Laura Barker

Laura Barker, CEO & Founder of Laura Barker Coaching, spent more than 20 years as a senior Human Resources professional, working in multiple industries of different size and scope. These days she uses her workforce experiences not only from HR but also in project management to coach business leaders. 

Laura supports executives in identifying their challenges and finding solutions so they can live a life fully loved with clarity, maximum impact, and personal growth. Through her coaching, her clients learn more about who they are so they can supercharge their careers.

What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative. 

I grew up in Toronto, Canada as a child of immigrants. I was the first generation to be born in Canada. As such, my parents’ first language and my grandparents’ was not English. I grew up straddling both my Canadian and immigrant cultures, like many other Canadians. After all, Canada is a land of immigrants! After high school, I attended university in Montreal. What a fabulous experience! I fully embraced Quebecois culture. While Montreal is largely bilingual, the vast majority of people in Quebec are native French speakers. Montreal enjoys a lively arts scene and I attended music concerts regularly. I returned to my hometown after university and took a one-year post-graduate program in Human Resources Management. That’s how I landed my first “real” job. I entered applicants into our Applicant Tracking System and sent postcards to their homes to confirm the company had received and processed their applications. This was during the early days of email. My role models have changed over time but the most consistent one remains Oprah Winfrey. I love listening to podcasts including Stuff You Should Know, Smartless, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s new one called Wiser Than Me. I also enjoy true crime podcasts – figuring out the story of who did what, when, and why. In my spare time, I do yoga. I’ve done many styles over the past 25 years but it’s my preferred form of exercise bar none. My mood dictates the type of class I take. That’s the beauty of yoga; there are so many options available. In the end, it all comes back to breath. The great thing about yoga is that the physical form of it gives you access to your spiritual self. I also read a lot. My favourite fictional book in the last six months was Lessons in Chemistry (Bonnie Garmus). However, I read a lot more fiction these days, in line with my coaching work. From Strength to Strength (Arthur Brooks) is a good non-fiction read that I’d recommend.

Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.

Around 40, I switched to project management after many years in HR, thinking PM would satisfy me more than HR. I had changed careers because I thought the elements of HR that I liked the most – seeing a project from inception to execution to completion – was what I needed. It wasn’t. I felt lost and frustrated. The dissatisfaction eventually impelled me to recognize the obvious: I needed to take risks in order to grow. My mistake? Thinking switching careers would provide the meaning I craved. The truth is, I got it backwards. Taking a risk was less about changing careers and more about figuring out who I was. I erroneously thought finding the right career would make me happy. Instead, I needed to identify my values, meaning who I was, before I could apply it to my work, or what I did. Until I learned my values – what motivated me intrinsically – I would keep hitting a wall career-wise. I would continue finding elements I enjoyed in jobs without knowing why I liked them. Conversely, when I disliked parts of my job, I would lack the understanding as to why they rubbed me the wrong way. The why was my values. HR and PM represented parts of me but not all of me. I needed to connect the dots – recognize my values – to build a meaningful life. My key values included connection. Connection became the foundation for people and processes. Working with people in HR, I connected habits, behaviors, and actions. In PM, I built processes to connect time, people, and resources appropriately. Today I can answer the question, Who am I? I am approachable, intuitive, heart-based, organized, and a thoughtful listener. Part Two of my journey required figuring out what I wanted. I wanted to foster a kinder world, based on connection. I wanted to be a changemaker, an uplifter, who could shine a light on others because service lives at my very core. My fog lifted when a trusted friend suggested coaching as a career to me. Boom! It felt good right away. Something shifted and I knew this was what I was meant to do. Things fell into place, quickly and effortlessly. I enrolled in coach training within six weeks and completed it while working in my final HR role. Connecting who I am with what I wanted to do gave me the meaning I sought in my life. Coaching is my purpose. Now, I’m having fun doing exactly what I’m meant to do! I work with clients on building their careers. But what I’m really doing is helping people shift their focus — like I did — from the external to the internal. My clients become more self-aware, see where they’re sabotaging themselves, and identify their values. That’s how you experience a “life fully loved.

Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea or motivation that made you start your business /initiative? What motivated you within to say “YES, go for it!”

I knew I wanted to coach and that I wanted to do it my way. This led me down the entrepreneurial path despite having always worked for corporations. For a while, I worked full-time in HR while doing my coach training and certification. At some point, it became clear that I had to commit myself fully to coaching because that’s what I was meant to do. I knew my purpose. Here’s the thing: once you know your purpose, you have your intrinsic motivation. You get pulled to fulfill your purpose. No pushing required! While there are no guarantees in life, knowing what motivates you will keep you moving forward through the hard times because you know what you’re doing has greater significance than the daily problems you’re handling. I’ve experienced ups and downs in the last eighteen months but I have never lost sight of my goal, to live a life fully loved. Today, I feel at peace with where I’m at and look forward to building my business even more.

Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?

