October 25th, 2022

Dr. Julianna Hynes is a global leadership development coach and twice-published author who specializes in the advancement of professional women leaders. Particularly passionate about supporting Black women, Julianna helps leaders reach the next level in their careers by elevating their leadership skills through mentoring, private and group coaching, and on-demand webinars. The overall goal: to help women shatter the glass ceiling and get a seat at the table.

Tell us a bit about your background and your foray into coaching.

Born in the Bay Area, I got married, had a son, and got divorced – all in my twenties. I mention this because it’s an especially important part of my background and how things came to be. Instead of as a professional with a Master’s degree, I entered the workforce as a young single Black mom. I began my career as a terminal operator at the Port of Oakland, an industry that was dominated by older white men with military backgrounds who were earning four times my salary. They led with a management style that was more controlling than nurturing. There were no opportunities for leadership development. Even though I received a couple of promotions in my six years there, I didn’t see my career growth in that space and I knew it was time to move on.

Reflecting on my time there, I wish there had been more resources available to facilitate learning and career growth. This is what sparked my passion for coaching, particularly in women’s leadership. My next job was at Jack In The Box Corporation. By this time, I had gotten a Master’s degree, remarried, and become a mother for the second time. After that, I began my Ph.D. – and in 2003, I decided to start my own coaching business. My focus was on leadership diversity, and I was able to pursue my passion for women’s leadership coaching (especially for Black and other women of color).

Was your goal always to start a coaching business or has that evolved over time? 

It was. An exercise I did during my Master’s program was pivotal in helping me determine my goals. All of us students were asked to draw our vision on a board and I remember writing down Ph.D., first house, remarriage, business ownership, and working with Black women – all things that I’ve accomplished. I’m right where I was hoping to be.

How did you prepare for your coaching career? 

After I got my Ph.D. in organizational psychology, I got my ICF (International Coaching Federation) certification in 2019, something that wasn’t as prevalent in those days. The goal was to differentiate my services from people in my professional circles; a Ph.D. for coaches was becoming more commonplace.

Tell us more about your certification and how it’s shaped your coaching style.

The ICF certification is a very rigorous process that ensures specific coaching techniques. It’s a methodology that looks at coaching as more of a self-discovery journey. My job, as a coach, is to be a thought and accountability partner to clients, to help them reach conclusions about themselves. And this certification has given me the tools to be that sounding board for the people that I work with.

Given there are so many coaching styles, what makes your technique stand out? 

I believe that to truly achieve the goals my clients have in mind, they need a confidence boost and a different perspective. They need to believe their goals are achievable. I challenge assumptions and limiting beliefs by asking questions and helping them think in a broader fashion about the problems they are trying to solve. I give my clients the space to think and strategize by acting as a neutral third party they can bounce ideas off. I offer them a safe place.

Tell us more about your experience coaching Black women executives. 

There are big differences in how female leaders are perceived as opposed to male leaders. For example, assertive female leaders are often labeled as aggressive. I use this understanding to coach my Black female and other women of color leaders. They know that I intrinsically understand the hurdles they face. It’s important to understand that women of color face a nuanced challenge, that of intersectionality – being a woman and part of a unique culture.

How has intersectionality played a role in your life?

As a young Black single mother, I fell prey to several labels and assumptions. When, after saving up money I bought my very first home at 28, I was met with uninformed assumptions from my coworkers. They presumed that as a single mother, the only way I could’ve bought a house was with the assistance of some low-income program. And I let that affect me.

But in retrospect, maybe addressing the comments head-on and opening up conversations with those people would’ve helped bring awareness about these issues.

What are the key themes you see in the women you work with?

Imposter syndrome is something many women grapple with. In my experience, even women who have achieved quite a bit in their careers often question themselves. I’m fascinated by the prevalence of imposter syndrome. It all starts in the mind but can affect the real world.

One of my clients, who is a thought leader on the CEO track, was recently considering writing a book. She had a moment where the imposter syndrome kicked in and made her doubt her gravitas. The way we addressed the issue was first by encouraging her to see her own merits and then by offering to hold her accountable for writing.

At Athena, we want to build a relationship with our clients by being thought partners. As I coach, I challenge my clients to put their thoughts into action. For example, I’m currently working with a well-respected and knowledgeable leader who has trouble speaking up due to her introverted nature. As I coach her, my focus is on designing practices to help her understand when and how she could speak up more. My approach has been to have conversations about things she finds difficult to accomplish.

Any words of wisdom for leaders on the rise? 

It’s okay if your career path is not taking you to the boardroom or to that CEO’s office. A lot of driven people are on autopilot and forget there is more than one way to be successful.

I think what is more important is to be intentional. I have written two books, Living on Purpose & Leading on Purpose, and they both talk about daily intentionality – how you can design intentional practices to achieve your goals. Even if the goal is to be a better leader. Through all my years of coaching and research, I’ve identified three buckets that enable executive women to achieve success: (1) mentorship and coaching, (2) a strategic development plan, and (3) self-awareness about strengths, weaknesses, and areas of self-improvement.

What’s next for you? 

Being an introvert, I enjoy the ability to coach virtually; but I’m now starting to explore the possibility of returning to client offices once a month or so. My overall goal is to see the numbers change for women in leadership positions. I truly believe that leaders hold the keys to a company’s profitability and set the tone for company-wide cultures, individually and collectively.

See Julianna in action at her upcoming Athena Salon, Radical Self-Care: A Strategy for Success, on Wednesday, November 30. Non-members can request an invite here. Members can RSVP here, or book coaching time with Julianna here.

Athena is the premier executive development community for women in senior leadership. We offer live and on-demand business education, paired with the coaching, networking, and support women need as they rise into the C-suite and become more impactful executives. Every membership includes two hours with an Athena Coach of your choice to start, or sign up for an Accelerator (an 8-hour coaching package plus a Branded Career Portfolio to get your application materials in order.)



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