Vistage Chair Laura Gordon always knew she wanted to help people. She just didn’t know-how.
Her first degree - in Psychology - helped to cement this. “I was very interested in what drives people - what motivates them”, she says. “I always felt that I wanted to do something that would add value to people’s lives and make a contribution”.
With that in mind, after having a family relatively young, she returned to university, studied Law, and got a job as a corporate lawyer.
“I felt as if I wasn’t fulfilling my potential”
When Laura chose to study Law, she envisaged a career in human rights, family law or employment law: something where she could truly feel like she was making a difference to people’s lives. However, the corporate role she found herself in was very transactional. Laura’s days were filled with commercial contracts and dealing with mergers and acquisitions.
“I didn’t feel I had much of a purpose”, she says. “I didn’t go home at the end of the day feeling fulfilled, feeling that I had contributed to helping other people”.
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Realising that she hadn’t yet found her purpose, Laura moved on to a highly publicised role in the public sector. Here, she worked with the Scottish Government in a role designed to create stronger economic ties between Glasgow and Edinburgh.
It was a brand new role - and a big leap of faith for the authorities to appoint someone with no history of working in the public sector. For Laura, though, it was a chance to try something new, and something that could have an impact on society.
“I was open to doing something very different”, she says. “If you’re not happy doing what you’re doing, it’s important to cast your net a little wider and think about what is beyond possible.”
Casting the net wider
For Laura, the key learning was to choose something very different that was more likely to give her a sense of purpose, and that made the most of the skill set she already had. Recruitment consultants had suggested various roles within the legal profession, but “none of that really floated my boat”, she recalls. “I just love talking to people and listening, hearing their stories and seeing if I can add value.”
Knowing Laura’s passion, one of her good friends told her that she would make an amazing coach. The same friend became Laura’s first client when she retrained as an executive coach in 2010.
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Her client base began to build, and her coaching business grew. But there was a problem. “For me, it felt quite lonely”, she says. “I could have continued down that path, but I wanted to be able to coach while feeling like I was part of a community.”
That’s where Vistage came in. In 2014, Laura took on the role of Vistage Chair, building her own groups not just to create networks and connections for her members, but to support them in a role that she describes as “coaching on steroids”.
“You’re creating your own groups - you get to choose who you spend your time with”, she says. “How many jobs are there where you can truly say that? It’s an absolute privilege.” Laura’s loneliness as an executive coach was still in her recent memory. One of the many boxes that Vistage ticked was the sense of community she had been lacking - not just locally, but also nationally and globally.
A sense of identity
High achievers often get a sense of status, identity and structure from their leadership role. It can, for some, be hard to let this go.
Laura herself got some sense of what this was like when she left her public sector role. “It was a very high-profile job”, she says. “I was regularly being invited to top table dinner events and more. When I left, those invitations just stopped.”
However, this made Laura realise that she may have been filling her time “with things that aren’t really that important”. She realised that those things were just part of the job. She wanted to find something more meaningful to replace them with - something that would really feed her soul.
She compares it to buying a new car: something that gives you a momentary feeling of joy and excitement, which fades within a few months.
“The Vistage Chair role is different”, she says. “I’m sitting in my groups, and I’m looking around the table. I’m thinking that if I hadn’t brought all these people together, they wouldn’t know each other. They wouldn’t be able to support and help each other. They may not have got those ideas which changed not just their business, but their lives, and the lives of their families and their staff.”
That sense of status and identity, for Laura, comes from this ripple effect. She recognises that what happens in her Vistage groups goes far deeper and wider than just her group members. The diversity in her Groups means that just speaking with their peers, members can potentially learn new ideas that they never would have otherwise.
“It’s amazing to think that you have been the catalyst to making that happen”, she says.
A leap into the unknown
Laura doesn’t deny that taking on the Vistage Chair role was a leap of faith. She’d done plenty of research and due diligence and knew that the peer group model was growing. However, she also knew that finding the right people to join her group - as well as maintaining that group - would be a challenge.
She recalls the start of her Vistage career. “I was sitting in the room with my cohort - there were six of us in the room”, she recounts. “I had massive imposter syndrome. Others were recounting their achievements and I was thinking, am I good enough?”
For Laura, though, personal growth is found at the other side of fear and challenge. “If you embrace the things that really scare you”, she says, “rather than walking away from them, then these are the things that are the most rewarding.”
That sense of reward and fulfillment can be long-lasting. Laura talks fondly of one of her colleagues, who recently passed away. “He’d been a Vistage Chair for 27 years, ever since he retired at 60”, she smiles. “He was a wonderful man, a font of wisdom and a mentor to all of us younger Chairs. He was an amazing guy.”
The longevity of Chairs such as these are testament to the sense of fulfillment, identity and purpose that the Vistage Chair role can bring. Find out more about the role here.