But I Don’t Have an Agenda

It is amazing to me how often I hear from employees that they don’t trust their leader’s agenda or motive while simultaneously hearing from the leader that they don’t have themselves don’t have one.  This gap, while not unusual, is often debilitating to a person’s ability to lead.  With that thought in mind let’s talk a little about agendas.


The Truth

First let me start by saying that everyone, I repeat EVERYONE, has an agenda.  The word unfortunately has a negative connotation subsequently we try to avoid its application to us, whether we are leading or following.  To dispense with the negative connotation let’s give the word a little clarity.  Your agenda is the ultimate reason motivating your actions.  The critically important thing to note is that if you don’t identify and communicate your agenda, others will create and assign it to you your input.  From almost 35-years of working experience I can say that agendas attributed by others rarely end up being benevolent in nature.


The “So What”

Knowing that, let’s start our conversation by talking about your “agenda”.  A recent Forbes article entitled “Manage your leadership agenda through the Agenda of Others” (https://goo.gl/fmPqu7 points out three questions that you must ask to truly understand your personal / leadership agenda (I think they are one in the same!):

  • What is your leadership agenda for the department you lead?
  • What do you believe is the agenda of the leader you report to?
  • What are the agendas of the colleagues you interact most with and/or who can contribute most to your success?

The first question (in my opinion the most vital of the three) requires honesty with self.  If you ask it and end up giving yourself an answer that you think others would like, then I’d submit that you’re playing games with yourself.  The question might provide some amount of insight, but the real insight is when you reflect on your actions.  You might say that my agenda is to make the division the best in the company with the highest customer satisfaction scores.  While a worthy agenda, the real question is “why do you want that.”  That is the question we often find the hardest to answer if we are honest with ourselves.

To identify your personal agenda, you first and foremost have to accept that it is natural to have one that benefits you.  The key is being honest with yourself and stopping the BS!  That doesn’t mean that you have to go out into the world and proclaim a self-serving agenda (at their root, all are self-serving in some way), instead, the self-honesty gives you the ability to choose your actions rather than have to rationalize them.  Instinctively we know that self-serving leadership is not good leadership, and with that self-understanding we have the ability to stay out of our own way!

Lastly, how might we communicate our agenda in a way that creates the trust we need?  The answer as you might expect is not an easy one.  First you have to understand the varying agendas of those you work with and for, along with those you lead and not work form assumptions.  As the Forbes article points out, the magic is blending those agendas in a way that you find the common elements.  That, in and of itself is a chore, but even more difficult is working to understand the agenda of others, especially when they may not realize they continue to fool themselves.  So ask questions, listen, probe and then make your best guess and then be careful with the assumptions you make.



Remember that there are few if any martyrs in our world today.  Even the martyrs that did exist chose martyrdom for the outcome they believed they would receive (their agenda).  So if the answer you hear, from yourself or others, sounds like a martyr in waiting, ask why!  Asking tough questions is tough, asking tough questions of ourselves is even tougher, but that is an essential aspect ofbeing a good leader.  Remember, leadership is pretty simple, just not always easy!  For a little more insight, here is a great little article from Forbes.


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