My guest for Episode #229 of the My Favorite Mistake podcast is Laura Terrell, an executive coach with over 25 years of professional experience as a legal and business leader. In coaching, she focuses on the issues that are most important to professionals working to address issues in their careers and work lives.
Prior to launching her coaching practice, Laura was a Special Assistant to the President at the White House (George W. Bush admin), a senior level appointee at the US Department of Justice, an equity partner in two large global law firms, and in-house counsel at a major global consulting and business advisory firm.
Laura has led and managed teams of hundreds of people across multiple countries, and has been a top advisor for many Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies. Her clients come from a wide variety of industries, including law, education, financial services, pharmaceutical, oil & gas, non-profit, health care, and technology. Some of them are senior corporate executives like CEOs and general counsels; others are lawyers and consultants, entrepreneurs and small business owners, as well as professionals who may be returning to the workforce, making a pivot to a new career, or switching roles mid-career.
In this episode, Laura shares her favorite mistake story about not questioning the compensation that was offered to her when she was excited to take a White House role. How did she learn about the gap between her pay and the salaries received by others? How did Laura almost make, but manage to avoid repeating, the same mistake in her second government job? What can we learn from her about the importance of asking questions and advocating for ourselves?
Questions and Topics:
- How did you learn about that pay gap?
- People are generally afraid to ask questions (which can lead to mistakes)
- Afraid of being pushy, afraid of a bad answer?
- How to get better at delivering bad information?
- Making assumptions about how bad things would be?
- Having to give bad news to a legal client? Key still for an attorney?
- How and why do very successful executives still need coaching?
- How would you describe ideal client?
Scroll down to find:
- Video version of the episode
- How to subscribe
- Full transcript
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Laura Terrell: A Journey of Power and Advocacy for Women in Executive Positions
Laura Terrell, a seasoned executive coach with more than 25 years of experience as a legal and business leader, is an epitome of professional strength and determination. Having worked in various capacities, including being a special assistant to the President at the White House during the George W. Bush administration, she has extensive experience in leading teams and managing top-tier executives. As a trusted advisor for numerous Fortune 500 and Footsie 100 companies, her long and illustrious career is a testament to her professional success.
The Beginning that Shaped the Future
Laura's professional journey started with a significant role at the White House, an opportunity she pursued with much enthusiasm. However, her excitement clouded her thoughts about the pay associated with the job, a common error among young professionals entering the public sector. This was partly due to her lack of knowledge about what her peers in similar roles were earning within the White House. While she relished her time at the White House, she discovered that she was being paid less than others. This realization struck a chord, prompting Laura to question if she should have investigated the typical pay rates for her role before accepting the job offer.
Learning from Past Experiences
These initial encounters with financial inequity in the workplace significantly influenced Laura’s approach to compensation negotiations throughout her career. In later years, when considering private sector opportunities, she was about to accept an offer again without understanding her market value. Thanks to timely advice from a trusted friend, she began researching, examining her strength, and asking others about their salaries, creating a foundation for a more informed negotiation.
Often, the fear of rejection or being considered demanding prevents many professionals, notably women, from negotiating their worth. Laura’s experience underscores the importance of self-advocacy in navigating the professional landscape. It serves as a reminder that being informed about your market value and being prepared to negotiate effectively can make a significant difference in achieving fair compensation.
Importance of Asking Questions and Seeking Feedback
Asking questions is at the core of personal and professional growth— a key message that Laura emphasizes in her coaching practice. She stresses that the fear of getting a negative answer or feeling uncomfortable tends to make professionals, especially those seeking promotions or leadership roles, avoid asking important questions. Their assumptions and their unwillingness to confront reality often limit their growth potential.
Pressing the importance of delivering constructive feedback, Laura encourages her clients not to avoid difficult conversations. She believes in the value of honesty, even when the message may not necessarily be what someone wants to hear. Addressing areas for growth, asking for clarity on vague feedback, and understanding that negative feedback is not a personal attack but an opportunity for development are some of the critical elements she emphasizes during her coaching sessions.
In conclusion, Laura Terrell’s journey offers invaluable lessons for aspiring executives and leaders — emphasize the power of self-advocacy, the importance of honest conversations and feedback, and the courage to ask difficult but necessary questions.
