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Born to Lead or Made to Lead?

June 27, 2012

Barbara Waxman, one of the executive coaches at Linkage’s Global Institute for Leadership Development (GILD) sat down with our Director of Marketing, Sarah Breigle, last fall at the GILD 2011 event to discuss the value of coaching in business and to share her insight on an age-old leadership debate. Read on to learn more…

Linkage: Tell us more about the value of executive coaching in business.

Barbara: Every successful athlete has a coach. Someone who enhances their ability to perform. Those of you in leadership roles know that it is a full contact sport. An executive coach is a strategic thought partner. A thought partner trained in helping leaders push their own boundaries—even when they are in the C-suite mentoring others. The old adage “It’s lonely at the top” turns out to be true. An executive coach provides a safe haven to throw out ideas, concerns, ways to look at what skills need to be built, and ways to learn and understand what blind spots might exist in ways that will enhance leadership and therefore the company’s bottom line and ability to serve. By the way, ‘unlearning’ behaviors that have not served is oftentimes as important as gaining new skills. Executive coaching has been a really powerful tool, and as a coach, I follow clients over time, and it impacts their work for the long-term. It helps clients become more self-aware and fearless.

Based on your experience, comment on the age-old debate: are leaders born or made?

While an easier journey for some rather than others, leaders are made, not born. Warren Bennis, the father of leadership, taught a class when I was in a Master’s program at USC and his teaching was simple, yet profound. Leadership, he taught, is not an end-state but a state of being that grows and develops over time. There is no single definition of leadership nor set of characteristics that define a leader. Rather, each leader works from a foundation of self-awareness and authenticity. And failure.

In addition to self-awareness and authenticity, failure is a common experience of leaders. In fact, ask any leader about a failure and they’ll say, “Which one?” Leadership does not mean hitting the ball out of the park every single time. Look at the story of President Lincoln. He failed in business, was bankrupt, lost numerous elections, and more. He had what it took to continue the journey and be true to his vision. Other inspiring examples abound. Coaches are oftentimes the most effective resource to help leaders develop their style in a way that reflects their authentic selves and in a way that achieves their goals.

About the Author:
Barbara Waxman is President and founder of the Odyssey Group. She works with business owners, executives, and individuals to increase their personal and professional capacity and their ability to deliver concrete results.

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