solution focused leadership coaching Mike Cardus

In an earlier post ‘Stop the why!‘ I shared how the ‘why’ question works to deepen resistance and the perception that the other person is wrong and you are right.

Not using why leads to the question; What does a manager or team leader ask when people have challenges and you are accountable to enhance their problem solving and decision making?

I recommend a reframing the ‘why’ to ‘What? How? When? Where?’

What – Leadership Coaching Questions
  • An employee tells you they are losing control and the project will be late. Rather than asking ‘why’ – which will move the work onto your task list – you ask a series of ‘what’ coaching questions.
Question Purpose
What is happening that you want to change?  To gain an understanding that a problem exists and that the person wants to do something different.
What will you (or the team) be doing when this problem is solved?  Framing areas of focus that can be measured and defined as progress-steps
What is the current condition?  Agreement on the current status and environment.
What have you done that has worked?  Discover awareness of what resources the person already has
What has the team (other person) done that has worked?  Discover current team and other person resources
What is your next small step or experiment?  Define some particular area of progress and, from the discussion, build efficacy through effort
What will you do differently?  Accept the thinking that repeating the same effort over and over will gain similar results. Defining some different steps will make progress.
What decisions do you have to make? What decisions does the team (other person) have to make?  Creating a scope of decision making and better understanding what accountability and authority is needed.
What competing priorities may support your progress or cause regress?  Understanding how other priorities of the work will help or hinder progress.
What risks have you considered? What risks has the team (other person) considered?  Begin mapping personal and other person/ team risks so that they can be accounted for in the effort
What do you expect to happen when taking your next progress step?  Agree on areas of accountability and authority. Share in the ambiguity of learning and management.


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 ‘what’ will help the progress of the person, team and you.