Laura MacDonald

Laura MacDonald is a Leadership Coach and Mentor from Leicestershire, England. 

She tells us that, “I have been coaching and mentoring for 18 years, and have been running my business for the last 3 years. My vision is to empower leaders with the power and confidence they need to be the change they want to see and create a lasting impact.”

What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your professional journey and what inspired you to choose this career.

My childhood was a bit of a mix, being brought up in a military family, we moved around a lot in my first decade of life, but we settled in one town by the time I reached high school, where I stayed until I was 19. Everyone has their challenges in childhood, and I was no exception to that, I certainly wouldn’t say it was easy, but the most important thing to me was not letting anyone else define who I was, I wanted to do that for myself. 

In truth, I don’t think anyone ever chooses a career. We enter jobs, we discover what we like, what we don’t like, what we’re passionate about, and how we want our lives to look. For some reason, throughout school I had convinced myself I wanted to be a lawyer, but when it came time for me to approach the subject of University, I chose not to go. I didn’t believe the education system was for me, and decided I would rather work. 

My professional journey began in hospitality, where two inspirational leaders noticed my abilities in helping others. They taught me to coach, mentor, and train others well, and I had a very good career as a result, supporting not only my own team and the emerging leadership talent within it, but the leaders of other teams to develop themselves and be the best they could be. My primary focus was people, knowing that if I did that, they would take care of the rest, and every department I was directly involved with broke records as a result of that, many of which still stand years later. 

After nearly 11 years in hospitality, I entered the adult education sector as an Apprenticeship Assessor, where I spent almost 5 years coaching and mentoring others to gain qualifications in their professional fields. Much of this was focused on leadership and management, which I was pleased about as this was the area I enjoyed the most. 

But when the pandemic hit in 2020, my company, like millions all around the world, had to take action to save the business. Our clients were the very people who had been told to shut their doors, so we were losing hundreds of thousands of pounds every day, and the result was a mass wave of redundancies, which was a hard experience, but in hindsight, one I fully understand.

Someone gave me the idea of taking freelance work, so I took on a few training contracts, spent some time on a charity project to support people in the pandemic, and then officially set up my coaching and mentoring business, which has now been running for 3 years. 

My biggest lesson in all of this is that your career is never set in stone. At any point, you can find yourself at a crossroads, and realise you need to head in a different direction. I’ve always known helping others is my thing, but how that’s happened has dramatically changed over time, and if you had told me 20 years ago that I would be a business owner today, there is no way I would have believed you, not because I didn’t think I could do it, but because I couldn’t have imagined myself wanting to do it. But I am not the same person 20 years on. There is no pressure to find your dream job and stick with it forever, because dreams change, they grow, and so do you.

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

The two managers I spoke about earlier were a big turning point. They put a lot of faith in me, became good friends of mine, and I worked for them three times in 10 years. They kept sending me away for promotions, telling me to put into practice and perfect everything they’d taught me and come back when I was ready for more growth. The last time I left them, they knew I wasn’t coming back, which made it the saddest one for me. I have never believed having a good leader is a privilege, I believe it to be a right, but I was exceptionally fortunate to have two GREAT leaders from the very beginning. They opened a door for me that will never close – My passion for people.

But the biggest turning point was my decision not to go to University. I attended a school where everyone was expected to aim high academically, and there didn’t seem to be another answer to what to do after school other than “Go to University”! But the more they pushed, the more I realised University was not for me, and finally acknowledged that while I was capable of achieving good results, it was exhausting for me and required far more effort than I would get in reward. That decision to go out into the world was a game changer, and gave me the freedom to make all the decisions I possibly wouldn’t have had by going against my instinct.

Tell us about your goals, interests, and role models.

Personally, I was always clear, I wanted to create a loving family, and can now proudly say that I have one. I wanted the life that felt right for me, and have learned that what feels right will be forever changing, and so rolling with it is the best option! I don’t need a lot, and appreciate I have more than some, and that’s all I can ask for.

My business is still in its infancy in many ways, and the path I take I think will always remain ‘under construction’, after all, until I close the doors, it will never be finished! But one thing has been clear from day one. It is a focus on leadership, not management, so one of my primary goals has always been to help people get clearer on that. I see so many business management students go through several years of study and only cover a few weeks of the most important skills they need to make a business successful. I see so many influential people in organisations believing that they need a job title to lead. I want all that to change, because while you need a balance of both leadership and management to make a business successful, I believe leadership must hold the clear majority of that balance.

One new addition that will definitely be on the journey there will be a podcast, which is already in its conceptual stages, but the big goal is to have a place leaders can come to access structured training, self-study materials, and other resources on leadership, have regular access to 1-2-1 and group support, and feel confident that they can discuss their leadership journey without judgement, and with growth as the primary objective. I want a place where I can support people the best way I know how – Guiding them to their own answers and the plans to get them there. 

