Throughout my professional life, I learned that by asking questions (especially the right ones) one can learn a lot. This article is an installment in my series of interviews on insightful people within my network. This one is focused on Eric Larsen, one of the most skilled leadership coaches I know.

I hope you find it worthwhile worthy of sharing and commenting.

Eric Larsen, CPCC, PCC, TMC, is an experienced executive and an authority on leadership. Eric Larsen has lived the principles that he brings forth in his executive coaching practice. Prior to focusing on coaching, Eric spent 30 years at In the business world, much of that time in management, leadership, and executive positions in regional and global technology companies. During that time, Eric was regularly called on to help build new organizations, correct problems in troubled organizations, and assist in driving many organizations to a higher level of performance. The groups he led regularly exceeded their goals while maintaining the highest levels of employee morale.

Currently Eric maintains an active executive coaching practice working with clients in a wide variety of industries and organizations. Eric’s typical clients range from high-potential early-career individuals up through, and including, CEOs.

Eric is the recipient of numerous management and industry awards. He has an Industrial Engineering degree from NC State University and has completed executive coursework in the Harvard Business School and the Boston University executive education programs. He has earned Professional Certification from Harvard’s IBM Client Executive Program and has served on the Board of that program. He has also completed the extensive coaching education program with the Coaches’ Training Institute and successfully completed the rigorous programs to receive his Coaching Certifications from CTI, Tilt, and from the International Coach Federation. Eric is a member of the ICF.

Eric, what has been most instrumental to you in growing your leadership skills?

Three things are essential in developing as a leader:

· Understanding what leadership is

· Being developed by a mentor/coach

· Experiencing failures and successes

I have spent a good amount of time and effort in each of these realms. First, I’ve spent nearly three decades in the avid study of leadership and leaders. Understanding how a machine works makes you a better mechanic and this is true of leadership. Second I have had great mentors and coaches throughout my leadership life and each of them has developed me in some specific way or ways. Finally, there is no substitute for actually “doing” leadership. You have to be the one who made the good – or the bad – call and understand the impact of your decision. The important thing is that if you are successful or if you flop, you need to take the time to analyze why.

How do you define leadership?

Leadership has five elements: You must do each of these well to become a great leader.

A Leader’s job is to attract, retain, equip, motivate, and reward the very best people they can find. This is deceptively simple to state and incredibly difficult to do well and continually.

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on an organization as a leader and what traits did they possess that enabled that impact?

When I was in a Fortune 50 company I was exposed to an amazing leader who managed me, developed me, mentored me, and influenced me by her example. She is the one who taught me the central rule of effective leadership. This is kind of the law of gravity for leadership. In other words, it is a law of nature. This executive taught me that leadership is not about the leader, it is about the people being led. You must focus all your attention on your people. If everyone in your organization is successful, then you are automatically successful. While my leadership model has been developed and refined over several years, my five principles of leadership originated out of my experience with this leader.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

Every leader must understand the difference between leading and managing. I’ve lost count of the named leaders who are failing or ineffective because they don’t get this important distinction. Put in its simplest form: You manage THINGS, you lead PEOPLE. Again, this says easy, but doing it is hard.

Are leaders born or made?

All leaders, in fact all people, are endowed with certain skills and abilities. The key is to develop whatever level of skills and abilities you have as you go on your journey to be the best you, or the best leader, you can be. This entails an unending quest for learning. There is a good bit of research on the concept of having a closed or growth mindset being a determinant of ultimate success. A growth mindset focuses on that continual learning. The challenge for a very gifted person or leader is they are tempted to rely on their larger-than-average leadership skills starter set. Eventually these people inevitably run out of resources and then they don’t know what to do. Often this turns in to defensiveness, denial, or deceit. The real answer to your question is everyone is born with a certain set of skills, some more than others, but every successful leader must develop their skills if they are going to be effective as a leader.

Many times in the news we see ‘leaders’ engage in corrupt or harmful behavior the saying is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.How can a leader avoid being corrupted by the power?

Look more closely at three of my previous answers for my response to this question:

· Have a mentor or coach – they will help keep you on track

· Focus on the people – it’s hard to be corrupted if you are focusing on the welfare of others

· Continually learn – when you are pursuing excellence then shortcuts look less appealing

Do you have a favorite leadership quote? and why?

“If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” This fact is the launching point for several aspects of leadership development. It helps you recognize what you’ve done in the past, both effectively and ineffectively. It makes you analyze the outcome of your leadership decisions. And it mandates that you change (grow) in your leadership in a purposeful fashion.

What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

The speed of change is daunting. There is even an acronym for it. It comes out of the military. The acronym is VUCA which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. Doesn’t that sound like life in the 21st century?

Sure does. What is the one behavior or trait that you have seen that has adversely impacted careers of leaders?

Focus on their personal success, not the success of the people they are leading. There are lots of names for the right way to do this. A popular phrase a few years ago was “servant leader.” The idea of keeping your people first will give you the best chance of having a leadership life that ends up successfully. An additional benefit is that at the end of your leadership time, if you focused on your people instead of yourself, you will have no regrets. That’s powerful at the conclusion on one’s career.

What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

Find a coach or mentor. Find someone who is a few miles ahead of you on the path, a few chapters ahead of you in the book. They will point out where they succeeded and failed and you will have the benefit of building on that success and avoiding that failure without having to experience it first yourself. Most people would suggest having a mentoring team. I like the idea of having a single coach and a team of mentors.

What are some resources you would recommend to someone looking to grow their leadership abilities?

A passion for learning is crucial to be successful as a leader. I always recommend Dr. John Maxwell’s book Developing the Leader Within You as the starting point for anyone’s leadership journey. He has very recently released the “2.0” version of that book and I highly recommend it to everyone, named leader or not.

How important is formal leadership training and why?

Formal leadership training is valuable in a few ways. It is somewhat like having a mentor in that it can point out successful and unsuccessful approaches to certain situations. But perhaps the most valuable thing that comes from formal leadership training is that it gives people the vocabulary to describe certain aspects of leading. You need the words to describe what is going on or what you want to get done in order to be able to do it. Without the language, the vocabulary, this is exponentially more difficult. Importantly, good leadership training programs have an experiential element in them. There must be some sort of roleplay or else it’s just theory. Adult education without application is simply entertainment.

What are some of the benefits of leadership development can you help organizations and individuals achieve greater levels of performance?

The success, or lack thereof, of an organization is based on the organization’s leadership. People are the most expensive and most complex component of any organization so we need to take the time to understand how to “manage” this asset. You do that by leading people effectively. I often tell coaching clients, “Your people deserve a better leader, give them one.” The leader must grow in order to lead their people the best way possible. I’m amazed at organizations what will spend tons of money on facilities maintenance, equipment maintenance, software maintenance, and virtually nothing on maintaining their most valuable asset – their people. This is simply bad business! Every single business metric is directly traceable to the quality of leadership in an organization.

What is your coaching approach?

My coaching approach is based on real life experience and is focused on results. The objective is to discover and employ clients’ core abilities and values and utilize them in setting and achieving their organization’s goals. Central to this approach is the inherent value of the people in the organization. As a result, my clients achieve their goals while maintaining and growing a positive work climate for the people in the organization. This is the most durable business value that an organization can have. My style is customized to each client and is a blending of Co-Active Coaching, GROW Coaching, Tilt Coaching, Mentoring, and Business Coaching. I have devoted my second career to helping leaders be the best leader they can be and it is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

Eric, thanks for your time and insight! How can you be contacted so folks can learn more.

Email me at [email protected] or connect with me on LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/ericllarsen . My company’s website is larsen-group.com .

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.