Survival Guide: Sue MacReynolds, executive coach, MacReynolds and Co. Inc.

Sue MacReynolds, executive coach, MacReynolds and Co. Inc.

Olivier Douliery

When you're your best at work, it feels great. But when you're not, it can feel like you're sitting on the sidelines, unsure of what to do next. Sue MacReynolds, an executive coach who works with the professionally stuck, wants to get you back in there and playing well.

MacReynolds was an associate technical director for Mitre Corp., managing about 160 people, when she sought help from a coach. She found coaching not only helped her career, it could be her career. Now as president of her own company, she's working with others to help them sort out their issues. She talked recently with Managing Editor Evamarie Socha about what coaching is and how people use it to succeed.

WT: Who are your clients?

MacReynolds: I have people in technology and non-technology companies that are dealing with how to move into new positions and establish themselves as leaders. They want to know how to make their organizations more effective, and how can they work more effectively to reach the goals of the organization and bring others along.

All of them are professionals, half are women and half are men. They're more likely to be in their forties and fifties, although I have some in their thirties. They range from people who are first-line supervisors to presidents of companies.

WT: What is the coaching process?

MacReynolds: We begin with two relatively long sessions, maybe about three hours. We talk about goals, what they want to accomplish in the near term in business, what is most important to them in their entire lives, not just in their jobs, what their long-term issues are. We do some exercises and assessment to help me get to know them, how they think, what their values are. Those are often insightful for them, too. Some of the exercises people do, they realize, Wow, I didn't know that about myself.

WT: What is the next step?

MacReynolds: We schedule regular coaching sessions either on the phone or in person, at least twice a month. In those, we look at what is happening on the job right now. If there's a board meeting coming up, for example, or if they're trying to start a reorganization, we talk about that specifically and analyze it to see what is going on, what can you expect, what is the challenge for you and what approach do you want to take.

Sometimes we go back over what happened in the past week: What did you do? What happened? What can you learn from it? Out of those sessions, they get a plan for what they're going to do in the coming week.

On occasion I'll talk to the people they work with and ask what they see happening.

WT: That sounds intimidating to the client and his employees.

MacReynolds: One thing I find amazing about leadership is that people don't actually like to tell you the truth. But [not being honest is] really detrimental to leaders, because they don't hear the truth. So I think it's helpful. I have confidentiality agreements when I talk to people so they know there won't be any retaliation for things they say about the boss.

WT: Do you see common problems among people?

MacReynolds: There are two. One is people are completely overwhelmed with meetings and e-mail and information. One of the biggest recurring complaints is "I don't have time." People are spending three hours a day just answering e-mail, and they don't have time for everything. The other is just dealing with all the change that happens, whether it's external and the environment is changing, or internal and people are moving around a lot. 

WT: What are your clients like who work in the federal government?

MacReynolds: I find a fascinating culture there. They see themselves as different from private industry, and they make a choice to go into the government because of their beliefs in public service. There is sometimes a sense of "I can't go into private industry" because they're compromising that. And the dynamic of how the government runs is different. So the things that people in private companies are worried about -- bottom line, keeping customers happy -- there is a different dynamic in the government based on what they do. Sometimes there isn't as much flexibility for a leader to get things done, so we have to work in that environment as well.

WT: What is the best advice you could give to working professionals?

MacReynolds: Know that you're setting expectations for yourself that are probably higher than everyone else around you is setting. Relax a little bit.

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