The Art of Powerful Questions

The Art of Powerful Questions

Have you ever noticed the impact of a great question? Well-placed questions can enlighten, can generate new possibilities, and profoundly change what we do and how and what we think and feel. Like great art, a powerful question impacts us at our core.

What makes for a great question? It starts with the questioner. What is her intention? Is she curious or is she advocating? Is he nosy or does he deeply care for your best interest? Next, a powerful question avoids a simple yes or no answer. It begs for multiple responses, and in the question, we may be inspired to stay in the question for hours or even days.

Have you ever noticed that the most memorable and generative conversations are filled with questions? And the questions create even more questions. Hours can pass and it can feel like a few moments.

Try asking questions rather than providing answers when someone asks you for advice.

Here are some examples to help you get started:

  • What would be an ideal situation for you?
  • What do you want to be known for?
  • If your legacy were represented by something in nature, what would it be?
  • What makes your efforts worthwhile?
  • What are some of the other possibilities you’d like to see emerge?
  • What consequences might the change bring about?
  • What can you do to make things better?
  • What could happen for you to feel satisfied? Why would you benefit from that?
  • What prevents you from asking for what you want?
  • What’s the worst that could happen?
  • What’s the best that could happen?
  • How will you know it when you get what you want?

Give it a try and let us know how it goes.

Adversity Reveals Character

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.”

– Booker T. Washington

When walking the other day, this amazing event happened – a tiny ant dragging a large (but quite dead) centipede. It became the highlight of my walk – and I was ensconced with this marvel of nature – and ants. This little fellow appeared to have succeeded, despite its size.


It dragged its treasure over 25 feet before disappearing into its anthill. I can only imagine the cheers several feet below, to personify the ant world.

“Good ant, Jeremy! We knew you could do it!”, or “Annie, you are some ant, and so very generous to bring us lunch!”.

Regardless of what might have been said, we have a lot to learn about nature if we pay attention.

The Takeaway

My takeaway was this: Be clear about what we want, why we want it, focus on how, and put in the hard work to get it. But not at any cost. Who we are as we pursue our life’s intentions is as important as how we go about getting them. Adversity reveals character, and as we pursue our intentions, we will face both obstacles and support from outside and inside of us. We are a part of the larger human community, and we owe it to our community to live with integrity, respect one another, and remain mindful of the impact and the benefit of our intentions.

If it’s for the greater good – go for it, without question. If it is self-focused, go for it after careful reflection


-Micki McMillan


Business is Personal; How Conflict Can Make You a Better Leader

“The people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know.”

-Napoleon Bonaparte

We know that conflict isn’t fun. Yet we know that without engaging in productive conflict, the result can be anywhere from the ‘silent treatment’ all the way to a violent outcome.

Leaders owe it to themselves and to their organizations to create an environment that encourages robust, generative, and effective conflict conversations among all associates.

Conflict is an incompatibility between two or more interests. And it is inevitable – at work or home. Conflict — when effectively managed — is a dynamic force for innovation and change. Your organization can actually benefit from conflict. The key is knowing how to manage conflict and use it for good.

Work Through Conflict

The next time you have a disagreement, step up and find a way to engage in a productive conversation about it. Here are a few key steps to help you get to and through conflict:

Step 1: Prepare. Exactly what do you disagree with? Why?

Step 2: Set the tone and present the content and context of your disagreement.

Step 3: Request the other to just listen, and promise to do the same after you have presented your view.

Step 4: Ask if the other is prepared to engage in a conversation with you. If so, sit quietly and listen.

Step 5: Together, identify potential solutions to the disagreement.

Give it a try and see how it goes. You may find that your relationship improves, not to mention your own sense of esteem for having had the courage to speak your truth.

-Micki McMillan

A Third Way Through Coaching

Many times coaching clients offer either/or solutions to a problem. For example, a client who thinks he either has to be the nice guy or the guy who holds the line.

This case illuminates that scenario. Georgia has recently been promoted to nurse manager after working in the same department for five years. She and a peer applied for the role, and Georgia was selected. Georgia is now concerned about how she will lead. She has always built solid relationships and been well liked. She is worried that now that she is the boss, she will have to change. Furthermore, she fears that she will no longer be liked by those who were once her peers.

Georgia tells her coach that she knows how to be friends with co-workers and she knows how to lay down the law. In her mind, the only options are to be a friend or lay down the law.

The coach asks, “What do you get from being friendly with your co-workers?” “Well, I am able to show that I care about those with whom I work. Honestly, I really do want them to see that I’m still Georgia, and becoming their boss didn’t change me as a person.”

Then the coach asks, “What are you afraid will happen if you are friendly with those you lead?” She says, “I’m afraid that when I need to enforce a policy, they will not take me seriously.”