Examining Fear, Resilience, and Growth
An often unspoken aspect that professionals face is the concern that asking questions or seeking necessary clarification might cause them to be perceived as weak or troublesome. They worry about rocking the boat by questioning decisions about salary augmentations or discretionary bonuses in their organizations. The apprehension to probe for more information, necessarily when disagreeing with a superior’s standpoint, mostly stems from the fear of backlash or being negatively perceived. However, Laura Terrell underscores the importance of prioritizing personal and professional aspirations over these fears.
Understanding Lawsuits through the Eyes of Attorneys
Moving on to another critical facet of the professional landscape, specifically for attorneys, handling bad news or high-risk situations is an inevitable reality. Lawyers are trained to minimize or manage risks for their clients, but occasionally they may face situations that demand difficult conversations about losses and potential impacts. For instance, losing a significant motion in court could hinder the client’s planned business expansion or a new line of work – a scenario dreaded by attorneys.
Dealing with such situations is challenging, but Laura suggests formulating strategies to deliver bad news in the most effective way possible. If an attorney merely lays out the concerning situation without offering potential solutions or alternate routes, the gravity of the information gets amplified for the client. The same rule applies while dealing with personal feedback, evaluations, or handling the disappointment of not being able to make a partner. Here, offering an understanding and potential opportunities can tremendously help soften the blow of the bad news.
The Role of Executive Coaching in Professional Growth
An important question to reflect upon here is, “Why should a successful executive, already having a flourishing career, consider coaching?” The journey to the top or the life of a senior executive in an organization can often be isolating. As Laura puts forth, a career's higher you ascend, the more it limits the number of people you can confide in or be completely open with. This phenomenon is especially true for general counsels in large corporations who usually can't share their dilemmas about managing their relationships with the board due to the nature of their role.
Considering this landscape, executive coaching becomes a valuable tool by providing confidentiality and catering to the executive's need for an honest sounding board. The coach can provide valuable perspectives, probe for alternative solutions, and support through quandaries that can't be openly discussed within the organization.
Working closely with a coach also allows executives to process and learn from their mistakes effectively. It encourages them to confront issues instead of ignoring them and helps them think through potential scenarios and ways forward. From developing the confidence to directly address shortcomings and present solutions to a client to dealing with a colleague's adverse feedback, executive coaching helps navigate such dynamics effectually.
Criteria for Successful Executive Coaching
Coaching can best serve individuals when there’s a willingness to engage with the process. Laura’s ideal coaching clients are those who come in, bearing a clear understanding of what they are struggling with and harboring a desire to address it. They see the value in initiating change to move in their desired direction. Ambition alone can't fuel growth; commitment to the work and readiness to take responsibility for the change process is paramount.
Identities built around intelligence or accomplishment often deter individuals from seeking help, viewing it as an admission of weakness. However, asking for help is a sign of humility, openness, and strength. This principle, quite common in young children, needs to be recaptured in our professional lives.
The key to professional growth is cultivating an environment where asking questions or requesting help is encouraged and not perceived as a weakness. It's vital for leaders at all levels to imbue their professional landscape with openness, authenticity, and curiosity— pillars that Laura Terrell’s journey and coaching practice beautifully exemplify.
Automated Transcript (Likely Contains Mistakes)
Mark Graban: Well, hi, everybody. Welcome back to my favorite mistake. I'm Mark Graban. Our guest today is Laura Terrell. She is an executive coach with more than 25 years of experience as a legal leader and a business leader.
Mark Graban: Prior to launching her coaching practice, Laura was a special assistant to the President at the White House. During the George W. Bush administration, she was a senior-level appointee at the US. Department of Justice, an equity partner in two large global law firms, and in-house counsel at a major global consulting and business advisory firm. Laura has led and managed teams of hundreds of people in multiple countries.
Mark Graban: She's been a top advisor for many Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies. So, Laura, it's really a pleasure to have you here. Thanks for joining us. How are you?
Laura Terrell: I'm great, Mark, and thanks for having me on today.
Mark Graban: Yeah, it's great to have you here. And there's a lot we can talk about here about questions and coaching executives, but I get to ask the first question, and as we always do here, I know you're not surprised by the question. It's always the you know, with all the different things that you've done in your career, Laura, what would you say is your favorite mistake?
