Revisiting Powerful Questions

Episode #1046: Powerful questions are a key component of skillful coaching. In this episode of the Arete Coach Podcast, Severin Sorensen, executive coach and curator of the Arete Coach Podcast, reviews powerful questions discussed in episodes #1009 through #1032. Interested in building your rolodex of powerful questions? Join us as we review research on what makes questions powerful and examples of questions used by high-impact executive coaches.


About Severin Sorensen

Severin Sorensen is a serial entrepreneur and lifetime learner with a passionate curiosity for people and businesses. Severin is the CEO of ePraxis LLC, a premier level retained search firm that provides executive headhunting, talent selection, and executive coaching. In addition to finding top talent, Severin has provided over 7,500+ hours of paid executive coaching to entrepreneurs, CEOs, Presidents, and C-level executives. Severin is an ICF ACSTH Certified Executive Coach, Certified Organizational Development Coach, Certified Life Coach, and Certified Positive Intelligence® Coach. Severin is the founder/producer of a new podcast, Arete Coach, that explores the art and science of executive coaching with some of the industry's best coaches.

From 2010-2018 Severin was also a Vistage Chair where he coached three CEO and key executive groups. In 2011, Severin received the "Rookie of the Year Chair Award" from Vistage. Since 2013, Severin has added international speaking for Vistage, CEO conferences, executive peer groups, and corporations on the topic of identifying and hiring difference-making top talent.


After graduate school, Severin moved to Washington, DC, where he worked on security-related economic and public policy issues that included a brief stint in The White House, as a Special Assistant to the President, for George H. Bush (POTUS 41). In 1994, Severin founded Sparta Consulting Corp., and Sparta provided world-class physical security and safety related management consulting services for public and private sector entities. From 1994-2002, Severin managed HUD's Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design technical assistance and training program. In 2005, Severin sold Sparta to Westec Interactive (Digital Witness), which was subsequently acquired by Interface Security.


Severin, a native Californian, grew up in Salt Lake City, UT and graduated with honors from the University of Utah with Economics and Political Science degrees. He completed graduate studies in economics at King's College, Cambridge University (England), where he earned a M.Phil. degree in Economics. Severin has a great love and appreciation for sports, and while overseas, Severin rowed for the King's College Boat Club, and played basketball for the Cambridge University Basketball Team (1986-87).


Key highlights

“What are you running from and what are you running to?”

Timestamp 01:46

To kick off the episode, Severin Sorensen shares an example of a question that he has asked an executive, how it was taken, and how it affected the executive’s business. After Severin asked a client, “What are you running from and what are you running to?” his client was somewhat offended at first. However, with time, the client realized difficult questions were exactly what he needed from an executive coach. Severin went on to coach this client for 5 years and the client sold his business for much more than what the company was worth at the time he started his coaching sessions.

The makings of a powerful question

Timestamp 05:29

Severin introduces research on powerful questions that identify seven characteristics of powerful questions. These characteristics include being open-ended, thought-provoking, require higher-order thinking, points towards transferable ideas across disciplines, raises additional questions, requires support, and recurs over time.

Examples of powerful questions

Timestamp 06:49

After discussing what makes a powerful question, Severin introduces several types of powerful questions. Some of these types of questions include questions to encourage pondering, questions of nature and relationships, questions on fear and death, questions on mindset, questions on health, questions on passion, and short questions.

Forward-focused questions

Timestamp 12:56

Many powerful questions posed by the guests of the Arete Coach Podcast have a theme of focusing forward. Severin reviews some key questions that encourage executives and business leaders to look ahead and examine how the choices they make today can effect their future. Some questions discussed include Larry Cassidy’s “What has to happen next?”, Mark Taylor’s “What would your wise older self say is important?”, and Jeannette Hobson’s “How do you want to be remembered?

Self-reflection questions

Timestamp 22:41

Oftentimes, executive coaches use questions that inspire moments of self-reflection and pondering. Severin reviews questions discussed in previous episodes that inspire these moments of self-reflection such as Adam Harris’, “What would plus one or minus one look like for you?” and Lisha Davidovits’, “What’s important about that to you?”

Problem-solving questions

Timestamp 47:24

Executive coaches work with their clients, asking them the right questions, to help them achieve their goals and overcome their challenges. When helping executive coaches overcome challenges, problem-solving questions are often used. Severin reviews some of these problem-solving questions including Bud Carter’s, “When’s the last time you really talked with your customer?” and David Highley’s, “What do we need to have achieved?”

International Coaching Federation and powerful questions

Timestamp 56:30

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) updated their core competencies in 2021 and in doing so, included key insights about powerful questions. Severin reviews ICF’s three aspects of powerful questions. They state that powerful questions are based on active listening, evoking discovery, and are open-ended in nature. ICF also states that powerful questions should encourage awareness through the use of silence, metaphors, or analogies.


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