Her coach asks, “Give me an example of somebody in your life who was a strong boss and deeply cared about you?” Georgia describes a boss she had when she started working at the clinic. Georgia highly respected her and also felt deeply cared for.

The coach asks, “Is there anything you can learn from this former boss that applies to you? It seems as if that boss could be friendly and lay down the law. Is that right?”

Georgia considers this and says “Perhaps. I can see that my either/or thinking is keeping me from having the courage to lead well. Can you help me to find ways to tap into the courage it takes to lay down the law?”

This breakthrough created new and more important options for Georgia to explore.

An important part of coaching is to uncover viable choices from which the client can consider. And either/or thinking is limited to 2 options. As a wise elder once said, “when given two equally bad choices, pick another.”

From “either/or” thinking to “yes/and” presents a “third way.”

The third way asks the coach to notice the client’s patterns. Is it their behavior, a way of thinking, or some pre-conceived notion? This observation guides the coach towards what kinds of questions would best serve the client. Some examples of questions might be:

Can you be an approachable boss while holding people firmly to the commitments they make?

What is more important to you – being liked or being respected?

If you thought about managing to the results while preserving good relationships, does that offer you any other options?

Can you imagine a world where you can be a strong leader and friendly with your co-workers at the same time?

I’m noticing that you present this issue with two oppositional ways of being, is there a way that these ‘opposites’ can exist together?

If you had no limitations and could make up another way of being, what would that be?

Back to the Georgia and her coach.

Her Coach asks, “Have you had to access your courage to make other tough decisions?”

She says that she has to do it all the time with her teenagers. Her coach explores this, and they find parallel behaviors between how she handles her kids and how she might handle a situation at work that requires her to lay down the law. They role-play a few scenarios, and Georgia commits to practicing with her mentor.

Through this process, Georgia found not only more options for this particular situation, but she grew as a leader and a boss by thinking about her challenges in a different way.

Either/or is a great way of thinking when there is an urgent decision. But the most strategic and effective decisions emerge when new options are discovered – a ‘third way.’

-Jason Veliquette

Transformational Coaching and Business

The word ‘transformational’ is common in business today, and it certainly fits for the state of the world. If you Google the term, you’ll receive over 71 million results. No wonder. Business transformation is a mandate that requires continuous attention from leaders.

The definition of transformation is to change form. Change is constant and rapid. Those who are resilient yet focused, aligned yet flexible, and committed to business success beyond just financial gains are poised for long-term viability.

One of the most prominent ways the idea of transformation is used in business is through transformational leadership. Essentially, transformational leadership is used by leaders whose goal is to enhance the motivation, morale, and job performance of their colleagues.

But what does transformational coaching have to do with business?

For business leaders to change, they first must be capable of learning. Learning, defined is the capacity to do something in the future that cannot be done now. For an organization to be transformational in nature, it must first have a culture of learning. A learning culture is essential for leaders to effectively focus, have resiliency, and understand that actions must align with desired results.

“In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer

Coaching is a powerful leadership development resource that supports leaders in generating and sustaining a learning environment. Coaching, by definition, is transformational if the coach is masterful in linking the leaders’ thoughts, beliefs and actions to the organization’s goals. To do this, the coach must understand the principles of learning, thus transformation.

For a leader to learn, he must first be vulnerable, have the ability to say ‘I don’t know’, and have the patience to gain new knowledge. For a coach to facilitate learning, he first must be a learner himself. He needs a healthy dose of compassion and perspective to permit his client to explore, experiment, fail, and then succeed. It is a process that demands time, heart, and confidence.

So the notion of transformation is far from a cliché when one understands its full implication. The Transformational Coaching Program prepares coaches to produce sustainable learning in individuals and organizations.

If you’re interested in learning more, click here. 

-Micki McMillan

Coaching Presence and the Power Differential Between Client and Coach


It means we coaches have a lot of power… be careful with it.

I really do try not to ‘coach’ every second of my day, but sometimes it’s impossible not to notice the obvious red flags in coaching when they’re literally right in front of me. While at my favorite coffee shop the other day, I recognized a fellow coach working with a client… then I noticed something else going on. As if watching a silent movie, the coach’s actions spoke a million words. I was astonished!

The coach was sitting on a straight back chair, at least a foot higher than her client who sat in a much lower overstuffed sofa. This struck me as an obvious power differential to start with, but it got worse. The conversation seemed to ramp up in energy and at one point, the coach was leaning down towards the client, shaking her finger at him. I could only infer that she was trying to emphasize something important, but from the outside, it appeared to be a parental moment with a condescending note.

Self-awareness of non-verbal subtleties like what I saw, is a part of the ICF Core Competency – Coaching Presence. Our day-to-day work goes like this: we meet our clients, develop rapport and trust with them, discuss many different topics, and in many cases, we can get comfortable and forget that at least during the coaching conversation, we, as the coach have power over our clients.

