Listening. Successful leaders want to hear feedback. When they’re in meetings, they listen, learn and make it about the team rather than it being about them.
We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Lacey Leone McLaughlin.
Lacey Leone McLaughlin is an executive coach and the President of LLM Consulting Group, Inc. For over 20 years, she has coached leaders across all industries including aerospace, automotive, entertainment, finance, retail, and technology. She specializes in teaching management skills to creative talent within entertainment, music, media, development, and production, and she has worked across studios and production companies with Showrunners, Directors, Producers and heads of creative departments in animations, live-action and documentaries. Before founding LLM Consulting Group, she spent more than nine years as the Director of Executive Education at USC’s Center for Effective Organizations (CEO) in the Marshall School of Business. Lacey is the host of the Unfolding Leadership podcast, and her management insights have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times’ Dealbook, the Times of London, the Hollywood Reporter, the Daily Beast, the Ankler, and more top media outlets. When she isn’t coaching leaders, Lacey coaches children’s sports teams. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children.
Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?
In previous eras, organizations would seek leadership coaches when an executive needed to fix something viewed as failing or broken. They came to us when a leader erred in judgment or an organization’s culture and/or goals were in trouble. Not anymore. Now, organizations are proactively bringing in experts to train their prospective leaders. A great example is the leadership development programs that many organizations are adding to their management training programs. Gone are the days when onboarding consisted of one day of human resource slideshows about policies. Today, organizations bring coaches in for months of coaching and training because they view leadership as fundamental. As a coach, I love watching these leaders learn and improve. Best of all, I get to see how the leader’s team evolves because of the leader’s development. Organizations are recognizing how teams evolve alongside the leader. It’s exciting to see organizations recognize that everyone wins when leaders succeed.
We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?
Three mentors have significantly influenced my career. When I worked at PDI, Diane Marentette taught me how to navigate the consulting world with a focus on continuous learning, strength, and passion. On numerous occasions, she and I were the only women in the room, and most of the time, I was 25 years younger than everyone else. During those occasions, Diane helped me focus on adding value, asking good questions, and believing in what I brought to the table. Another mentor was first a client, then a friend, and ultimately a business partner–Ian Ziskin. Throughout our relationship, he helped me consider the work I wanted to do, what my business portfolio should look like, and where I should invest my time. He encouraged my confidence to build something that was mine. Likewise, the brilliant academic Jay Conger pushed me to ask tough questions and make my coaching bigger than just my work: It’s about the culture we want to leave behind when we finish working with a leader or organization.
Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?
When I led an HR Tech start-up, I thought hard work was enough to succeed. I was wrong. You need to work with the right leaders and team on something you all care about–and most importantly, these need to be people you respect and see yourself working with for years to come. If your team doesn’t respect each other, and you aren’t all working toward a common vision, it doesn’t matter how smart or talented you are. Everyone needs to respect each other and work together. That’s when the magic happens.
How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved? What does it mean to be a leader now?
Back in the nineties, leadership meant that a leader was perfect; whatever they said went. They offered dictates, and the staff followed. When I was young, I thought a leader was the most intelligent person in the room. But the definition of leadership has changed. Today, the word that comes to mind is flawed. Great leaders are real, they’re human, they make mistakes–and they learn from those mistakes, improving their organizations and results in the process. Smart leaders are willing to admit when they’re wrong, they admit it as quickly as possible, and they welcome feedback. With that said, they’re also firm decision-makers. Innovative leaders listen, but they’re also in control. It’s a delicate balancing act.
Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?
As a leadership consultant, so much of my business is relationships, I was often worried that people wouldn’t work with my consulting firm or my teams unless I was involved. For a long time, I believed I needed to own every relationship. But how does my team grow if I control if I’m the main point of contact for all work, if I own all relationshi[s? For my team to succeed–and, therefore, for the organization to succeed–my team needs to develop their own connections. Today, I foster a culture where my team leads and maintains essential relationships so that they can grow with the organization.
What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?
I am cultivating an ability to say no. For a long time, I would never say no. I would take on work that I should not, for whatever reason, maybe the price point was wrong, or it was out of obligation. Today, I am cultivating balance. I want the people I lead to see that I prioritize my family and health–along with the business. I want people I work with to see me say no when I don’t have the scope or bandwidth for a projects, so they recognize they should also maintain balance in their lives. Part of the way I set these standards is by setting boundaries and sticking to them. If I declare a time for family time, I don’t alter that schedule. Only by seeing me say no will my team take care of their own wellness–and healthy teams succeed. Saying no is beneficial for the entire organization.
What advice would you offer to other leaders stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?
I would sit that leader down and politely tell them, “What you’re doing isn’t sustainable. You need to figure out what’s essential to business, say no, and spend time in the right places with highly talented people you trust.” Evolving is key to success in these challenging times, and you have to change with them.
Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?
New leaders should ask questions, listen, and refrain from reacting too quickly or overreacting. Many people want to rush into an organization and change things. Wait. Sit back, listen, observe, and be thoughtful.
Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now?
Successful leaders want to hear feedback. When they’re in meetings, they listen, learn and make it about the team rather than it being about them.
A willingness to be wrong
Smart leaders are willing to be wrong. One of the most successful leaders I’ve coached took a risk, and when she failed, she admitted she was wrong. She learned from the mistake and did it differently the next time.
Hiring smart people
A leader is only as good as their team. I’ve seen brilliant leaders hire horrible staff, and then they’ve failed. I’ve also witnessed leaders hire the smartest people available and then surpass expectations. Leaders must prioritize hiring smart people, retaining them, and helping them grow.
So many people get stuck in processes and decision-making. They think more than they do. The best leaders take action. You could have the biggest idea, but you need to start small and take action so you don’t get stuck.
A job is a job. We work to live. We don’t live to work. I’ve seen leaders refuse to take a break and then fail. The best leaders focus on their health and maintaining a work/life balance.
American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.
Every day, I ask myself three questions, “How do I add value today? How do I elevate my team? How do I do work that matters?” The answers to these questions shape how I execute throughout the day. Only then can I make my day a masterpiece–at home and in the workplace.
What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?
I don’t aspire to leave a legacy. I aspire to leave behind leaders who have legacies. When I see leaders I’ve worked with succeed, that’s when I am happiest in my work. That’s when I know I’ve succeeded.
How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!