Laura Terrell: Well, I appreciate the question, Mark, because I think everyone makes mistakes, and trying to find a favorite one sometimes can be a little bit daunting. Maybe you've got several, maybe some of them aren't so favorite. But one for me, actually relates to my time in the George W. Bush administration and the role I had at the White House. The first role I took at the White House was very exciting.
Laura Terrell: I was barely 30 years old. I was being asked to work at the White House in a really important role that for me, was just incredibly exciting. And I didn't give a lot of thought to the pay for the job. And part of that was due to the fact that I was young and I knew a pay cut from the private sector role I'd been in. That's what you do when you go to the public sector, and certainly to work for the President and the White House.
Laura Terrell: Those are things that you say, wow, this is a great opportunity. I would do this for free, you think? Sometimes. But for me, I also didn't really think about what other people were being paid in similar roles or in the same roles within the White House organization. And let me say, I don't regret for a minute taking the role and having the job, which was incredibly fun.
Laura Terrell: It's a privilege to work in that role. It was a wonderful experience. But I did come to find out that my pay was less than others, and that made me think, gosh, should I have asked? I'd always had roles that I'd come in and pretty much known what the going market rate was for the job. I had as an attorney in a law firm and earlier in my career in government, when you're very much bound by the GS schedules and the ses schedules, you have a great idea.
Laura Terrell: I didn't have any idea, and it would have required some investigation on my part. This was in the pre-internet days when the Internet was really kind of rolling and you could get a lot of information, we think now about all the blogs and all the internet sites that you can get pay information from and information about what the market looks like, maybe even people posting on chat boards, other sources. There wasn't any of that, and I didn't know who to ask, and I didn't bother to ask. I could have even maybe pressed my hiring person a bit more and asked for that information, but I didn't do it. Well, fast forward a few more jobs.
Mark Graban: And before you do that sorry to interrupt, what was that first role, and was that at the beginning?
Laura Terrell: First role was the White House counsel's office.
Mark Graban: Okay.
Laura Terrell: And so a terrific role. I did learn from that. That when I came back to the White House a few years later that I wanted to ask for an increased salary. And I did, and I got it. And it was still a little bit easier because I had that experience.
Laura Terrell: When I went to private practice a few years after that, I really didn't have any foundation for knowing what I was getting into. I mean, the market had changed since I had been in government for four or five years. It was very, very different. I didn't have a sense of what I was valued at in the market, and I almost fell back into the same trap. I almost just went with what I was offered.
Laura Terrell: A very good friend of mine who I had worked with at the White House said to me, don't do that. Wait a minute. You know what happened last time. What's your information about what you think you're worth to be paid in this new role? It's private sector.
Laura Terrell: It's a law firm that really wants to hire you. It's an incredible opportunity. You also need to lay down a marker for what you think you're valued at. And I thought, I have no idea how to go about that, because I didn't have any idea how to go about it the first time when I was having that dilemma at the White House, and this person sat me down, and she said, you need to write down what do you think your strengths are? What do you think your skills are?
Laura Terrell: You need to start calling people that you know in other law firms in the city, and you need to start asking them, can you share with me your salary? Can you share with me what you think the range is? Is it different at your firm for this kind of job or this role? And I remember Mark so clearly when I was negotiating for this job. But I felt like, hey, I've been in government for five years.
Laura Terrell: I've got some debts I need to pay, I've got some bills that are coming due. Any amount of money looks pretty good to me. But I had to really brace myself to take that research. And I remember having index cards in front of me and asking questions about the role and when I was getting pushback on the salary, saying, Well, I appreciate that, but here's why I think I'm valued at more. I know what others are being paid in this market, in this city, in this kind of role, and it's X.
Laura Terrell: And that was so hard for me. I still have the index cards, by the way. They probably sweat stained from me being so nervous at the time doing that. But I felt like that was an incredible opportunity for me. And I have remembered that since then in every role I have been in.
