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Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Stephanie Soler

Leadership Coach

Stephanie Soler | Powerful Open-ended questions with genuine curiosity

Stephanie Soler


Stephanie Soler draws upon twenty years of experience as a strategy consultant, leadership coach, and educator to help CEOs and other senior executives boost their strategic clarity and interpersonal savvy. Clients describe Stephanie as engaging, insightful, direct, and highly practical.  In addition to coaching executives and leadership teams, she is a Lecturer in Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Prior to launching her coaching career, Stephanie spent six years at McKinsey & Company advising Fortune 500 companies on strategy, marketing, and organization challenges.  She holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, an MA from the Stanford Graduate School of Education, and certification in multiple leadership assessment tools.  She is based in San Francisco and works in-person across the Bay Area and virtually around the world.

One of your most important tasks as a CEO is getting work done through others.  When you are the leader, it’s easy for others to look to you for the answers.  As you coach others, you may fall into the trap of telling and giving instructions.  After all, you have valuable experience and expertise to offer.

   Telling others what to do only goes so far. It works well when the question is straightforward and the answer is obvious. More often, the situation is complex, and there is often more than one right answer. Your job is to help your coachee think, rather than think for your coachee.

   The good news here is that you don’t have to have all the answers. Great coaches inquire,asking powerful questions to uncover what’s really important, and enable others to tap into their own knowledge and expertise.

   What is a powerful question? It is NOT a “statement disguised as a question,” like this one: “Have you tried working from home one day per week do give yourself more time for strategic thinking?” Notice that this is a closed, yes-or-no question, and the questioner probably has a “right” answer in mind. It’s a suggestion, not a question. It’s perfectly fine to make a suggestion; just don’t mistake it for a powerful question.

   Powerful questions are open-ended, and asked with genuine curiosity. The next time you feel compelled to jump in with ideas and suggestions, consider getting curious instead, and help someone develop their own insight. Here are some powerful questions to get you going.

Powerful questions are open-ended, and asked with genuine curiosity.

The next time you feel compelled to quickly jump in with ideas and suggestions, first get truly curious. Ask questions without attachments to the answers. Here are some powerful questions to get you going.

Ask these to understand what is important to someone else.

    1. What challenges are you facing?
    2. What matters to you right now?
    3. What’s on your mind today?
    4. What opportunities are you seeing?
    5. What else?

Ask these to shift focus from what’s wrong to what’s possible.

    1. What is the best possible outcome?
    2. What are you trying to achieve?
    3. What do you want to happen next?
    4. What does success look like?
    5. How will you know when you’ve succeeded?

Ask these to generate ideas.

  1. What have you tried?
  2. What options do you have?
  3. What else?
  4. How possible is each option?
  5. What would you have to believe for this option to be right?


Ask these to help someone figure out what to do next.

    1. What data/information do you need to make a decision?
    2. What action can you take now?
    3. What are you taking away from this conversation, as a next step or new way of thinking?
    4. What support do you need? Where will you get it?
    5. How can I help?

Coaches can and should offer observations, feedback, guidance, and advice based on what they know and have seen before. When you take the time to ask powerful questions, you may need to offer less than you think.

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