In that precious coaching time, our clients give us the permission to manage and direct the conversation- so they can do what they need to do as clients – observe themselves, see their situation from a different point of view, consider alternative choices, and ponder actions that will advance them towards their desired goals. They are being tender and vulnerable with us, and they have a lot to do during that time. Our role, our duty is to safely hold the container so they can be free to work.

If we are not sensitive to how we manage ourselves in that conversation, our non-verbals can derail the process through intimidation, unconsciously creating an environment that asks them to please us, or just distracting them from the important work they are doing.

I had a hard time enjoying my coffee that morning, as I was left with a red flag in my vision and a pit in my stomach, wondering how that local coach’s client felt after their time together. It bothered me for days, so I jotted down these thoughts to share with you – and the Bottom line? Pay attention to everything. Be sensitive, respectful, compassionate, and remember what it is like to be a client.

-Micki McMillan, M.Ed., MCC

How is This Moment?

A friend from Facebook posted that she saw the first Valentine’s Day display at her local big box store on December 26. Although I joined the many who rolled my eyes and uttered disapproving words about the early nature of Valentine’s Day promotion, it also occurred to me that this is an important phenomenon we all might want to study.

It’s no wonder that the next holiday is barely on the heels of the previous. We are in an ‘I need the next thing now’ culture where results are instant, and it’s on to the next and the next. Being in the moment is a fleeting concept contradicted by the next distraction. Yet we yearn for peace, calm, and joy.

A client of mine recently received the promotion she had been seeking. Her delight was palpable, and she wanted to be the model of excellence in her new role. She also wanted work/life equilibrium so she could be a good leader and a good mom. She soon discovered that the pressures to achieve results were unbearable. She forged a habit of being in constant anticipation of what’s next?  The very things that she valued in leadership went by the wayside and she resorted to getting things done. Minimal time and constant pressure to produce better than before challenged every part of her life. She lost touch with her spouse and kids and saw herself in an either/or position – family or work? All of it seemed hollow and she was lost in a whirlwind of external expectations and pressures. Producing results trumped her values.

Thankfully, she had an awakening. She realized that if she shifted how she approached her job, she would change what she did. She made the conscious decision to be fully present for each and every interaction, regardless of heavy demands for her time. Not only did she find joy in her work, her team was happier. The performance measures also improved – a pleasant surprise.

We coaches would serve our clients well to inspire a way of thinking and being that encourages full presence each moment. Our clients would discover that the most precious gift of all is right here. Imagine the ripple effect one leader changes her approach from reactive to mindful? From the constant anticipation of what’s next to have a quiet but powerful presence?  It might just start a trend.

To achieve this requires intention, personal commitment, and putting our values into action. But the payoff is great – as it results in greater peace, calm and joy. Not a bad way to live.

New Name-New Website-Same Love of Coaching

Blue Mesa Group loves coaching – everything about it. From coaching leaders, to teaching and developing coaches. We are very proud to have earned a reputation as being among the best. As Pearl Buck advises, “The secret of joy in work is contained in one word — excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.”

So it makes sense to have our name represent what we love, and what we do every day – coach.

Our new website reflects our core business, and our new name reflects our love – Blue Mesa Coaching. Our fundamental value is to Elevate Your Potential. And our business focus is to do just that through excellence in coach training, mentoring, and executive coaching.

Blue Mesa Group began in 2008, and as we have served hundreds of individuals and organizations since. Feedback from clients has signaled that coaching is our sweet spot. Coaching is our contribution to help make the world a better place.

Blue Mesa Coaching’s primary emphasis is on:

  • Transformational Coaching Program
  • Mentor Coaching
  • Master Class for Senior Coaches
  • Coaching Skills for Leaders
  • Customized leadership education and development.

We continue to provide leadership consulting, training and team building programs for leaders in organizations who are committed to personal and professional growth.

As we delve into this next chapter of Blue Mesa Coaching, we strive to serve your needs to help you Elevate your Potential. We look forward to continuing our partnership with you.

The Blue Mesa Coaching Team


We at Blue Mesa Coaching love coaching. And as we celebrate International Coaching Week, we reflect on what it is about coaching that makes us love it so much.

Our tagline is “Elevate your potential”. To be human is to yearn, grow and reach for greater insights and awareness. Coaching has a distinctive approach that allows people to find that seed within that needs to be nourishment to grow into what it is meant to become.

We think that coaching is particularly unique. The International Coach Federation defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. 

Imagine having the privilege of engaging in a conversation with another to partner, provoke new thinking that is creative which inspires another to find their greatness. We get to do that each and every day.

No wonder we love coaching so much.

We welcome your thoughts about your experience with coaching – whether you’ve coached or been coached.

Happy International Coaching Week!