Laura Terrell: It's not to say that I think that I should have always asked for much more than I was being offered. I don't think that's the answer to reject any salary. I've taken roles that I think the salary is very fair and very good pay without pushing back as much. But that first time that I learned that had only I asked some questions, had only I been perhaps more aggressive, perhaps more inquisitive, I might have been paid more, and I might have been most importantly paid what I think I was.
Mark Graban: Was. And thank you for sharing the story there. In terms of follow up questions, what was the second role? Was it coming back into a similar the second role? Was that the DOJ role?
Laura Terrell: No, the second role was coming back to the White House in a different role, but doing work with homeland and national security. That had a different aspect to it. But by that time, I knew a lot more about the organization and the institution, and I knew more about what people were being paid at that role and at that level.
Mark Graban: Yeah. So was this all in President Bush's first term?
Laura Terrell: Yes.
Mark Graban: Okay. Yeah. How did you, in that first role, discover that pay gap? Because a lot of times people don't like to talk about pay, or at least openly, or some workplaces discourage it, which I believe that becomes a legal issue. I'm not a lawyer, and I don't know if you know the answer to that.
Mark Graban: We should consult an employment lawyer. Is it a mistake for employers to tell people, hey, don't talk about your pay?
Laura Terrell: I don't think that an employer in most jurisdictions can prevent people from talking about their compensation unless they contract for it. But very few employers are going to do that, and it's not a best practice. It chills someone's freedom of speech, if you will, to be able to talk about this. But there's also sometimes an unspoken rule. You don't want to mention that because you don't want somebody to ask for more than you get paid, or you want to think that you've got some insider information.
Laura Terrell: It's interesting. The way I actually found out was at the time there was a think tank that was doing a study of White House roles and writing about them and how people come into them and transition. And that's where I found a breakdown of salaries, including my own. And that's where I found out that my pay was less. And interestingly enough, the person who succeeded in me in the role was paid more than me.
Laura Terrell: That was also a big eye opener. The person that succeeded me advocated for a different role and title and salary. And I found that what if I had done that instead?
Mark Graban: Yeah, it might not be easy to know. Do you think it was a matter of age and experience? Was there maybe gender?
Laura Terrell: I think it was a matter of age, experience. It's a unique organization and I think other people knew coming in. Also though, they'd talked to people that had served in prior administrations. They knew what pay bands looked like, they knew what compensation looked like. I didn't have that information and I didn't go and find it out for myself.
Laura Terrell: And that's on me. That's the mistake I made was I didn't go and ask and investigate. And there were other things that I would find out as I went through my job. Hey, I didn't know that if only I'd asked somebody or if only I knew about this aspect. And that got me thinking that a lot of the knowledge that we glean is really powerful, but we have to ask for it.
Laura Terrell: It just doesn't happen to us. It doesn't fall into our lap.
Mark Graban: And it seems it was to your benefit that a friend said something. I don't know if that person is someone you considered a mentor or a coach, even informally.
Laura Terrell: It's somebody that I consider a good mentor and a friend. And as I said, when I was about to head into the private sector and I was about to do the same thing, say, gosh, that's a lot of money, that seems really great, that's a great salary. This person said to me, do you know what other people are making in the same role, in the same market, in the same responsibilities? And I thought, no, I don't know. And I almost just walked through that door again where I didn't become an advocate for myself.
Laura Terrell: And by that time there was a little bit more information. I also knew what other law firms were offering me and the role that I was coming into in private practice. And so was there a little bit more data that I had more readily available? Yes, but I still had to ask questions and I still had to be able to make the ask for myself.
Mark Graban: Yeah. This is outside of my expertise, of course, but I think I've read articles that talk about not excusing gender disparities in pay, but pointing to at least a generalization that men tend to be more aggressive in negotiating for compensation compared to women. And of course, the generalization is not going to be generally mean. Do you have kind of thoughts on.
Laura Terrell: The data does reflect that. Harvard Business Review has done some studies and some case studies that have addressed that. I think the other thing is that women are much more reluctant to ask. There's a view that by asking and pushing back on a salary that you're being pushy or you're being demanding, and that that's not expected. I was working with a client, for example, who was trying to determine the best way to go about negotiating a compensation package from a law firm that they were very interested in joining.
