Ask Powerful Questions

Ella Ingram

“A prudent question is one-half of wisdom” Francis Bacon, English philosopher and scientist

I recently attended a workshop focused on training academic leaders as coaches. During the workshop, I realized that a key skill of coaches is one that change agents also should have: how to ask powerful questions. Powerful questions are questions that go beyond. They go beyond trivialities and superficialities. They go beyond examining the current state and the current answers. They go beyond an immediate response. They go beyond our current thinking to imagine what could be. So, what are some powerful questions that change agents can ask of themselves and others? Try these on for size.

Identifying Obstacles

What are the barriers that are easy to see in this situation?

What are the barriers that are under the surface in this situation?

What is desirable about the current state of affairs?

Why hasn’t a change already occurred in this situation?

What’s one change that would open a path forward with respect to this problem?

Describing the Greater Good

How will the world be a better place if this change occurs?

Who is served by this change and how does their life improve if the change occurs?

In what ways do you empathize with people affected (positively and negatively) by this change?

Why are you the change agent who can and should make this change happen?

What message of hope is attached to the change you wish to make?

Decision Making

If you enact this change, who are you becoming?

What are the “No’s” that will inevitably be necessary if you say “Yes” to leading this change?

What are the internal forces driving this change? The external forces?

How will you align the change you wish to make with your other responsibilities?

How do the key principles you live by come to life via this change?

Gaining New Perspectives

What will this situation look like in 5 years or 10 years if the change you desire occurs?

Who will experience new opportunities via this change?

What elements of this change will be under your control and what elements aren’t?

How will you know when you are successful in enacting this change?

What’s the worst that can happen if this change occurs and can you live with that outcome?

I adapted these questions from Coaching Questions: A Coach’s Guide to Powerful Asking Skills, by Tony Stoltzfus. This book could serve as a self-directed master class in discovery. I encourage the $15 investment in yourself as a change agent. Asking yourself and others powerful questions will allow you as the change agent to learn about you, your colleagues, your institution, your change, and your potential impact.

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