Leadership for women is a very weird space. The majority of our training as leaders come from men, our teachers have mostly been men, and most of the leadership books are written by men. How many leadership books (secular or ministry related) are written by women for leading women? Not many. Much of what is out there is outdated, and the newer books are not exactly being promoted to us. In fact, of the ones I personally know of… most I learned about at a national women’s conference and one was from an article on Huffington post. How many women do you know going to leadership conferences each year? Few.
This means that majority of our women who are leading in the world learned their skills from men who have led before them. Which is not a bad thing, please not that I’m not seeing this as a negative thing. I’ve learned many great things from men who were willing to invest in me as a leader. But, I want to share something that happened recently.
I was interviewing for a job in a ministry position that would oversee women, and I was asked by one of the Pastors to share what I saw as one of my weaknesses. I was very honest, and shared that my leadership style is more akin to men due to the influences I have had in my life. I tend to be more direct and don’t always meander around subjects like women are accustomed to. The Pastor asked me how I would respond to someone who questioned my aggressive leadership style.
I thought that was interesting, when I shared as a woman that I led more like a man… this was seen as aggressive. Whereas if a man shared the same attributes, would he be called aggressive? Or, as my friend Faith suggested would they have seen it as assertive.
This is the battle the women face in leadership, if we are too strong or direct, we are considered bossy or even called a Jezebel. They forget that Deborah was a strong leader. She wasn’t just a judge, but a military leader. We lift up the Proverbs 31 woman as a great wife and mother, and we often forget that she was also a business woman and investor… a woman of leadership and wisdom. Her hospitality and demeanor were of humility, and yet she laughed in the face of the days to come because she did not fear what ever would come. She feared only the Lord.
Yesterday, I watched a broadcast of an interview with two women who are leaders in their church. The interview was conducted by a gentleman who was part of the staff of a seminary, and at the end of the interview he invited members of the audience to ask questions. One of the audience members asked the panel about how men in church leadership could better encourage and support women in the church who felt called into leadership.
The first thing I noticed was the body language that changed. The majority of the audience was men who were or planned to be in church leadership. Until this point the women were very relaxed speaking about the roles, giving advice to women looking to a future in leadership, discussing their struggles and successes. Now, they were a bit more tense and their body language no longer implied ease but instead much more guarded.
The second thing I noticed was how they were suddenly more cautious about how they spoke, and what words they chose. They tip toed around the topic carefully. Their responses were far more crafted and nuanced, careful to filter every word and thought. You could tell that they were struggling between what they wanted to say and how to say it in a manner that would be better received.
Why must this be so?
What I appreciated, however, was that one of the women brought attention to it for the audience to notice. Essentially, she said that if the audience didn’t realize it… the women were being very cautious about what they said, and how they said it. She pointed out that they were filtering their responses and this was something women have been cultivated to do. And that being aware of this, was the first key. Create an environment where the women don’t need to do so. That would be a huge first step in building a good support system.
In the past, I think women were grateful to get leadership positions and thus were very careful to not rock the boat and lose what took so long to achieve. Now, I think women are looking for permission to lead to their fullest ability. No need to filter, no need to carefully craft words, and meander around subjects. Instead, to be treated with the same respect a male colleague would receive. Allow women to lead in the manner in which God gifted them. Some will have a gentler approach, as they guide others. Some will carry much more of an authoritative stance, as they build and lead organizations and ministries.
I believe that the Lord placed me in the pathway of the men who influenced my leadership skills because I needed to learn from them. The skills they have taught me have been invaluable to the ministry work that I am in now. I see their fingerprints in so much of what I do, and I know that the Lord orchestrated every step of my path for this calling.
We need not discount the gifts of women, but embrace them. The harvest is plenty, but the workers are few. Do we cut the workers in half? Do we cut our army in half? Or, do we come together and serve the Kingdom united in our cause?