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Leadership the lady’s way
As women in the workplace, we can display our calling to nurture life through professional development.
Woman’s world daily
In 1966, James Brown sang the lyrics, “This is a man’s, man’s, man’s world.”
Two generations later, culture would argue differently. More working women hold college degrees than their male contemporaries, and many of these same women are advancing into management and leadership positions.
Many evangelicals will bicker about the role of women in leadership in the church and home. Some staunchly conservative Christians will even classify the term “female leader” as an oxymoron. No matter your theological position or leadership context, women can and do lead others at work, while volunteering, or at home. The question for us Christian women then is this: how do we lead in our respective contexts?
How should women then lead?
I consider myself a complementarian when it comes to the role of women leaders in the church and marriage. That said, I have led teams in my professional career.
When I began studying for my BBA in the late ’80s, women were increasingly assuming leadership positions in the workplace; however, none of my professors or mentors was training me in the specifics of how to lead as a woman. It was as if leadership were gender neutral. (“What worked for a male leader must naturally work for a female,” was the thinking.)
So a whole generation of us women naively marched off into the workplace with our navy-blue suits, tan hose, and navy pumps, armed with male-oriented leadership styles—only later to be ostracized for being too domineering, too male. We had falsely believed that leading meant acting like men. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Embracing God’s design for us as women empowers us to lead.
“God made created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them,” it says in Genesis. Mankind was made to image God. He made male and female distinctively different, and in those differences acting together, we, both male and female, image God.
Male leaders image God in a particular way as female leaders image God in a particular way. As a woman leader at work, as a volunteer, or at home, your distinctive leadership style reflects an image of God’s design, his creativity, and his heart for his people. Embracing God’s distinctive design for us as women empowers us to lead in freedom and more fully image God to our teams.
Hardwired for relationships
Eve was made by God’s own hands to relieve the loneliness of Adam and to be a helpmate suited just for him (Gen. 2:18). God created her to relate to another. Likewise, women tend inherently to relate well. That means we often identify ourselves by our relationships (e.g. I’m a daughter, a sister, a wife, or a mother).
Men, on the other hand, tend to identify themselves by what they do. God’s design for women as helpmates births our relational strength, a valued attribute when leading teams in the 21st century.
Nearly a decade passed from when I entered university until I graduated with an MBA. Within that decade, business curriculum changed drastically.
Women help to maintain organizational health in a virtual world.
Individual research papers evolved to team projects. Business educators quickly realized that individual success in academia didn’t necessarily translate to success in the corporate world. Hierarchical chain-of-command and individualistic assignments died. Teams replaced them. Flat organizations, cross-functional teams, and now even organic teams mean people work with others constantly and often not with the same group of people twice. With the advent of technology, teams now meet only virtually. Having relational strength is now even more important.
The time you do spend face-to-face is critical, and forging strong relationships quickly is necessary. Women are hardwired by our Creator for this environment; as leaders, we help to maintain organizational health in a virtual world. We understand the demands of balancing work and family—we care about those who work for us and with us.
God created female biology to nurture and grow new human life. Even with the best science has to offer, humanity cannot thrive without women.
In the organization, professional development sustains and matures organizational life, and a woman leader plays a major role in developing and maturing those she leads.
The team of accountants and bookkeepers I once managed relied upon me as their leader to give them opportunities to learn new skills. While we all worked for a common goal to produce corporate financial statements, I knew that we weren’t automatons. We spent most of our waking hours together, and our work environment needed to be life giving, exciting, and saturated with learning and growth.
I wanted my team at the end of each day to not only feel they got the job done, but that they also were better at it. We cross-trained in multiple jobs. I trained several to do my job and gain higher-level skills. They received training and then turned around and trained others in our financial reporting software. My job as their leader was to organize them to meet our objectives and to nurture their professional life.
You don’t have to act like a man to lead well.
As a woman, you most likely want more out a job than just a paycheck and a title—you want to gain new skills and grow professionally. As a woman leader, you will want the same for your team. It’s not that good male leaders ignore professional development or that males don’t value new skills or professional growth. God designed men with a calling to work and provide (Gen. 2:15) and this is why they tend to find great worth in work. Their focus at work often reflects that calling: production and responsibility. As women in the workplace, we can display our calling to nurture life through professional development.
God made two genders to image him. He made male and female to show the dynamic of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Your femininity is not an accident or Plan B. You don’t have to act like a man to lead well. Your unique design as both helpmate and nurturer impacts all those you influence whether in the workplace, volunteer teams or at home.