Laura Terrell: And I remember asking them, well, do you know what others are making in the market? Because that's important. And they had a sense, but they hadn't really done a very detailed survey of the people they knew, and they had a great network of people to be able to ask. In my coaching role, I could also share what I knew. That was a great starting point.
Laura Terrell: But I also heard from the client that the firm was offering an amount that was less than what that was, and the client thought she could get the firm to come up on their offer. And I said, Will you be satisfied if you ask for why? And they give you why? And she said, no, I think I'm still going to feel I'm underpaid because this is only about 20,000 more than I'm making in my other firm. And the advice I said was, if you think you're going to be unhappy with the pay, don't start in the role that way.
Laura Terrell: That is not a good way to get started. But it's difficult because I think the perception is if you keep asking and you keep pushing that you'll be resented and it's a bad way to start the job, but it's just as bad a way to start the job if you feel you've asked for less than what you would be satisfied.
Mark Graban: You know, thinking about some of the coaching that you do now with executives. Laura kind of stepping back on that theme of people. Hesitating to ask questions for different reasons. And I think being afraid to ask questions maybe leads to assumptions or mistakes in different ways. But what are some of the barriers, and how do you try to help coach people through that to where they maybe are asking more of the questions that they should be?
Laura Terrell: Well, I think you've put your finger on it. It's assumptions that people make and they hear something, maybe through office gossip or the rumor mill about how difficult it will be to make a promotion or to be selected to head a project team or to get transferred to a different office or to have a work from home option or whatever the priority and the goal is for that person. And I think that that becomes a really limiting belief. And one of the things I talk about with many of my clients is, how important is this goal to you if you're afraid to ask to get more information because you think I'll be frowned on? Or what if the answer is no?
Laura Terrell: What if I'm asking, am I going to be promoted to VP within the next year? And the answer is no. We don't have a pipeline for that, and we think you're terrific, but we don't have a way to promote that. How limiting is your expectation of getting a negative answer that you're not going to ask for the information? And I think a lot of people are really scared of getting a negative answer.
Laura Terrell: But if this is really important to you, if this is your goal and this goal matters to you, most clients really need to ask that question and really want to ask that question. So we often frame it in terms of how important that goal is and how much you're willing to risk by not knowing or making a bad assumption.
Mark Graban: Yeah, I mean, it seems like it's a matter of thinking through what's the worst that could happen if I ask. What's the worst that could happen if I don't ask. Maybe the outcome of not asking is more likely to be bad.
Laura Terrell: Absolutely. And many people that I talk with tell me that they would rather not know because it's just easier. I know the answers. No, but then I've also talked with clients who've waited to get the answers to important questions. And ultimately, maybe they find out those answers inadvertently.
Laura Terrell: Maybe they didn't ask, when can I be promoted? But they find out in a one off conversation with an executive vice president that there's just no roles in our department and we don't see those coming through. And it's almost reinforcing. I had a client that said, when I heard something like that, it said to me, wow, all the things that I feared are true. Why did I just sit on what I could have had more concrete information on?
Laura Terrell: I wasted time that could have been spent going to another firm, asking for a transfer to another business unit, moving roles in a different way, asking for a different supervisor. And those are the things I think are really painful, is when people find they've been locked in a place that they might have had more control and more agency over their goals.
Mark Graban: Yeah. That makes me think of times when I was maybe afraid to ask or there may be a book in your future. Am I making a mistake? I don't think you've written a book. Is that right?
Laura Terrell: I have some thoughts for my book, but I have not put one out there yet.
Mark Graban: I'm sure you do. You could and you should, I would say. But then there's that question of reaching out to somebody to ask for a book endorsement. It's a little scary because the person could say no, but then not asking eliminates the possibility that they say yes. And thinking you even kind of brace yourself of even if they say no, hopefully they give you feedback that helps you improve the book.
Laura Terrell: Absolutely. And a corollary to that is people that need a job reference and they're concerned if they go to someone that knows them well, that person will say, oh, I can't believe you're leaving, or Are you sure you want to leave this job? Or that they'll get some negative feedback. And I've talked to people about how to also identify maybe the safe person to ask first. The person that feels more like a safe space to ask these questions in.
