An executive coach explains Hollywood's "rage coaching" trend and how she counsels execs and creatives in heated moments
- Executive coach Lacey Leone McLaughlin talks Hollywood execs and creatives down in heated moments.
- She’s among the “rage coaches” becoming prevalent in the industry, as The Hollywood Reporter wrote.
- McLaughlin shared the advice she gives execs to help them “process, think, and learn before they act.”
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
When a Hollywood studio needs to rein in a brash high-powered executive, or guide a brilliant but novice showrunner on how to manage people, it’s time to call someone like Lacey Leone McLaughlin.
McLaughlin is an executive coach who works with leaders in the entertainment, media, technology, manufacturing, and financial-services fields.
She might spend one morning leading a team-training session over Zoom, another triaging the dynamics in a writers room that is struggling with remote collaboration, or an afternoon talking down an agitated studio executive at risk of blustering into a bad decision.
As employers are increasingly being called to account for emotional abuse in the workplace, more companies and executives are trying to be proactive, rather than reactive, in curbing behaviors that create toxic environments.
“People are substantially more thoughtful because the risks are higher,” McLaughlin told Insider.
Hollywood is turning to coaches like McLaughlin to curb abusive behavior and navigate crises
“Rage coaching,” as labeled by The Hollywood Reporter, is becoming more common in Hollywood, as the industry responds to exposés of abusive power players like Scott Rudin. More entertainment bigwigs are checking themselves and either asking for or being offered assistance.
“Several years ago, coaching would come in either as a fix-it or coaching would come in and people weren’t aware that it was happening,” McLaughlin said. “Now it’s really around, ‘I want to be the best, and I’m bringing in resources to help me do that. And it’s either something I’ve negotiated for or it’s something I’ve asked for. It’s not something that’s happening to me.'”
McLaughlin’s job often involves forging relationships with leaders at the top of their game, and helping them develop enough self-awareness to take a beat or call her before flying into a rage or making an impulsive decision that could blow back on employees under them, who often number in the thousands.
She estimated that about 30% of her work today is troubleshooting leadership challenges, with a smaller share focused specifically on redirecting bad behaviors.
But the bulk of her practice centers on helping executives perform at the highest levels, including thinking through big-impact business decisions like corporate restructurings or layoffs — the kinds of crises that rattled entertainment companies during the pandemic as productions, movie theaters, and theme parks shuttered and live sports and events ground to a halt.
In one case, she coached an entertainment executive who needed to restructure a department that had been focused on in-person events. The department had to be rebuilt to function both during lockdowns and as the world reopened. McLaughlin worked with the exec to understand their goal and assess how many team members could be trained and transitioned into different jobs, how many would be laid off, and how many needed to be hired for newly created roles.
She and the executive had about six weeks to work through those issues, a luxury of time that McLaughlin is not always afforded. The extra time allowed them to figure out how to upskill certain employees instead of gutting the entire department.
Coaching conversations aren’t easy
McLaughlin sometimes faces resistance when trying to impart soft skills, particularly from creatives who have worked in Hollywood for a while. “That’s just not how it’s done,” they’ll say.
So she’ll turn the conversation to that person’s own experience coming up in the industry with questions like:
- Coach: “Do you remember when you were a staff writer or the first show you worked on? How did that feel?”
- Showrunner: “Well, I was afraid all the time.”
- Coach: “Do you want the people who work for you to be afraid all the time?”
“It’s helping them understand that the way they came up isn’t the way it has to be anymore,” McLaughlin said.
When one of McLaughlin’s clients keeps falling into bad habits or resists making changes, her line of reasoning sounds almost like a level-headed parent coaxing a petulant child. She points to the likely outcome of their current behavior.
“If you keep doing what you’re doing, what do you think is going to happen?” she’ll ask.
McLaughlin tries to show how small changes to their behavior can yield better results. But those conversations aren’t easy. She works to make the leader as big a part of the solution as possible, she said, so that coaching doesn’t feel like a punishment. Her questioning often leads the executive to discover new ways of tackling problems.
McLaughlin coaches new leaders to “process, think, and learn before they act”
McLaughlin typically is hired by companies to work with employees who are transitioning into roles of power. An exec might also negotiate coaching into their contract or reach out to hire her privately.
When working with creatives, she might be dealing with folks who have little leadership experience but are managing large teams, budgets, and corporate cultures. Showrunners, for example, can be writers or producers who previously worked independently or as part of a team, and are now charged with running entire series.
McLaughlin said she helps “take these people who are creatively brilliant in whatever their particular area is — and translate that to managing people, to managing shows, to managing budgets, and really step into that leadership piece and realize that their job is much bigger than just the creative.”
McLaughlin guides novice showrunners in part by contextualizing their role in the project and the industry.
“It’s not just about them,” she said. “It’s about this organization that comes together to put an output into the world, and the better everyone else is, the better you will be, the better the output will be.”
She’ll push a showunner to set clear expectations and mechanisms for accountability in the writers room at the start of each season. And she’ll encourage them to prioritize development so that each writer leaves for the next season or project stronger than they were before.
Faced with a difficult personality, she’ll meet individually with the exec, their boss, direct reports, and other collaborators to understand how that person is perceived. She’ll observe the exec in a group setting. And she’ll usually work with the person for a minimum of six months, but more commonly a year or two, to change problematic behavior.
McLaughlin said one of her biggest challenges as a coach is keeping up with the pace of change affecting business — from the pandemic-driven move to remote work to the impact of seismic cultural and political events like the presidential election and the protests over the murder of George Floyd.
“Leaders have a little bit of an opportunity to process, think, and learn before they act, and over this last year that lag time was hugely shortened,” McLaughlin said. “Right now it’s really about helping people stop, slow down, take a step back, be thoughtful and then move forward with action.”
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