Agenda Management in Coaching

  • Agenda Management in Coaching

    In my early days working human systems I grappled with a compelling and sometimes perplexing question; What do I own in a client engagement? If I was working to support another person’s agenda, then what part of me mattered?  If direction and content truly belonged to the client, then what belonged to me, if anything? I could swing from driving the client in directions I thought was important to a passive reflection where I brought little to the session. While there were successes in the middle, I realized the question demanded an answer.


    I began to evaluate my prior experience in roles related to management, then consulting and facilitation roles.  In each of these I was clearly responsible for an outcome.  My skills in creative problem solving and goal setting had been developed in cases where I owned the content, the problem, and the solution.  Even as a facilitator I owed an outcome to my client, in terms of deliverable and time.  In these cases I was responsible for maintaining the focus on the outcome and using my creativity in the moment to facilitate the groups movement towards that outcome.  I had to learn a new approach.


    Many coaches also have experience as a facilitator. This role has very specific meaning and characteristics.  The skills of facilitation overlap coaching skills, and in many cases are identical.  However, the approach to the client engagement is quite different.  Much of the time a facilitator will own both the content outcome and engagement process of a meeting.  While there can be variants on this, it is common for the facilitator to take a stated outcome from their client and then develop and manage a process that deliver’s that outcome.  They will manage and minimize deviation from that outcome.  They will use their skills to ensure that the appropriate movement towards that outcome happens within a certain period of time.
    As I spend more time developing coaches I find this to be a very common thread.  I have both beginning and experienced coaches challenged with getting clear on how to manage a client’s agenda.  I repeatedly see coaches ask questions until they have come to a solution to the client’s issue in their own mind.  At that point, they switch their questions into a mode that is more leading and pointed towards an outcome that is in keeping with their own desires rather than the client’s. This can be thought of as operating from a hidden agenda for our clients, hoping that our skillful questioning will illuminate the only possible path to the answer we most want for them.


    My new approach required that I let go of having my own idea of the client’s outcome.  Only then could I could focus on what I did bring, which was actually a number of things, all of which went into managing a deliberation process while being neutral to the content.


    When it comes down to it, I now believe that managing a client’s agenda is as much, if not more, about managing our personal agenda.  We manage ourselves to create rapport and safety.  We manage ourselves to stay open and in curiosity.  We manage ourselves to listen carefully to the client’s expressed wants through every modality that we can.


    What part of the session do we own?  Ourselves.  Our energy.  Our intentions.  Our own level of personal mastery.  Our commitment to a code of ethical conduct. Our curiosity. Our ability to track the change process as it unfolds in front of us, and support it with our presence.


    Here’s to your success.


    Leave a comment