“Who’s Holding Your Ladder?”

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 Roadblock to Your Success:

Not Having An Adequate Support System

Being self sufficient and self reliant can work against women in particular in some corporate environments.   What do I mean by that?

In particular, it is not uncommon for African American women  to have been raised to be self sufficient, self reliant and independent.  Asking for help is not something that occurs easily, although we are quick to provide help when asked and even if we aren’t.    Mostly, we will try and pray our way through a situation.  However, when we find ourselves between a rock and hard place,  usually by that time we’re looking for an exit.

In stead of looking for an exit, consider this:  What does your support system look like?  Who’s holding your ladder?  Who have you selected to be part of your inner circle, professionally and personally?

In his book, “Who’s Holding Your Ladder?“, Dr. Samuel Chand, a ministry leadership coach, recounts an experience he had that led to a poignant aha moment while waiting for an appointment.

He tells the story of observing a workman painting a building while waiting in a pastor’s study to be introduced for a speaking engagement.  As he watched the man work, he noticed that he could not go up any further and could not stretch his arms any further to the left or right.  He couldn’t see down to the street and so he wondered out loud, who is holding this workman’s ladder?

Who's Holding Your Ladder?

Who’s Holding Your Ladder?

It occurred to Dr. Chand in that moment, that the workman would not and could not go any further than he was comfortable climbing or reaching.  He did have room to go higher – to the top of the building on the ladder’s extension and he would have to do that in order to finish the job.

But the workman needed just one thing, Dr. Chand thought, to help him do that:  the workman had to have someone on the street level holding his ladder steady while he worked.    He had to have help.

Dr. Chand saw this as a metaphor for leaders in ministry. When I read and studied this story I saw it as a metaphor for effective leadership and successful living in our everyday personal and professional lives.

Who is in your inner circle that can lend you assistance with navigating those challenging situations in your career?  And just who and what are ladder holders anyway?

Ladder holders are:

Allies: Do you have allies or champions within your organization?  An ally is someone who you can bounce things off including ideas and not worry about it being misrepresented  or your ideas showing up in somebody else’s work.

Champions: A champion is someone who respects your work, what you contribute to the organization and to the team.  They are in a position to champion your talents and contributions to key stakeholders. Help you gain the right visibility that can lead to better career building projects and assignments.  Champions are like sponsors in some ways, but like all relationships it is a relationship that is earned

Mentors: Have you sought out a mentor?  No, it is not the easiest task you will ever have, but it is one worth undertaking.  Identifying a mentor should be an intentional and strategic undertaking.  Mentors are not just for people just starting out.  As your career evolves, as situations and marketplaces change, having a mentor or mentors is crucial.  A mentor should be someone who has navigated some terrain already.  However, their job is not to hold your hand, but to provide insight, and guidance.  Most people who would be great mentors don’t have time to be a mentor.  Their plates are full and their calendars even fuller.  Therefore, your responsibility as a mentee is to be open, honest and a good listener. Your job as a mentee is to be clear about your goals, your challenges

Truth teller: In your personal life, do you have at least one truth teller.  Someone who you respect and who respects you that will tell you the truth no matter what because they respect you.

It’s good to have girlfriends and relatives that think you are fabulous. We all need those. But everybody has to have at least one person that will call you out or hold you accountable. I’m not talking about judgmental criticism.  I’m talking about honest objective truth telling because they love and respect you and are willing to risk you being angry with them over it.

Assignment # 1:

Make a list of your current ladder holders and consider them for a moment.  If you are a manager or team leader, do you have the right skill mix on your team? Do you know what the right skill mix is that you need?

In your personal life, also consider who your ladder holders are.  Should they be asked to manage the responsibility of holding your ladder steady?  Perhaps they have too much on their plate with their own careers and lives already.

Assignment #2:

Make a list of what type of people should be a part of your ladder holding team. Be honest.  Just because you love them doesn’t mean they should be holding your ladder.  They can have another important role in your life.

How do you select ladder holders?  Begin with understanding what your guiding principles are.  Your ladder holders, whether professional or personal, should align with the most important of those principles.

What does having a support system do for you?  It provides:

  • Honest and objective feedback
  • Guidance and counsel
  • Strengthened confidence
  • Exposure of capabilities to stakeholders
  • Increased opportunities

At the end of the day, all we want is a fair chance to demonstrate our ability.  Nothing more, nothing less.  So do everything within your power to give yourself a fair advantage.  Start with developing the support team you need instead of going it alone.

In her book, Sister Citizen, Melissa Harris-Perry talks about the consequences of self-reliance for Black women.  And the consequence is that Black women are less satisfied with their lives than any other group.  We need to change that.


Coach D.Gray-Young, CPC, ELI-MP

Coach D.Gray-Young, CPC, ELI-MP
Certified Personal and Executive Coach


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