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Reflections: Leading Lean

What’s Good?

Lean coaching for senior leadership. Finally, there is becoming more of a recognition that there is difference between coaching for “leading lean” versus coaching “lean leadership.”

Essentially there are two major distinctions. First, leading lean is about practicing and exhibiting a certain set of behaviors and actions that provide the experiences that influence the lean beliefs of the organization. More specially, it is more a focus on the culture of lean. Lean leadership is about providing the vision, direction, and resources to plan and deploy a lean transformation. More specifically, it’s more about leading the execution of lean.

While lean leadership is primarily a focus of leading direct reports, leading lean is also about leading up, leading peers and leading the organization and is also about your personal work and activities versus the work and activities of others.

What’s Bad?

I am not at all convinced that senior leaders or their organization recognize that there is a difference and subsequently a difference in the coaching approach. More importantly, organizations are very cavalier about assigning their so-called coaches. I believe coaching to be a very special and unique set of skills not typically possessed by many, if not most, of the designated lean coaches. Most of the coaches are simply specialists or facilitators of lean tools and techniques.

I’m not suggesting that they don’t have the lean skills and capabilities. I’m suggesting that they don’t have the level of emotional intelligence or coaching structure to sufficiently influence senior leadership. The 1st rule of coaching is that you can’t coach someone who doesn’t want to be coached. The 2nd rule is that coaching is not about satisfying the coach’s objectives, it’s about satisfying the coachee’s objectives.

What I Think

It’s time to recognize that coaching, and lean coaching in particular, is a special skill that few possess. I also recognize that coaching senior leadership, even in the absence of skilled coaches, is not only necessary but will have to be done by the lean “expert” in the organization.

I’m not so arrogant to think that an organization will invest the time and money to develop a cadre of coaches for senior leadership, but there is a means to overcome the coaching gap.

First, the coach MUST be respected by the organization for his/her skills and capabilities. Second, wherever possible, there needs to be some history of success by the coach, and even better, a history of a collaborative success between the coach and the leader.

Lastly, there needs to be structure to the coaching model that is used. I’m not prescribing any specific model. However, whatever the model, the focus MUST be on the senior leader “discovering” their gaps in behaviors and action in leading lean, and not on advocating policies and procedures. Telling them simply will not do. Rule of thumb: Adults learn mostly through discovery and that’s even truer for senior leadership.