Laura Terrell: Maybe your request to somebody to be a job reference or your request to somebody for a book recommendation is start with the easy one. Somebody that you feel that you can have a candid conversation with and move forward to tougher conversations from there. Because I do think you have to warm up to this, and I think you have to be feeling that you're gaining confidence. And that's important for a lot of folks.
Mark Graban: Yeah. There's a lot of areas where a baby steps approach is helpful to at least build some what I hear you saying build some momentum, it's better to at least start small and keep moving than it is to feel discouraged by that first attempt.
Laura Terrell: Maybe I think it is. And I think the other thing is, if you hear something negative, maybe you've asked, do you see me moving into a role as a partner in this firm? And you get the answer. I see you as a partner at a law firm, but maybe not this law firm. That can feel pretty terrible, but rather than leaving it there, I encourage people to ask questions.
Laura Terrell: Well, tell me why you say that. Why another firm but not this firm? Those may be due to factors outside of your control. Maybe your firm doesn't have the bandwidth to be able to promote somebody. Maybe they don't have the revenue in your department at your company to be able to justify another promotion or another FTE.
Laura Terrell: This is the same as when you're hiring people and you're told no, you can't have a new role or a new person to come in to support. And I think understanding what's not about you and what is about you and what you may be able to change is really important to learning and growing.
Mark Graban: Yeah. So one other thing that you coach leaders and executives on, not just asking questions, but sometimes delivering bad news or information that people might not want to hear, whether that's in response to a question or otherwise. What are some ways that you help people through that or any scenarios that you could share with us?
Laura Terrell: Sure. Well, first of all, I am a huge believer that never giving people honest feedback, even when it's tough feedback or critical feedback, is a real mistake. I work with a lot of executives, a lot of lawyers, a lot of CEOs, chief operating officers that sometimes are reluctant to give people negative feedback. They want to hide from it. They want to give it to their subordinate to deliver.
Laura Terrell: They don't want to be viewed as the bad guy or the bad person. But I really think that giving candid, honest feedback in a constructive way is important. I think the hard part, and it is certainly for my clients, is when they hear something that is not great feedback and it's not delivered well, it's really not delivered well. So I've had clients that have come to me and said, the feedback I got was, well, you need to understand your work has slipped, or you need to understand that you need to step up and create more of a leadership role for yourself or to take on more authority. And it feels like you're still doing fairly routine tasks.
Laura Terrell: And I've had clients that have come to me and said, that was just devastating. First of all, I didn't understand what that meant. And secondly, that just doesn't sound like me. And I really encourage people to think about how they want to go back and probe that feedback, because getting the details around that can be important. If you hear, for example, you need to demonstrate more leadership's presence, I think you have every right to ask, what does that mean?
Mark Graban: Right? Help. A little more specific.
Laura Terrell: Please be more specific. Can you give me an example of that? Or can you share with me some people that you think have demonstrated that kind of presence in the organization and how they've done that? And clients often say to me, well, why wouldn't they have told me that if they already knew what I say? Because people often want to finish giving feedback.
Laura Terrell: They want to get it out, and they want to make it quick, and they want to move on. And your job as the person receiving that feedback, before you ask yourself, is it valid? Is it not valid? Is to get enough detail around it so that you can understand what you're receiving.
Mark Graban: Right? Yeah. I know a leader from a hospital, kind of a mid level leader, who was being told by an executive that she needed to be more confident, that she needed to come across as more confident, and she didn't know what that meant, and she didn't feel real comfortable asking. And we kind of had to navigate a little bit on her behalf of trying to get some more specific feedback, of like, well, what is the behavior that the senior leaders are not appreciating. Or how would you describe the behavior that they were looking for, to your point?
Mark Graban: It was a mistake, I think, for them to give her that vague feedback. But the more specific feedback was basically stop telling us all the nuance about a decision and just tell us the decision. And if we want to understand the thought process, we'll ask. I mean, that was more a matter of communication styles, even, that they were describing as confidence.
Laura Terrell: But what a great example, though, to realize it was really about communication styles and nuance. I've heard similar iterations of that by people that have engaged me to work with someone that's part of the C suite. But similar feedback to what you heard for this person, more leadership presence, more gravitas, more confidence, those mean different things. And I love that this person went back and got that additional information, because when it becomes about communication style, we just want to know what the solution is or what the answer is. And if we want more, we'll ask for it.
