“How many of you are leaders?” I asked, looking out at a sea of female faces in my seminar. I knew that every one of them was a leader, given the roles they held and the authority they had been given. And yet...only a few hands were raised, tentatively, cautiously. Why? I defined leadership in several ways, looked them squarely in the eyes and asked again. More hands went up. Finally, I said, “If you are in the room, you were hired to be a leader, you have demonstrated leadership, your work each day demands that you lead.” I asked again. Every hand went up. Many heads lifted as well.
I am a leader. I am a leader of leaders. I wear these words proudly, and yet it took time for me, as it does for many women, to own them fully and to speak them freely. There are a multitude of internal and external reasons why this is true.
I love the work of helping women look into their souls and out at their daily lives to acknowledge and embrace the reality of their leadership. When I led a year-long leadership development project for a group of highly talented women leaders, we practiced naming our leadership, giving words to the ways we lead. We rehearsed saying the words out loud to each other with confidence, as if they belonged in the air, as if these gifts were intended to be shared in the world. For over a year, in the midst of lots of leadership learning, we gave thanks for the gifts we had been given, and owned that they were not ours, but belonged to the Holy Spirit for the sake of investment. “I am a teacher, a trainer, a strategist, a catalyzer, a team-builder, a builder, a truth-teller, a reconciler, a developer, an entrepreneur....” I am a leader.
A year later at a large gathering which included these women and many others, a young woman who I did not know and who was not in the group approached me with an observation. “These women know who they are and know how to speak about who they are with humility and confidence. How can I learn that?” The confidence of competent women was and is contagious and appealing.
In the upcoming months, I will blog about women and leadership, drawing together three threads. The first thread is the understanding we have — from psychology, sociology, business, education, leadership studies, and more — of the internal and external issues that come into play for women in leadership. The second thread is a biblical framework for leadership, exploring what it means to be given gifts and the responsibility of stewarding them. The third thread is women’s stories of leadership: sharing how gifted women struggle and learn to live out their calling as leaders for the sake of the Kingdom of God in the world.
I hope to tackle a wide array of leadership topics from ambition to leadership presence, from risk-taking to career expectations. I would love to hear from you about topics that would interest you. Comment below or send a note
through The Well
. Next time, look for an article on the sound of women’s voices.