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Kate McGuinness of Empowered Women Coaching: “Find Your Niche ”

Find Your Niche — I have coached individuals from a variety of professions such as chaplain, nurse, designer, career coach, administrator, and project manager. However, I found the experiences I had in my first career as a lawyer had great resonance with clients who practiced law. Some were lawyers looking to succeed in big law firms, others […]

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Find Your Niche — I have coached individuals from a variety of professions such as chaplain, nurse, designer, career coach, administrator, and project manager. However, I found the experiences I had in my first career as a lawyer had great resonance with clients who practiced law. Some were lawyers looking to succeed in big law firms, others were lawyers wanting to become in house counsel, and still others were lawyers wanting to find work life balance or even escape the law. I have coached lawyers around the country and overseas.


Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.

How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?

In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.

As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate McGuinness.

Kate McGuinness served as a partner of a major international law firm before becoming the vice president and general counsel of a Fortune 200 company. After a surprise termination, she moved to a ranch in wine country, enjoyed nature, and wrote a legal suspense novel. The bankruptcy of the company paying her severance interrupted that idyll, and she returned to civilization to become an executive coach. More information about her is available at her website KateMcGuinness.com.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in a blue collar family in a New England mill town. My mother was an immigrant, and I became the first college graduate in our family. I had never met a lawyer before I entered law school but I was determined to find a challenging and well compensated profession after spending four years as an elementary school teacher.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Camus’s quote “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer.”

This quote strengthened me as I struggled during my first year of law school when shortly before my father died I learned that my husband was gay. Two big emotional blows almost overwhelmed me.

Also, I recalled the quote when I struggled with my surprise termination as the general counsel because being a very successful lawyer had become my identity.

You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Intelligence: my legal career speaks to that.

Perseverance: I continued my legal studies despite the emotional blows I received during the first year which are described above.

Resilience: I first bounced back from losing my job as general counsel to becoming an author. When I later lost my annual severance payments, I then trained as an executive coach.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?

I served as a partner of a major international law firm before becoming the vice president and general counsel of a Fortune 200 company. I was very well known in the Los Angeles legal community and the California bar generally. After a surprise termination, I left the city, bought a ranch in wine country, and wrote a legal suspense novel. My tax lawyer’s advice to take my severance in annual installment proved to be disastrous. The bankruptcy of the company paying the severance meant the payments to me stopped abruptly and might never resume. I lived on my savings. I retreated to an inexpensive Iowa farm town and waited for four years for the completion of the company’s bankruptcy to see how many cents on the dollar I would receive. It wasn’t enough to comfortably move back to California which I was determined to do. I returned but with enormous trepidation. I lived in a guest house on someone else’s ranch and studied to become an executive coach to earn money.

And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?

I studied to become an executive coach at the Hudson Institute of Coaching which is regarded as one of the best coaching schools in the US. It appealed to me not only because of its reputation but also because it was located near my old ranch.

Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?

Learning that I would receive only 32 cents on the dollar on my bankruptcy claim meant I needed to find some way to generate income if I wanted to return to California which I desperately desired.

My sojourn on the ranch immediately after my termination meant that I had lost touch with my former clients and many of my legal colleagues. At my level of seniority I would have needed a large “book of business” to get an appropriate job as a lawyer. Therefore, I didn’t seek employment as an attorney.

I chose executive coaching because I knew there were many unhappy women lawyers. I thought they would value my hard-earned wisdom.

What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?

The Hudson Institute of Coaching has an extensive training program. It included lab classes coaching classmates, lectures, reading, and recording my initial coaching sessions.

The most important skill set that I learned about there and later perfected was active listening which requires the listener to fully concentrate, understand, respond, and then remember what is being said. Importantly, it requires the listener to pick up nonverbal communication including vocal tone and body language. In a coaching session, the coach must also have empathy for the client and, in order to to help the client clarify her thoughts, at times repeat what she’s said.

The unconditional positive regard that a coach brings to her client is the antithesis of the mindset of a lawyer as she deals with those opposing her client.

How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.

I have learned so much from my clients, my training at the Hudson Institute, and my own growth that I wrote a nonfiction book “Confidence Lost / Confidence Found: How to Reclaim the Unstoppable You” that was published in 2020.

One part of a coach’s role is to hold clients accountable for taking agreed-upon steps to reach the goals that the clients have identified. My client Judy wanted to become a web designer and took a number of steps toward that goal. We discussed the relevance of her background as an industrial designer, her studies of web design, and her creation of a portfolio. However, she stalled on putting in applications. It took a couple of sessions before it came out that she was afraid of applying for jobs with tech companies. Her fear was based on her age and her belief that those companies would be staffed byintimidating “bros,” as she put it. Once she eliminated flashy tech companies from her search, she was able to attain her goal of being a web designer by getting a job with an educational company.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am deeply grateful to Pat Adson. In fact, my book is dedicated to her. Part of the Hudson Institute training is being coached by one of its master coaches. Pat and I were matched up, and she proved to be a treasure. She was 85 at the time and recently died at 91.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

A coaching client hired me after finding my website in an internet search. We subsequently discovered that thirty years earlier I had hired her husband to join my law firm. Since then, he had moved on to other firms.

Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?

Becoming a coach has been a challenge for my deeply ingrained work persona who was a “tough as nails” lawyer. Like many lawyers, I am an INTJ according to the Myers Briggs Personality Type Analysis. Coaching requires a suspension of judgment, more feeling, and a touch of extroversion.

I have never been a “joiner” but I joined organizations of women lawyers, a type I was very familiar with. They were a comfortable way to overcome my introversion and also develop clients.

In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?

The friends I made in my Iowa town encouraged my dreams as did my then husband. One of my friends there volunteered to be a gratis client over the telephone so I could get in the required training hours. I was delighted when she continued to work with me after I started charging.

Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?

Before I even formally started my practice, I had to work with clients as an intern. One, an admired local lawyer in my new city, was especially effusive about my coaching. She suggested that I join the Board of Directors of the local women lawyers associations and endorsed my candidacy.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Practice Your Craft

Despite excellent training, I found my coaching improved significantly over time. To gain more experience, I volunteered as a pro bono coach with organizations such as Women for Change Coaching Community and Stand Beside Them.

I experienced the difficulty of working with a pro bono client who insisted again and again on revisiting the past and wanting to change the behavior of others not in the room. Because of this, she was unable to take action toward her self-identified goals, I eventually suggested she would be better served by therapy. It was a difficult conversation but that was the right conclusion.

Since then, I have only needed to have a similar conversation once. Having had the practice was helpful.

2. Find Your Niche

I have coached individuals from a variety of professions such as chaplain, nurse, designer, career coach, administrator, and project manager. However, I found the experiences I had in my first career as a lawyer had great resonance with clients who practiced law. Some were lawyers looking to succeed in big law firms, others were lawyers wanting to become in house counsel, and still others were lawyers wanting to find work life balance or even escape the law. I have coached lawyers around the country and overseas.

3. Coaches Must Market

When I took up the touchy-feely profession of coaching, I was naïve about how diligent about marketing coaches in solo practice need to be. These coaches have two jobs: coaching and marketing. Marketing is especially important when you set up your practice because satisfied “first generation” clients will send referrals.

I was contacted by a woman lawyer in London who was referred to me by a lawyer who practiced in Los Angeles. I hadn’t know the lawyer who made the referral during my years practicing law in LA but she and I had met as a result of my work as a director of California Women Lawyers. I accepted that position as a way to help women lawyers and also to subtly market my practice.

4. Double Tap on the Client’s Tears

Regardless of the subject of a coaching session, it inevitably relates to emotions. Sometimes those emotions can be so deep that the client cries. Seeing and hearing tears can be very revealing. At that point, the coach should explore the response by saying something to the client like “Tell me more.”

Tears flowed when I asked a client who was a single mother of two and a busy lawyer if she was taking care of her own needs. In answering the question, she realized that she was not in fact superwoman. We discussed what she might do for herself and in subsequent sessions I inquired about her progress in taking some of these actions.

In the past, I was reluctant to pry into a topic that elicited tears. It didn’t seem considerate or polite. As a coach, I changed that mindset.

5. Stifle Yourself

A coaching session should provide the client with a forum for what might be the unusual opportunity to be “heard.” So many of us — especially women — don’t have that experience. I need to give the client enough air time for this to happen.

After listening to a recording of an early coaching session, I realized that I was talking too much and thereafter began to aim for no more than 40 percent of the air time. The recording was with a woman who was a very busy hospital nurse who said she wanted to achieve work life balance. I heard myself suggesting practical approaches but near the end of the session it came out that she felt she was working too hard because other nurses weren’t carrying their weight. Her unhappiness with that situation was the source of her complaint.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would urge followers of my “movement” to practice kindness every day. One tenet would be to do two kind acts daily. One act should be directed toward the self by doing things such as muting inner criticism. The second should be kindness toward others. These acts may be large or small and the recipient may not even be aware of them, but by being kind my “follower” could add positivity to their life and boost their self-esteem as well as adding to the positivity of others’ lives.

“Life is so hard, how can we be anything but kind?” Jack Kornfield

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

Arianna Huffington

How can our readers further follow your work online?

More information about my first and second chapters is available on my site katemcguinness.com. My coaching practice is Empowered Women Coaching. I am on Twitter as @k8mcguinness. I am on Facebook as author.kate.mcguinness as well as on Pinterest and Instagram as Author Kate McGuinness.

My book “Confidence Lost / Confidence Found: How to Reclaim the Unstoppable You” is available wherever books are sold. It is also available as an audiobook which I narrated.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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