The Female Focus: Lara Cullen

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Lara Cullen

Meet Lara, founder of The People Person. In this blog we get the downlow on why it's so important to invest in yourself as well as your business, the misconceptions of coaching and advice on how to find the perfect coach for you.

You grew up in Ireland did you end up thinking you'd be running your own business from London?

Kinda! Ever since I was little I had a curious, adventurous spirit and knew Ireland was too small for me. I left home at 17 and where I’d end up I wasn’t sure, in fact I probably thought I’d be further away, but I always knew it would be somewhere buzzy and vibrant like London. As for running my own business? Definitely! Most of my family are entrepreneurs so I think it’s in the blood. I’m not very good at being told what to do!

Tell us more about The People Person and why you set-up on your own... 

I worked in HR for years up to Board level (where I first learned to coach and develop people) and ultimately burnt out. Not even because I had too much work but because I wasn’t being utilised in the right way, I had nowhere to express my creativity and often there were clashes between my values and the things I had to do or say for my job which is draining. At 35 I had some money in the bank and no ties for the first time ever so I decided to quit my job, go travelling and take a year just to have fun and enjoy myself.

After that I wanted to use my talents, skills and experience to make a meaningful and positive contribution to other people. Initially I developed a business, “Essentially Authentic” which had a few business clients but was mainly life coaching. After a while I felt I was missing a trick and that there were more growing, cool and well-intentioned businesses and people in them who I could really help too without compromising what I stood for so I decided to rebrand and set up The People Person. I do mostly business/work coaching and training through The People Person and more general life coaching through Essentially Authentic.

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What inspires you? What are you currently reading/listening to?

"I usually have about 4 books on the go at any one time and am a ted-talk junkie. Recently, I’ve discovered Chiddera Eggerue aka The Slumflower. I’m in awe of her confidence, how she communicates so articulately and fiercely and her overall messages for women – and she’s only 23!"

Were there any female role models you had growing up that inspired your business journey?

I’ve been surrounded by lots of strong women in my life starting with my mother who raised my brother and I by herself. She worked really hard in a job she didn’t enjoy but that was safe and well-paid for 20 years to make sure we had what we needed, went to good schools and all that. Once we left home and were sorted and established, she quit the job, retrained in a field she loved and is now a wonderful Psychotherapist and Mindfulness Teacher in Ireland. She instilled in us a balance of – “you can do & be anything you want” combined with “sometimes you’ve got to just do what you’ve got to do to get by”. I’m very proud of her. I also had a manager with a real “fuck it” attitude who taught me to “just do it anyway” and “ask for forgiveness instead of permission” – that’s definitely been helpful!  

In a world of ever increasing technological changes - why should organisations value people more than ever?

Easy. Technology can be replicated and copied, people can’t. That human-to-human experience, which our brains are neurologically programmed to seek out as much as they seek out food and water, will be the only thing that makes one business stand out above the rest – and yours will only stand out for the right reasons if your people are looked after, developed and happy.

What's the negative impact businesses and leaders will face if they ignore the development of themselves and their staff?

I fundamentally believe that if you don’t invest in yourself or your people your business will fail to live up to its potential. It’s like expecting your body to still get you around and be strong when you’re old if you’ve only eaten junk food and done no exercise for the first part of your life.

This is especially true for the current millennial-dominated workforce. Millennials get a tough rap for being lazy and entitled but I tend to disagree. I think that they are just more savvy, impatient and demanding when it comes to their careers and if their leaders aren’t pushing them, developing them and inspiring them then they won’t put in the discretionary effort that’s needed to make a business soar. It’s up to leaders of businesses to keep on the top of their game and lead by example or they’ll be left behind, simple as that.

You're a founder within your own right - do you benefit from coaching yourself?