I’ve had a life-long interest in sport, primarily football and rugby, and having been a life-long Newcastle United supporter, Alan Shearer is a personal hero! More recently, Mary Earps and Sarina Weigman have become inspirations to me in the world of sport. But I also admire Baroness Karren Brady as a role model for women in business and leadership, and think that the most important TED Talk I ever watched was ‘Why Winning Doesn’t Always Equal Success’ by Valorie Kondos Field, who I deeply admire for what she shared and the message I believe every leader everywhere must hear. I also have a life-long love of movies, and there are a few actors I admire for having taken on such iconic roles or stories that needed to be shared. While I don’t discuss her politics, mostly because she was leader of a country to which I am not a citizen, I did think Jacinda Arden demonstrated excellent leadership during her time in office, most importantly, her reasons for her decision to resign. She showed leaders everywhere that it’s important (and it’s okay) to recognise when you’re no longer the person your people need and that you can move on, and at that time especially, to show that any leader would have been exhausted after the pandemic, never mind all the other major events that occurred during her premiership. She showed you can be a servant of the people in the best way you know how, but it’s important to recognise when you have to serve yourself as well.

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?

The first is that there is (as I’m sure every first-time business owner can attest!) a lot to learn! When you become a business owner, you are now the CEO, CFO, HR, the accountant, the problem solver, the decision maker, the web design team, the social media marketer, head of sales, and THEN you might get to do the job you designed! Learning about all these things takes a lot of time and patience, especially when it comes to paying your taxes and managing your finances. Many people often forget that they now not only have to pay what they were paying into their pension, for example, but also try and make up for what their previous employers paid too! 

My biggest source of help in all this was some good friends who had their own businesses and got me started well enough to find more consistent help, and now I have a coach and mentor, a network of other business owners, and enough understanding to either know the answer, or know where to find it. You will never stop learning, so the faster you embrace that idea, the easier it is to learn what you need to learn and keep asking for help when you need it. 

The second was the challenge of not having a team. As I said before, you are every job title in the company, but more than this, you are also the only person, so having someone to talk to, bounce ideas off and vent when you need is also very important. That’s where the network of business owners comes in! I was lucky to have my coach introduce me to someone who had become a very good friend. She is my accountability buddy, and we talk about everything! Having that source of support is vital, and if you can make it a two-way street as we have done, it’s even better. 

The third was more to do with my business model. Coaching and mentoring is a very personal experience, and so people want to work with coaches and mentors they trust and share values with. This takes time to build, so having a clear plan in place and reminding yourself of the patience needed to make this work is vital. I have certainly not been perfect with my plans or consistency in executing them, but I’ve learned more about myself through this and have made significant changes over time to help myself. You can never be naïve enough to believe that you’re perfect at it all, or that floods of business will come straight away. Instead, learn about yourself, figure out what works for you (not everyone else!), and give it time. If you put the work in, it will work. 

What impact do you feel you have been able to create with your work so far and how would you want to grow in the next few years?

The most common impact I’ve seen has been the realisation of the power my clients, learners, previous leaders and team members really do have over themselves, their lives, their choices. The lightbulb that flickers on when they realise they are not alone in how they feel, and the next one that lights up when they realise they can change that and have the support to do it is an amazing moment to watch. From there, so many have been able to create plans that feel right for them, that make them feel empowered to do more, and have a great impact on others, which is very inspirational to watch take shape.

The most profound impact has been on myself, which was a big surprise. I think any business owner would be lying if they said they never had some doubts about whether they could do this, and I’ve been extremely happy to find that I can do it well, but more than that, I never realised just how wonderful the world can be. Something that happens when you are the only decision maker is the ability to discover your own thoughts, words, and feelings to a level you never considered before. Working for other businesses restricts this more than you know, and it’s understandable why to an extent, but my perspective now is that this is a great shame, because the freedom to create your own vision I’ve come realise is the true secret to a purposeful life, because while the vision is often much bigger than you, it is your vision, and you can do it your way, no restrictions. 

My personal growth has been immense since the start of this wonderful journey, and to find there is a whole world of other business owners you can share it with has been one of the best experiences of my life, and it’s now my privilege to know some incredible people who make their very own impact on the world.

The most important thing to me in terms of growth, is that it happens at my speed. Do it too fast and you’ll lose your vision, do it too slow and your vision will never be reached. So I will continue to move at my speed. There is no rush to do anything, nor do I have to be part of the 5am club or go back to working ridiculous hours, because outside of my business is my life, and I don’t want to miss a minute.

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?

Everyone believes they are equal to everyone else, and making their own unique impact every day.

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?

There are still gaps, and there are also many support functions being put in place to try and fill those gaps such as education around bias, dedicated women’s leadership programmes, research, laws and so on. 

Women have it within themselves to make an enormous impact on the workplace, and they can start from the moment they step in the door. We have made enormous strides in the last few decades, but there is still a long way to go before the choice between a male or a female leader is gone, and is replaced by the choice between two leaders.

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?

You may have noticed that until there was a question specifically about women, I had not mentioned the word ‘women’.

Regardless of who you are, where you come from, or what biases others have of you, everything you do within leadership really does start with you. So start by leading yourself, the message you send yourself, because that really is the only one that matters. 

Tell yourself you are as valuable, worthy, and deserving as everyone else – Because you are!