So You Want To Be An Undercover Coach

Your colleague walks into your office and asks for your advice. You want to use a coaching approach but know that you can’t have a full-on coaching conversation. What do you do? Go undercover. Be an Undercover Coach. Here’s how.

I love the clarity that comes with a well-defined coaching relationship. I know, and the other person knows, we’re coaching. We know I’ll ask probing questions and they’ll do most of reflection and talking.

You are not likely to have a defined coaching relationship with your co-worker, your teenager, or your boss. How do you use coaching skills in your day-to-day conversations? Go undercover!

How To Be An Undercover Coach

You already know the power of coaching conversations to help people develop personally, solve problems, and move forward. What you may not know is that coaches can to go undercover.

Undercover Coaches know coaching skills are fantastic, on-the-go leadership skills to use in any role, anytime, anywhere.

Undercover Coaches use the same coaching mindsets, coaching skill set, and coaching tool set in their normal interactions with people. We can coach anywhere, anytime. Not everything should be coaching, but much more could be coached.

Get yourself in the habit of integrating coaching skills where you can. Don’t take an all-or-nothing approach.

Integrating coaching skills means not trying to go through all 5 steps of The COACH Model®.

  • With my co-workers I use Follow-Up questions to review their work, “What progress have you made on…”
  • That Follow-Up question works well with my teenagers along with “What would you like to do differently next semester?”
  • I’ve helped a complaining Safeway clerk with Outcome questions to move her from complaining about her life to defining what change she wants to make, all while paying for my groceries.

Undercover Coaches use only the coaching skills needed for the situation.

Undercover, But Still A Coach

Undercover Coaches aren’t operating in the role of coach, but they do follow coaching principles. Use coaching mindsets, skills, and tools wherever you can.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Be conversational. Undercover Coaches ask questions as a natural part of conversation. Instead of assuming you understand, ask clarifying questions to probe deeper into the other person’s thinking. Be conversational by asking questions that don’t sound scripted. Show interest. Chat, but chat using questions rather than your ideas, advice, and stories.
  2. Active listening is always welcome and communicates respect and appreciation. One of the most powerful effects of coaching is that clients feel valued and appreciated because you listened to them. Active listening as an Undercover Coach will communicate that you value and appreciate your coworkers, your spouse, or your friends. Listening builds trust and good will.
  3. Ask questions for reflection, not to guide them to your agenda. Coaches don’t have an agenda for the client. As a supervisor or parent you do! It’s difficult not to let your agenda leak out in the conversation. If you’re going to be an Undercover Coach you’ve got to set your agenda aside enough that you can hear from the other person. Be genuinely curious. Ask questions to understand, not to guide them to your ideas. Draw out their learning and their actions.
  4. Embrace the tension. Since you’re not in the role of coach, you’ll be directive at times. Depending on your relationship to the other person, you’ll give assignments, correction, ideas and share your opinion. That’s okay. When you’re undercover, you’ve got to embrace the tension between the occasional need to be directive and a coaching approach. I find the better I listen and ask questions, the less directive I need to be.
  5. Follow up. One of the reasons coaching produces such great results is that it is ongoing. Undercover Coaches follow up with people through multiple conversations. The tendency of busy people is to have just one conversation. “One and done” isn’t very effective. So ask, “I’m curious about what progress you’ve made?” Encourage them. And ask for next steps.

As I mentioned, Undercover Coaches use any part of a coaching approach that works for that situation. Don’t worry about “pure” coaching, you’re not in a coaching role. As you integrate coaching skills into your various leadership roles, you’ll find more and more ways to coach instead of direct.

I believe coaching is much more than a role. It’s a mindset first and then a set of skills and tools that we can integrate into our day-to-day life.

Question: How have you integrated coaching into your day-to-day life? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    8 thoughts on “So You Want To Be An Undercover Coach

    1. Undercover coaching, a great and practical idea. Lets not be afraid to use questions effectively to help others think through their situations to discover new options and outcomes. Thanks Keith for this encouragement.

      • Thanks Douglas! We get too stuck in operating from “roles” – supervisor, coach, mentor, parent, etc. And we often have one way of leading in each of these roles. When we should have a fluid leadership style regardless of the role.

        • Thanks for the reply Keith, I do hope I can attend the Atlanta 5 day basic course in June. We should be in the states from our work with OCI in Brazil.

    2. I love this article! I have called this stealth coaching, but I like the term undercover better. Funny thing is, I have teammates who come to me with something and say “I’m not asking for coaching”, but that doesn’t mean I don’t use the same skills while interacting with them. It just means they don’t recognize it as coaching. What do I care? They keep coming back, so I guess they appreciate what I do.

    3. I have felt this tension when I am in a mentoring role. Sometimes, I feel that I want to give advice but I tell myself that it’s not good to give advice. And yet, I have a whole lot more life experience than the people I’m mentoring. This resolves that tension for me a little.
      I use coaching when I’m mentoring someone and I have them to read a passage of scripture and then ask them what it is saying. Then I ask them, “How might you take some action steps based on what this passage is saying?”