What’s the difference between Executive Coaching and Lean Coaching?

This is not an easy question to answer because there are as many different interpretations of the word “coaching” as there are coaches. The difference is that Lean Coaching is a direct teaching method, whereas, what we have encountered in organizations as coaching is more of a self-discovery and feedback method. The main difference is content. Lean Coaching is not content free – it’s essentially a training method focused on getting the learner to think things through rather than just do. Of course, the specificity of lean thinking is that understanding comes from doing, so there you go.

In some large organizations, we have come across coaching support, in various forms. What we have understood of it is that the coach helps the person formulate personal issues in their job or career, and through questioning and discussion, by imagining thought experiments and homework, the coach helps to reframe the situation and open up new options. Throughout the process, coaches provide personal feedback and support to help the person work through difficulties in a secure emotional environment.

“Lean Coaching is more directly linked to on-the-job development. It’s a direct training method.”

The lean approach is very different from platonic “all knowledge is within you.” We assume people are both motivated and competent but will misunderstand some things leading to adverse decisions or actions. The aim of coaching is getting the person to realize their own misconceptions and correct their mental model through hands on examination of many cases. The focus on misconceptions makes lean coaching demanding and only appropriate if the person coached is truly committed to self-development.

Lean coaching is in fact a dimension of the leadership development method and, before you coach, first you have to lead. Leading in lean means committing to understanding work in greater depth and width in order to focus on value and eliminate the waste caused by misconceptions.

This means accepting that, in the end, all problems are technical problems and innovations are born of technical insights (if there was no technical difficulty, the situation would not have arisen in the first place). Specific know-how and learning is what we seek rather than changing the “culture” or fixing the “system.” Don’t worry about the organizational noise (this is usually the status quo defending itself): solve the problem, lead the improvement.

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