Marcia Reynolds has a passion for discovering and sharing how the brain works. She speaks globally on leadership topics and coaches top talent women in making big decisions, building important relationships and showing up with strength and grace. In addition to her book, Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction, she authored Outsmart Your Brain and has been quoted in many publications including Harvard Management Review, Psychology Today and The New York Times and has appeared on ABC World News. Marcia is a true pioneer in the coaching profession and was the 5th president of the International Coach Federation. She was one of the first 25 people in the world to earn the designation of Master Certified Coach (MCC). Marcia’s doctoral degree is in organizational psychology with a research emphasis on the challenges and needs of smart, strong goal-driven women in today’s workplace. Read more at http://www.outsmartyourbrain.com.
Morris: Before discussing Wander Woman, a few general questions. First, at which point in your life did you become fully aware of the nature and extent of barriers and limitations that are unique to women’s aspirations?
Reynolds: I think I had an inkling that there were barriers for women even as a child. My mother was a good mother, but not a happy one. She never had the chance to live out her dreams. As a child, she had to work while her brother played sports. There were only enough funds for her brother to go to college. When her mother died in a car accident, she left a letter in her will explaining why she was leaving the inheritance to my mom’s brother. “You can find a man to take care of you. He can’t.” My mother was in her early twenties.
A few years later, she was married with the first of four children on the way. Throughout my childhood, my father was the center of attention in the family. No matter what good work my mother did, she never got the applause and adoration he did. She passed away twenty years ago. I dedicated the book to her, wishing she could see that she helped me live out my dreams even when she couldn’t live out hers.
I didn’t experience the barriers for myself until I entered the corporate world. I was always told I could accomplish anything I wanted to. The message I received as a girl was vastly different from my mother. I got to go to college and choose my own path (which I have done few times in my life as I wander around my career). I did very well in school and knew I could excel at most everything I liked scholastically.
Yet when I entered the workforce, I was shocked when the recognition wasn’t as forthcoming. The lack of recognition and choice of projects was a cold slap of reality. Then when I moved from healthcare into high-tech, a male-dominated world, I felt I had to fight for everything I earned. Even then, I sometimes lost the fight. Not only was it harder for me to get support for new ideas than the men I worked with, but I often felt misunderstood. I had to tone down my passion. Sometimes, I felt I had to tone down my commitment. This left me feeling disappointed as well as frustrated. When the intolerance grew to a point I couldn’t live with, I moved on. My longevity with any one company was less than five years. I was always evaluated as an excellent performer. Yet the daily difficulties weren’t worth the titles or pay.
It wasn’t until I started doing my doctoral research on high-achieving women that I realized I was not alone. Thousands of women were just like me, with the younger generation even less tolerant than I. I don’t think we should be teaching women how to succeed in a man’s world. I believe we should be teaching men how to understand and support our challenges and needs. Profits will greatly enhance when women are given environments that understand and encourage them to show up as their best selves.
Morris: Other than family members, who have had the greatest influence on your personal development? How so?
Reynolds: I learned one of my greatest life lessons—if you don’t know who you are, you will never be content with what you can do—in one of the darkest places on earth, a jail cell. A year after high school graduation, I ended up spending six months in jail for possession of drugs, an experience I swore would never happen to me. In truth, the sentence saved my life.
In addition to stopping my negative spiral, I learned that scary strangers called inmates could be unexpected angels. In particular, the leader of the toughest gang decided I should be her friend. Vickie was a smart and vocal woman. She was also a mother and a daughter. I wrote poems for her to send to her family. She liked to play cards and I proved to be a great challenger. I think Vickie and I learned a lot from each other during the many nights we talked as we played cards until morning.
Yet the moment of truth came for me when we staged a nonviolent protest, hoping to move to a larger cellblock because we had been locked down so many times for being overcrowded. When my idea failed and we ended up in an isolation cell, I declared my life to be one big failure. Vickie jumped at me, pinned me to the wall, and said, “You have no idea who you are, do you? You’re smart. You’re strong. But for some God-knows-why reason, you care about people.” She pointed to my heart. “When you can see what you are hiding in here . . .”—she then pointed beyond the bars—“you’ll figure out how to be happy out there.”
That was my first lesson in understanding that “who I am” is different from “what I can accomplish.” I didn’t know who I was inside my shell of achievement. Even though I didn’t fully understand her message at that moment, her words gave me the gumption to put my life back on track when I was released. I will never forget her words. I have been working on discovering and claiming my intrinsic value ever since.
Morris: On your professional development?
Reynolds: I have had many coaches the fifteen years I have been a coach and one has been very significant for me. Whenever I feel lost on my business path, I call her. She brings me back to what is the truth in the moment. She revives my sense of purpose and passion. She helps me take the next step forward, and the next, and the next until I am back on track again.
Morris: In your opinion, what are the most significant differences between an executive coach and an executive mentor?
Reynolds: When I mentor someone, they come to me for advice based on my knowledge and experiences. I may listen to them explain their situation, but then I do most of the talking, sharing what I know to help. When I coach someone, I act more as their thinking partner, helping them to discover the true source of issues before formulating solutions. When they see issues from a broader perspective, their own possibilities for action emerge.
I ask more questions than give advice. Yet the outcome is usually profound. People often realize they know more than they thought they did. When they come up with their own solutions through my questions and guidance, they are more committed to and feel more confident about moving forward.
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Marcia Reynolds cordially invites you to check out these websites:
Also, you can read Marcia’s articles on Huffington Post and Psychology Today: