Leading with the brain in mind.

Passionate about Leading with Questions

My passion for organizational and executive coaching began in 2010 when I experienced my first coaching program as an elective within my Master of Arts in Leadership program at Royal Roads University. The aha moment for me in this program was the realization that asking questions of others ensured they were doing the thinking about their own challenges or opportunities. As a result, I was needing to do less of the problem solving. Phew, what a relief! It gets tiring trying to solve everyone’s problems. This prompted my master’s thesis to be based upon ‘The Effectiveness of Organizational Coaching’ at First Credit Union.

Upon completion of my Master of Arts in Leadership, I kept the momentum going and enrolled in the Certification in Executive Coaching program through Royal Roads. This fantastic program provided a solid foundation for my coaching knowledge and practice. Through my studies, a powerful philosophy emerged regarding the significance of the ‘coach approach to leadership.’ Furthered by my research and practice, the profound impact of leading with questions and listening became clear. As a self-admitted ‘teller,’ I realized that a lot of my supposed value had come from ‘telling’ others my perspectives. Although this had served me well and those around me seemed to appreciate my advice and guidance, I realized that this approach had not inspired transformative change for others. Once I began to ask more questions and practice my contextual listening, I saw the power of ‘Leading with Questions’ at work and at home. In 2011, I wrote a three-year business plan for introducing the coach approach within First Group of Companies and presented it to my CEO. Two years later, I’m thrilled with the progress we have made within the organization.

Another significant piece of my foundational knowledge for ‘Leading with Questions’ came in the form of a coaching program developed by Shana Ring of Expedition Coaching. As a past graduate of the MA in Leadership and Executive Coaching programs at RRU and the successful Human Resources Manager for SaskPower, Shana did a brilliant job developing a powerful program to teach the basics of coaching memorably and comprehensibly. The Expedition Coaching GUIDE and DIRECT models now serve as the foundation for First Group of Companies’ coaching culture.


Leading with questions has moved from being something I thought might be effective to something I know to be powerful in terms of fostering solution-based thinking, ownership, confidence, and action in others.

Sandra McDowell, MA, PCC
website: http://www.sandramcdowell.com

Author Sandra McDowell is a Certified Executive Coach with a Masters in Leadership and a Certificate in NeuroLeadership, and Vice-President Communications & Culture for First Credit Union & Insurance.

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