Laura Terrell: Yeah, you have a good idea of what you need to do to adapt to that environment.
Mark Graban: But back to one of the first themes you talked about. She wasn't really comfortable asking for the specifics. So there was a little bit of coaching and advice, not just from me, but from somebody else that was working with her to encourage her to go and ask and to work on that.
Laura Terrell: I think part of the concern, Mark, is that people think they'll be perceived as weak if they go back and they ask for details, or they ask for follow up, or they probe for something and they're told, we can't increase your salary by 20%, or we're not going to give a discretionary bonus this year. And what happens if I press back? Will I be negatively perceived? Will I be considered a thorn in someone's side in the organization? Or if I keep asking for more information, will it be, they're so weak, they're just trying to get information around something when I've already told them what I think?
Laura Terrell: But you also have to be really cognizant of what you want in your career and what you want professionally, and if you want to move forward in your organization but you don't know how, you've got to ask some questions about how to do that. Or you need to consider that you may be feeling really dissatisfied in a role that might be well suited for you if you only had a bit more information to process and to consider.
Mark Graban: Yeah. One other question, Laura, about delivering or giving bad news. Is that a key skill for attorneys who I imagine probably often have to deliver some form of bad news to a client who's involved in a lawsuit or legal matter?
Laura Terrell: It's interesting with attorneys, I think you're trained to be very risk averse. One of the things you're doing for clients is trying to avoid risks, or when there's been a risky situation that's gone awry or looks about to go awry, that you're trying to figure out a solution to it. But being the bearer of bad news is often difficult. Telling a client that you've lost a motion in court that's really significant and could impact their business, maybe it's an injunction that prohibits them from an expansion or a new line of work. Those are tough.
Laura Terrell: And I've seen attorneys that struggle with telling clients that. I think one of the ways to address that is to think about how do you deliver that message? If you're just giving the bad news and you're not trying to think of solutions or you're not trying to think of ways forward, then I think that bad news sounds a lot worse. But the same is true for giving bad news in an area where I think attorneys are even less well equipped. That personal feedback, evaluation, retention, telling people you might not make partner, or there's not a place for you to advance in this practice.
Laura Terrell: If you just give that message without giving some detail of understanding why and maybe offering some opportunities, I'm happy to be a reference for you elsewhere. I think there are other firms that would be better suited to your practice, and I want to help you find those. I think supporting people through bad news, whether it's a client or a colleague, and providing some solutions and alternatives is really critical. That's the best way to give bad news. It's not just to dump it.
Mark Graban: Sure. So one other thing I wanted to ask you, Laura, before we wrap up to talk a little bit more broadly about some of the executive coaching that you do. How would you make the case if somebody was sort of on the fence, successful executive, they've had great career, how or why is coaching still helpful? Is it a mistake to ignore the opportunity to get some coaching?
Laura Terrell: I think the more senior you become in an organization, it can often be more isolating, and it's limiting the people that you can turn to that you can truly be open and confident with. If you're the general counsel in a large corporation, you may not be able to share with any of the people that report to you. Maybe you have hundreds of attorneys, but you may not be able to share with them some of the dilemmas that you're feeling in terms of how you report to the CEO or your relationship with the board. It's hard to go to the board and ask for feedback or ask for input. And some of the work that I do with clients is really providing somebody to talk to that can help facilitate your thinking through these situations.
Laura Terrell: If you're feeling that you can't share some of this information with others. The work I do is confidential. I'm open and honest, but I'm also going to. Probe you for what else you could be doing or other ways to get the answers and the information you need. But I think it is tough at the top and I think coaching has become an increasingly important tool for people who feel, I can't share this.
Laura Terrell: I'm in competition with someone who wants my job. I can't really talk openly within my department, or I need my CEO to see me as strong and confident and available. I've had very high ranking people say to me, my job is to take responsibility and to do the work that my CEO needs taken off his or her plate so that they don't have to worry about my job. That's a huge burden to bear. And I think that becomes overwhelming for people at times.
Laura Terrell: And they need someone to help think through the concerns that they're experiencing, what some alternatives might be, what some ways forward might look like that work for them.
