Why Should Coaches Bother with Agenda Setting?

September 05, 2017 by John Andrew Williams

What’s the deal with agenda setting?

Many of the people who get into life coaching do so because they want to help people experience more creative thinking and more freedom to express themselves. Having this mindset, the idea of agenda setting usually comes as a shock. With new coaches in training, we sometimes hear: “So, client’s shouldn’t have freedom of thought, but rigidly follow some agenda setup with a coach…” In other words, “Why bother with agenda setting?”

The interesting thing about this question is that people actually DO find more freedom in agenda setting. When using a budget, families are able to make purchases with less stress and more fulfillment. In job searches, having a 1-2 month strategy helps someone focus on each day’s work towards that new career. In school, students who use a planner to keep track of their priorities and responsibilities are much more likely to succeed in earning the grades they want.

Isn’t this all about agenda setting? Why talk about planners, strategies and budgets?

When a coach helps a client set an agenda, they help the client set a budget for the time in that session. They connect the session to the bigger plan and priorities in the client’s life. The strategic focus increases.

Setting an agenda sets the foundation for the rest of the session to be successful.

Agenda Setting Helps the Client Help the Client

The secret to great agenda setting is that the coach isn’t the main one doing the agenda setting. The client does the work, while the coach asks curious questions. Really, a good agenda has little to do with the coach at all. Students and families who hire coaches have things they want to see happen from of the coaching. The coach simply helps the student or client think about how to best use each session for those longer term goals.

Here’s an example:

You are working with a student, we’ll call her Karen. When starting to work with Karen you ask her what she would like to accomplish in the session (getting an agenda topic). She is a bit uncertain, so you ask her what challenge or opportunity is coming up for her in the near future. Maybe you even offer a tool to help her think about what she wants from the coaching. Through this, she realizes that she is really nervous about whether or not her high school has really prepared her for the more challenging work of college. With that big topic (a Big Agenda or Alliance Agenda) in mind, you ask her, “What part of the college prep process are you most curious about?”

Then, she’s off: “I have never felt very confident in writing, and I know college is going to have so much more writing than high school. I think I need to find a way to improve my writing. But college is coming up so fast!” After asking a few more questions about what makes writing so significant for the student, you ask what she would specifically like to take away from the session. She wants a concrete plan for how to practice her essay writing as part of her regular school work.

Now, the client has an agenda. She knows why she is being coached today.

As you work with Karen you are able fully explore her high school experience while asking her how the things that are coming up in the session relate to what she wanted by the end of the session. It’s in these moments where it is clearest: agenda setting allows your client to coach themselves towards the direction they want to go.

How Agenda Setting Works

Below are some basic steps for setting agendas with your student or client.

Help the Client Recognize a Helpful Topic

When beginning a session with a client, make sure to ask some form of “What would you like to get out of our session today?” Sometimes, you will need to help along in this process. For instance: If a student says, “I don’t know.” you can help them think about the opportunities and challenges they are facing.

Help the Client Deepen that Topic

A good rule of thumb is that coaches don’t accept agendas or action steps at face value. Instead, they help the client go a little deeper with what comes up. A regular example is procrastination. It’s a surface level agenda, but when a coach helps a client go deeper with this topic, so many significant subjects come up: sleep schedule, fear of failure, limiting beliefs around science, etc. These are the real topics for a coaching session that a client finds much more helpful.

Help the Client Confirm their Outcome

After coaching around the importance of a subject, coaches help their clients get a specific outcome, or take away, from their session. To get to an outcome, ask questions like, “As we talk about ____, what would be something you could take away from this session to make it helpful for you?”

Revisit the Agenda throughout the Session

Throughout a session, a student or client may go in directions that seem very disconnected from the original agenda. This is great, but just make sure to ask questions back to the original agenda from time to time so that the client can think about how it’s all connected. Also, it is helpful to review how well a session served a client by asking questions like, “How well did we address your agenda today.”

Throughout this month we will be releasing more articles on agenda setting. Let us know your thoughts and questions on the topic.

Previous Blog

Fully Exploring a Coaching Agenda

Let's stay connected

ALC Logo


To provide life coach training that changes lives, launches careers, and promotes human flourishing.

Connect with us

Facebook linkInstagram linkTwitter linkYoutube linkPinterest LinkLinkedin link

PO Box 2021
Hood River, Oregon 97031

This website is powered by

CTEDU logoACTP logo