exist in the way you are thinking about this problem?
  • Is there another valid perspective to this situation that you may be missing?
  • If you had to defend the opposite view, what would your argument be?
  • How would you explain your perspective to someone who disagreed with you?
  • What information would help you reconsider your assumptions?
  • What factors may not have occurred to you in your current view?

By digging into their reasoning, you can understand how they form judgments and make decisions. Uncovering gaps or limited perspectives allows you to broaden their thinking. Powerful coaching involves asking the right questions to reveal thought patterns, not just solutions.

Reflective Questions

Reflective questions encourage employees to think deeply about their work, goals, and development. These questions aim to reveal assumptions, challenge accepted thinking, and foster self-awareness.

Some examples of powerful reflective questions include:

  • What is the belief or assumption driving your current approach?
  • How might challenging your assumptions change your perspectives or strategies?
  • In what ways have your biases influenced your decisions or actions?
  • What would you do differently if you had no fear of failure?
  • What is standing in the way of you achieving your goals?
  • How do your actions align with your values?
  • What lessons have you learned recently about yourself or your work?
  • If you had a magic wand, how would you change the current situation?
  • What might you gain by letting go of outdated assumptions or habits?
  • What advice would you give your one-year-ago self about this project?

Reflective questions encourage introspection, revealing blind spots and complacency. They can reframe challenges and help employees see things from a fresh perspective. By regularly using reflective questions, managers promote continuous learning and growth.

Problem-Solving Questions

Problem-solving is a key part of effective coaching. Asking the right questions can help employees think through challenges and come up with solutions. Consider using problem-solving questions to:

  • Help break down complex issues into smaller, more manageable parts
  • Guide systemic thinking by looking at all aspects and implications of a problem
  • Spark creative solutions by encouraging out-of-the-box thinking

Some examples of powerful problem-solving questions include:

  • What is the real challenge here?
  • What have you tried so far?
  • What is holding you back from finding a solution?
  • What do you think needs to happen to resolve this?
  • What would you do if you had unlimited time and resources?
  • How could we break this down into smaller steps?
  • Who else might be able to help with this situation?
  • If we could start over, what would you do differently?

Asking open-ended, probing questions helps employees think critically rather than jumping to conclusions. Reframing issues and looking at problems from new angles can lead to innovative solutions. The employee is more likely to own and implement solutions they have come up with themselves through effective coaching conversations.

Goal-Setting Questions

Goal-setting is a crucial part of effective coaching. Asking the right questions can help employees clarify their objectives and determine the steps needed to achieve them.

  • What are your short-term goals for this quarter/project?

Understanding an employee’s immediate goals allows you to support them and remove potential roadblocks. Check in regularly on progress.

  • What are your long-term career goals?

Discussing an employee’s aspirations helps you understand what motivates them and how you can help them grow professionally.

  • What resources or support do you need from me to achieve your goals?

Identifying needs for resources, training, or guidance enables you to provide meaningful assistance. Make sure goals are realistic.

  • How can we break this goal down into smaller action steps?

Breaking a big goal into bite-sized pieces makes it more manageable. Help map out incremental objectives.

  • When do you plan to complete each step?

Agreeing on deadlines for each milestone fosters accountability and keeps things on track.

  • What potential obstacles might arise as you work toward this goal?

Anticipating hurdles allows you to problem-solve in advance and have contingency plans.

  • How can I best support you in staying focused on your goals?

Regular check-ins on progress and removing distractions demonstrates your commitment to their growth.

Asking powerful questions around goal-setting enables you to understand an employee’s aspirations, create an action plan, and provide the necessary coaching for them to achieve their objectives.

Growth Questions

Growth questions aim to reveal areas where employees can develop new skills, fill in knowledge gaps, and improve their performance. As a coach, asking targeted questions can uncover opportunities for an employee’s professional growth and development.

Some examples of powerful growth questions include:

  • What skills would you like to develop in your role?
  • What knowledge do you need to do your job more effectively?
  • How can I support your learning and development?
  • What training or resources would be useful for you right now?
  • What parts of the job are most challenging for you?
  • How can we work together to improve your skills in [area]?
  • What strategies could help you overcome this challenge?
  • How can I provide feedback that will help you grow?
  • What long-term goals do you have for your career development?

Focusing questions on growth empowers employees to take an active role in their own learning. It shows them that you are invested in their improvement and aims to provide them with the tools and resources to reach their potential. Employees are likely to be more motivated and engaged when they feel supported in their professional development.

Accountability Questions

Coaches can use accountability questions to review progress on goals, celebrate wins and milestones, and course correct as needed. These types of questions keep team members on track and focused on achieving their objectives. Consider asking:

  • How have you been progressing toward the goal we set last time?
  • What milestones have you reached so far?
  • What successes have you had since we last spoke?
  • What’s working well so far in pursuit of your goal?
  • What obstacles, roadblocks or challenges have come up?
  • How can we adjust your plan to get back on track?
  • What support or resources might be helpful to overcome these obstacles?
  • How can I hold you accountable for completing the next steps we’ve outlined?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you that you’ll achieve your goal on schedule?
  • What could increase your confidence to a 10?
  • How often shall we check in on your progress going forward?

Asking accountability questions demonstrates you care about your team member’s growth and want to see them succeed. Checking in regularly enables you to celebrate wins, troubleshoot challenges, and keep your employee motivated and focused on their objectives. Accountability leads to achievement.

Empowerment Questions

Empowerment questions aim to boost employees’ confidence, encourage them to take initiative, and affirm their capabilities. As a manager, you want your team to feel empowered to make decisions, take action, and fully utilize their skills. Ask empowerment questions like:

  • What steps can you take to gain more independence in your role?
  • What additional responsibilities would you like to take on?
  • What ideas do you have for improving our processes?
  • What skills would you like to develop right now? How can I support this?
  • What are some new projects or initiatives you’d like to spearhead?
  • How can I better empower you to bring your full self to work?
  • What makes you feel most confident and capable at work?
  • What challenges you the most? How can we work through this?
  • What do you need from me to feel supported and able to take risks?

Empowerment questions demonstrate that as a manager, you believe in your employee’s abilities and potential. They encourage employees to stretch themselves and take ownership of their growth and contributions. When employees feel empowered, they are more engaged, proactive, and invested in doing their best work.

Conclusion

Asking powerful questions is crucial for effective coaching conversations with employees. By taking the time to ask thoughtful, open-ended questions, managers can gain deeper insights, empower employees, and foster professional growth.

Throughout this article, we covered several types of powerful coaching questions to incorporate:

  • Questions to set the foundation and build rapport
  • Reflective questions to encourage self-awareness
  • Problem-solving questions to tackle challenges
  • Goal-setting questions to align on objectives
  • Growth questions to unlock potential

The key is asking the right questions to unlock insights, rather than just telling employees what to do. With an open and curious approach, coaching conversations create space for employees to think critically, gain clarity, and commit to action.

Managers should make asking powerful questions a regular habit. While it takes practice, the investment pays off through more motivated, high-performing teams. Employees feel valued when managers show genuine interest in their needs and goals.

Start your next one-on-one with thoughtful questions to empower your employees. The simple act of listening without judgement can enable breakthroughs. With coaching questions as part of your management toolkit, you’ll be on your way to becoming a highly effective coach and leader.