Absolutely! My coach is my single biggest monthly investment over and above anything else. I tried without for a while, thinking I could do it myself, but simply found myself busily unproductive – doing lots but it wasn’t paying off. From a mindset perspective, no matter how positive, well-developed & optimistic you are, it’s tough motivating yourself day in day out without someone to cheerlead you or hold you accountable. I’ve had several coaches and I often use different ones for different things but overall, personal coaching is now a non-negotiable for me.

What is the biggest mis-conception people have about business / life coaches? How are you looking to challenge these views?

 Soooo many!

First - that it’s a luxury. When you’ve got a coach who gets you and gets your business it’s the best thing you can do for your sanity and the success of your business.

Or the other extreme, that you only need a coach if you’re failing or unable to do it alone. Tell that to ANY world-class athlete, business leaders like Bill Gates & Richard Branson and world leaders like Barack Obama … among others. Having a coach is not a weakness or for the weak, it shows you take your personal development and business seriously enough to invest in it.

There’s also the traditional Life Coach stereotype –socks and sandals, incense and love beads, and a flake with dubious qualifications who’s a bullshit version of a failed therapist. Or conversely that a life coach is someone who’s got all their shit 100% worked out all the time and will tell you what to do to fix yours.

I try to challenge these (and more) perceptions primarily by showing up as I am (none of the above!) and delivering results for my clients.

The internet has opened up a lot of opportunity and choice and it can be overwhelming when looking to pick a service such as coaching. What's your advice for a founder/entrepreneur looking for a coach? And what should they be looking to avoid?

Get personal recommendations where possible.  Then look for someone who’s got specific experience in the area you want to work on, testimonials or references, accreditation and someone who’ll give you a free “chemistry call” or consultation meeting before you work together. No one should EVER try to get money from you before you’ve had a meeting or call to make sure you’re a good fit and they can actually help you.

More than anything though you need to connect with them and trust them – it’s critical. As to what to avoid? Anyone promising to make you a millionaire/Victoria Secret model/celebrity etc overnight. If their claims sound too good to be true they probably are!

For more advice, I published a blog on my website recently with some tips (www.thepeopleperson.org/blog)

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What's your biggest career learning so far and how has it changed you?

"That you’ve got to put yourself out there and ask for what you want even if it scares the shit out of you."

Which small businesses/founders out there do you currently admire and why? 

Almost every single one of my clients as I work mostly with smaller businesses, creative and founders.  I admire them most because I know their deepest vulnerabilities and fears and in spite of that then they go ahead and make their stuff happen anyway. Many of them are far braver than me and it inspires me to push myself in the same way.

We love your brand - and as marketing 'geeks' we value the importance of quality communications. Was marketing and your brand image an important feature when setting up?

Ah, thanks! Yes it definitely was. I just wanted it to be real, honest and very human. I totally get that investing in coaching is not the same as buying a washing machine …. it’s all about the personal connection between coach and client so, although it felt pretty exposing and “un-me” at first plastering photos of myself on every page of my website, ultimately the majority of the business (for now at least) is still me and I’m starting to embrace that.

I also write all content, copy and social media myself, because it’s important to me that people are confident that what they see, hear and experience is what they’ll get working with me in real life.  It’s still evolving though and I’m starting to enjoy learning more about this kind of thing.

Advice to young women starting out today's world of work - especially when they're experiencing 'imposter syndrome'? 

Stay off social media as much as you can, surround yourself with people who get it, find a mentor or a coach to work with. I’m not touting for business with that last one, I mean it wholeheartedly. No matter how much you believe in your idea or product or how supportive your friends are we all need an independent cheerleader and a fresh pair of eyes to get us to the next level. Also get close to the people you admire and you’ll realise that they haven’t got it all worked out either – when you realise you’re not the only one making it up as you go along it’s a total game changer and imposter syndrome antidote.

Favourite quote / words to live by?

“Be kind. Be brave. Be brilliant.”  Can you just imagine how awesome the world could be if that was everyone’s life principle?

To find out more about Lara and the amazing work she does visit the The People Person! I know we're going to be first in line to get hold of some of her amazing coaching skills. Until next time... #TheFemaleFocus