Entrepreneurs face challenges on many fronts – technology, social media, communicating effectively, marketing, accounting – and that’s separate to the actual product or service you’re selling! My biggest challenge has been selling “myself.” I am the service I’m selling. As someone who doesn’t like to show off or brag about accomplishments, that has been the hardest part of my entrepreneurial journey. I had to figure out what I had to offer and then communicate it clearly. It involved finding the best formats to facilitate that communication (LinkedIn posts, IG reels, webinars, eBooks, digital courses) and the ideal audience for my messaging. It’s a constant balance of trying out new ideas, maintaining what’s working, and discarding what’s not. The best advice I can share regarding coping mechanisms was recognizing it wasn’t about me. In other words, I realized I didn’t have to sell “myself.” In fact, it’s about the solution I offer. Clients don’t hire me because they want a coach. They hire me because I provide a solution to a problem they’re experiencing. Shifting the emphasis from me to my client made all the difference. This new perspective allowed me the freedom to see from my client’s eyes instead of my own. Now that’s a viewpoint that resonated for me!

While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?

I was working full-time in HR during the height of the pandemic in the food manufacturing industry. Unlike knowledge workers who could work from home, most of our employees had to physically work at the plant in order to produce the food product. One day I got introduced to the owner of a competitor by my CEO. We exchanged HR ideas on an ad hoc basis and it was great. Eventually, I decided to formalize these discussions by networking with other HR leaders at companies similar to mine. I created a small “brain trust.” We met regularly to talk about issues we were facing, not as competitors, simply as people facing similar challenges. Thank goodness for this group during COVID! By the time the government and public health got around to providing guidance to businesses, it was six months too late. The group shared ways to make the workplace safer throughout the pandemic. Ideas like spraying the floor mats with disinfectant at the plant entrances so you don’t introduce contamination by boots into the manufacturing facility, scanning eyes instead of doing finger scans for clocking in and out, and staggering lunches to spread out employees and decrease person-to-person contact. Without this team, I could not have managed the COVID pandemic as successfully. I am so grateful for this group. The internal teams at my business also banded together to find the best solutions for our workforce. Every department played a role in ensuring the health and safety of our employees. While the pandemic proved challenging at many points, I’d say it also brought people together.

Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?

Last year, I wrote a book called Career Advice: What I Wish I Knew When I Was 24. I focused on finding your purpose, the soft skills needed in today’s workplace, and how to thrive over the long term. I also provided a bonus chapter on leadership. I packaged the eBook with tips from senior leaders on what worked for them (and what didn’t) along with a workbook and Cheat Sheet to solidify learning. This year, I created an online digital course on Networking from a coaching perspective. I feel there’s a gap in the market because so many people talk about networking tactics – which are valuable, of course – but they don’t address the fears behind networking or what to do when you get blocked. I also provided my perspective on Human Resources (“humans aren’t resources”) at an HR event last fall in Toronto. Overall, I feel HR has become too administrative and has lost the caring element required when working with people.

Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?

The change I’d like to see is for people to recognize we are all connected. Not just some of us. All of us. When we realize we are meant to work together, that we are actually designed as human beings to collaborate, it changes how we view the world. Imagine starting from the basis of collaboration instead of competition, knowing that connection is a binding force for good.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?

My personal motto is, not surprisingly, about connection. I am here to connect people internally and externally. I do this through my coaching. When I help someone identify their purpose based on knowing their own personal values, that feels like fulfillment for me. Connecting internally means connecting to one’s inner being. As for external connection, this is about connecting to friends, family, work, and the larger world around you. Every action has a ripple effect like a pebble dropped on a water’s surface. External connection comes from being of service to others.

Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?

Female leaders have a unique opportunity to change how we work and live, however, I’d like to shift the focus of the conversation. I don’t want the cacophony of voices telling women to “lean in” and “do their best” and “work smarter, not harder.” It’s not that any of this advice is bad. It can be quite helpful, actually, when accompanied with actionable steps. What I struggle with is that these voices feel like they come from a place of lack. When you hear, “Do this” there’s an implied, “Don’t do that.” Instead, I recommend looking within yourself instead of externally. Find your purpose. When you have a purpose associated with what you do, you will grow your leadership bigger and faster. Your impact becomes greater as you align yourself internally and externally. From that place of resonance, you lead with conviction and strength. In sum, I believe it’s less about being “female” and more about leading with purpose.

With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were you. If you are not where you thought you’d be, rest assured you’re exactly where you need to be. I’ve learned it’s more important to work on the foundation than on the wainscotting. In other words, I wish I had spent my earlier years getting to know who I was – what I really wanted, not what I thought society needed from me. I would have saved myself a lot of time by doing this foundational work. Instead, I emphasized the external (“wainscotting”), thinking that external recognition would guide me where I needed to go. Truth is, it’s the other way around. If you can take time now to identify your values, your purpose, and how you want to serve, you will save yourself from any middle-aged angst. I wish you success, my friend. You can do it!