Mark Graban: And then when you talk about facilitating people's thinking, can you think of times where you've helped a coaching client think through processing a mistake that was made or a mistake that they're fearful is perhaps happening?
Laura Terrell: Sure. I have a client that was unfortunately put in a very bad position working with a large team and made some mistakes themselves and how they went about the work, but was also part of a broader situation that wasn't great relationship with the client involved, it wasn't a great relationship with the internal team. And I think the person's tendency was to say, I'm just going to take my licks and I'm going to try to move on and try to get through this, but I'm not going to mention it again. And I think often the better approach is to really confront it and to be able to talk to your supervisor or your client. Look, I recognize this could have gone differently.
Laura Terrell: I have some thoughts about how I would do it next time and how I want to address the situation and move us forward here, but they're afraid to do that. One of the ways I facilitate thinking about is that the route you want to go is to talk about what that path looks like. What happens if somebody know, mark, it's great you brought that up, but I don't really want to talk about it anymore, how's that going to feel? What's your reaction going to be? What might be the next thing you would do from there?
Laura Terrell: Or what if the person says, hey, Laura, I appreciate you being candid with me, I just don't think we can bring any new work to you? Do you want to know that even if that's painful now, or do you want to leave it where it is? I think a lot of it depends on the personality and the goals of the person that's receiving that bad news, how we move forward from that. So I like to facilitate that discussion. Let's talk about how that's going to feel or how you might react or what you might do.
Laura Terrell: A little bit of scenario play in advance.
Mark Graban: Yeah. Well, Laura, thank you for sharing not only your favorite mistake story, but thoughts on the mistake of not asking questions, the mistake of not giving bad news, or the mistake in maybe delivering bad news in a way that's less helpful. So I'm glad we could talk about all of that today. And final question, I encourage people to visit Laura's website. Lauratorl.com, there'll be a link in the show you as a final question, how would you describe your ideal clients in terms of who's a good fit for you and who you can most help?
Laura Terrell: Well, I work with a wide variety of clients. The ones I enjoy working with the most are people that are really smart and come to me and say, look, I've thought through this, I know what's not working well. I know I need to change it, I need some help thinking through that, but really have a desire to do the work to make the change that they need to make, to move themselves in the direction they want to go. I think it's hard if you don't have the engagement. Part of coaching is you need to be able to be committed to the work and be in partnership.
Laura Terrell: I'll help hold you accountable. I'll help think through issues with you and help guide you, but it's ultimately up to you to do the work. And that's why people that are super talented and super ambitious that the outside world might say, hey, they don't need coaching, but they really want to do the work to try to move forward. Those are some of my favorite people.
Mark Graban: Yeah. It sounds like a combination of not just smart, but also having the humility to ask for help. And to me, that's a sign of strength. There's nothing wrong with asking for help.
Laura Terrell: Sure, we do it when we go to the doctor, when we hire somebody to fix the problem that we screwed up on our home electrical repair. And it's hard to admit sometimes that we're not feeling well and Tylenol won't fix the problem or we've screwed up something at home. We all need help in different ways, and I think I certainly do. I've worked with a number of coaches, which is one reason that I was motivated to do this work. So I'm a big believer in that.
Mark Graban: Yeah. And I'm trying to remember who I should be referencing or citing here. But I remember reading about how children very naturally ask for help. If they're scared, they have a question, they ask for help. It seems like kind of a natural tendency, but then as people become adults, somehow we're maybe taught or conditioned that.
Mark Graban: I think, as you touched on earlier, that asking for help might be viewed as a sign of weakness when I don't think that's really the case. Maybe in some settings it is viewed that way, but hopefully not everywhere.
Laura Terrell: I think that's right and I love the analogy to children who are also open to saying can you help me with this? Or I don't know the answer to that or why does it work that way? Or why can't I go to the pool instead of going to school for the afternoon? These are open and honest questions and I think people need not environment and often which to ask that question.
Mark Graban: That's very well said, I totally agree. So I think we'll end on that note. But again, our guest here today has been Laura Terrell. Laura, thank you again for sharing your story and sharing all of your insights here today.
Laura Terrell: Thanks so much. Mark, it's been a pleasure being with you. Thanks.