Using how in place of why for leadership coaching Mike Cardus

In an earlier post, I share how the use of ‘Why’ questions in leadership and executive coaching can lead to more resistance.

When using why leads to resistance, what moves you towards cooperation?  I’ve found that using a series of ‘What, How, When, Where’ questions acknowledges progress, identifies what is working in the current environment, and constructs progress steps.

How – Leadership Coaching Questions
  • Your best project manager comes to you to help with personality clashes. They share how strong personalities are getting in the way of work, and asks for your advice on how to fix this dysfunctional team. Rather than asking why – which will move the work onto your plate – ask a series of ‘how’ coaching questions.
Question Purpose
How are these clashes causing a slowdown in work? To frame the challenge in a way that can be discussed
How often are you noticing these clashes? To look at how often. Is this a limited time thing, or an every time thing.
How often are others coming to you to discuss or complain about the clashes? Explore how often others may be noticing. Also to understand the size of the challenge.
How well does the team know why it is working together? How are they accountable for the team goal? How their work will be evaluated and appraised? To determine how the essential elements of team performance are known. Also, to move the person to explore process as opposed to personal challenges.
How have you managed to complete the many tasks the team has already achieved? Bring attention to what they have done that is successful as opposed to what is not working.
How can you do more of what you shared that is working? Draw a connection between past success and current progress
 How will you notice that progress is being made?  Identify progress clues and support them to change how the work is done.
 How will you increase what is already working well enough with the team?  Show that challenges are a two-sided option. The one hand is resistance, and the other is cooperation.


Asking why may create a belief that the problem will be solved faster, and it may. It will be resolved faster because you are taking the accountability and authority away from the person who came to you for support. Asking a series of ‘how’ questions will help the cause progress to the individual, team and you.