Climbing the corporate ladder is challenging for anyone with their eye on the C-Suite but can be especially challenging for African American leaders. The extra challenges are generally related to skin color, but other factors are also in the equation. This article examines those extra challenges and how a leadership coach (also known as an executive coach) can help you overcome them to clear your path to the corner office.

Reason 1: Lack of Corporate Mentors

A generally accepted and recommended method of learning the corporate ropes and moving to higher levels of leadership is to work with a mentor. Typically, mentor and mentee have some commonality on which to base the initial request for mentoring. Gender or race are often starting points. However, as African Americans advance, the likelihood of finding an African American (not to mention an African American female) in a leadership role to serve as mentor diminishes significantly. In this case, seeking a coach outside the organization is powerful as you are free to choose a coach without having to adhere to corporate politics or be a victim of the good old boy system. You will be in control of identifying and interviewing coaches, of determining who will be a good fit for you. Your professional development is your responsibility.

Reason 2: Flaunt Your Worth

At one time having a leadership coach or executive coach was considered taboo as it often signaled performance problems. The negative perception of having a coach is changing. Now having a leadership coach is thought to be a privilege, an indication that management has big plans for you. Make sure everyone knows you have big plans for yourself. A leadership coach can help  executive coaching you capitalize on strengths, explore areas for development and design a plan to address both. The coach helps you progress through the plan.

Reason 3: Keep Your Eye on the Prize

African American leaders experience, on a daily basis, distractions related to the color of their skin. These distractions come in the form of insensitive comments, implied lack of trust, policies that create inconveniences for people of color but are of no consequence to the majority group, and on and on. These little distractions build up overtime resulting in negative performance, decreased enjoyment of your work or organization, and forced premature consideration of employment options. A coach can help you keep focused on the corporate agenda by developing strategies to address, reduce or cope with these types of distractions.

Reason 4: Leadership Development is Never-ending

Leadership development is an ongoing process. Consider engaging in development activities at regular intervals during your career or respond to signposts that come up along the way (advancement opportunity, performance challenges, etc.). Sometimes you simply need to check yourself. Are you up on the latest leadership trends? Have you evaluated your level of emotional intelligence lately? Are you satisfied with your level of career achievement? A leadership coach can provide you with perspective and assistance in these areas and many others. Perspective may come in the form of strategic questions, a review of your values or various assessments. Assistance may come in the form of thought collaboration, information, education and accountability.

Reason 5: Remain Relevant

Leaders, especially African American leaders, cannot rest on their laurels. In the words of Janet Jackson “What have you done for me lately?” Ensure you remain relevant, visible, and politically savvy. Ensure your out-of-the box thinking, strategic goal attainment and relationship maintenance don’t diminish. As you climb the corporate ladder you will need to become increasingly adept at strategically showcasing your achievements in the right venue at the right time. Your leadership coach can help you map out a plan, craft language, highlight examples and practice delivery to avoid stagnation.

These are but a few reasons why African American leaders, or aspiring leaders, need a leadership coach. The numerous benefits of coaching are well worth the effort of finding a coach and committing to the process. Embrace coaching as a leadership development tool that can be personalized to meet the challenges faced by African Americans climbing the corporate ladder.

How Does The Process Of Leadership Coaching Work?

There are hundreds and hundreds of well-trained and experienced coaches who work with leaders or aspiring leaders, and there is a wide array of approaches they take. On one end of the spectrum, let’s call it the “pure coaching” end, you have coaches who will work with a leader on whatever agenda the client brings to coaching. These coaches may or may not have relevant experience or additional training in any leadership or business competencies. However, if they are well-trained, they can assist the client get clear on an agenda that aligns with what matters to them, identify strengths, pinpoint gaps, evoke growth, set priorities, stay on track and get better results. (I know quite a few very effective and successful coaches who have no background in business or organization life, yet manage to add great value to their clients.)

On the other end of the spectrum, there are many coaches who are not only well-trained in the core coaching skills, but also have dozens of other qualifications and/or relevant personal experience in leadership issues. Let’s call this the “expertise” end of the spectrum. These coaches typically have training in a wide variety of assessments, team intervention protocols, or other specific competencies of common interest to leaders or their organizations. At this end of the spectrum, coaching is often kicked off with some form of assessment, or more elaborate intake process, which sets the learning agenda for the subsequent coaching.

In my experience the majority of leadership coaches fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Here, in addition to being well-trained, they typically do have some relevant experience as a leader, and often have accumulated additional knowledge on topics of frequent interest to their leadership clients such as: common leadership models and competencies, leadership and communication styles, team development, confidence building, stress management, etc. However, here in the middle of the spectrum coaches may not lead with assessments or have as much of a prescriptive approach. Typically the majority of leadership coaches tend to meet whatever agenda a client brings to coaching. (With my leadership coaching clients the 3 most common topics that contribute the greatest value are usually: 1) Learning the various core leadership competencies – which include; challenging the status quo, developing a compelling vision that connects to all constituents, enabling/empowering others, walking the talk as a leader, and mastering the wide range of emotional and communication skills required to keep people emotionally engaged. 2) Understanding the different common styles of leadership, (commanding, pace setting, visionary, coaching, etc.) their strengths and weakness and when a particular style is most effective. 3) Stress and time management. Stress is the silent killer of countless leader’s initiatives and careers, and wreaks havoc with time management, overall energy and happiness levels.