“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” (Douglas MacArthur)
For some the very phrase “women in leadership” is a misnomer, as if the two words could bear no true relationship. Yet this centuries old dilemma of gender and what to do with women in leadership remains an ongoing issue. It’s one I learned early in life.
I looked around the room taking inventory of my surroundings. The oblong board room was small and the large mahogany table filled it. The president of the company sat at the head. Lined up across from me was the shipping manager, two assistant managers, and three of the shipping clerks. In contrast I sat on the opposite side of the table—alone. The anger and testosterone in the room bubbled like Old Faithful ready to blow at any moment.
I was the assistant marketing director for a publishing house and the day before had dared to make a decision, due to the absence of my manager and the shipping manager, to push through an order that had been promised to a large client. The decision would override an in-house rule to ship standard orders first. The basis of my decision was that we had made a promise to deliver books by a specific date. The problem? The order became so large (a nice problem to have actually) that we didn’t have the inventory to fill their order and standard orders simultaneously. Something was going to have to be put on hold temporarily.
My manager, the shipping manager, and the president were all out and an immediate decision was required. Someone had to make the call. I made it based on the president’s previous pledge to fill the order immediately. It was the right thing to do.
“We’re going to destroy you,” the assistant shipping supervisor sneered as I signed the order overriding his intent. “We have rules.”
Now less than 24 hours later I sat in the board room, the lone female among seven men—four who were in leadership positions. I glanced at the vacant seat next to me, where my manager (a female) should have been, and then at the president. “Is Sandra coming?” I asked. He shook his head offering no explanation as he called the meeting to order. It had the smell of an old-fashioned lynch mob.
For the next 40 minutes the president listened to complaints against me: first by the assistant manager of how I had handled the situation the day before, followed by his manager, and then finally each shipping clerk was allowed to make their statement. (How and why they were involved is still a mystery, but bullies like numbers to support their agenda.)
The smirk on the faces of the shipping and assistant manager grew as the negative comments against me continued. It was clear they felt assured of victory. It certainly appeared that the assistant manager’s prophecy to destroy me was about to be fulfilled.
That is until the president asked if there were any more comments. The only individual who had not spoken was another assistant manager who handled the receiving end of the department. He had remained silent throughout the tense ordeal until now. “I have something to say,” he began.
He cleared his throat followed by a long pause, but when he spoke it was loud and clear. “Karen made the right decision. We made a promise before we signed with that company that we would deliver the product immediately. We had a duty to keep our word, even if it meant delaying the other orders slightly. It is our fault we didn’t have enough inventory in stock not theirs. Karen made the right call.”
The hostility and angry glares previously directed at me were now turned full force on this assistant manager, who I realized had just risked his job to speak up for me. I was stunned. Obviously, so were the others.
The president stood as he said, “Well, I think that settles this issue. Everyone go back to work.” Boom! It was over. But in reality it had only just begun.
I was told later that had I been a man, there would have been no issue. When everything was stripped away, it got down to the fact that I, as a woman, had usurped the decision of men in the company. I had overridden their rules. And even though it was the right thing to do, I learned that day, in my mid-20s, that if I was going to survive in the male-dominated world of publishing, I was going to have to figure out how to either dial down the leadership qualities God had given me or learn to use them in such a way that wouldn’t put me in the line of fire. I can say some 25 years later, that has not always been possible.
The world is crying out for leaders
There are so few true leaders in the world today. Leadership first starts with understanding that leading isn’t about the leader, but about valuing people. A true leader sees the potential of an individual by recognizing and calling out their gifts, helping them to become who God has called them to be. (Isn’t that what we try to do with our children?) It’s not about using people, but utilizing their gifts to help them fulfill their destiny. It’s not about gender.
The joy for a leader is seeing others use their talents and gifts. Those gifts, when utilized correctly and ignited, enable them to walk in their destiny, which in turn helps our company, ministry, or organization reach its destiny. So, where does the gender issue fit in this discussion?
As women we are leaders in our homes
We may not be the spiritual head/leader if our husband is filling that role, but we are most often the “hub.” The hub of a wheel is the center, which connects everything.. We naturally do this in our homes. God created us to nurture, love, and care for our husbands and children and all that goes with that tall order. We do that each day as we organize schedules, get our kids to school, fix meals, maintain inventory, meet household needs, get school supplies, and meet daily needs. Some women work outside the home in addition to the multiple tasks required to maintain our homes. We provide a listening ear. We are problem solvers, budget fixers, and hurt-knee kissers. As we fill our role, we empower our husbands to fill their role just as they empower us to fill ours.
So, ideally, while our husbands lead our families and homes, managing from the top, we come in as supervisors, if you will, to manage day-to-day tasks. He safely trusts us to do that, because God created us to fill that role for our homes.
While these qualities are needed and accepted in the home, if we take some of those same gifts and apply them in the workplace or church, we sometimes meet resistance and resentment that can lead to frustration for women. So then we question, what is our role?
Has God gifted you in areas that continually thrust you into leadership roles? If so, guess what? God created you with those gifts. So the next question is what to do with them? Did he give them to us to hide under a bushel or to lie dormant? Or do you think he put them within us only to be used with children or other women? While there is absolutely nothing wrong in serving in those roles, if God has called you to serve beyond that, then who are we to hold back?
God created them male and female
While I agree the husband should ideally be the spiritual head and leader of our homes, that does not remove women from leadership roles in the marketplace or church. Jesus may have had 12 disciples that were all men, but they were not the only roles of leadership around him. It was because of their culture that they were all men. It would have been inappropriate to have a woman in that close proximity as he interacted with his disciples. And yet Jesus was surrounded by women filling leadership roles around him.
Numerous other biblical examples abound. What about Deborah the judge? Miriam who served as a leader under her brother Moses? Esther who became a queen? Lydia the seller of purple—a business woman? Huldah the prophetess who served King Josiah? These were women who used their leadership gifts, sometimes serving under men and sometimes not. That wasn’t the prerequisite. Their call was to use the gift God had given them.
What about Abigail from biblical days—the wife of the rich but carnal Nabal? If it had not been for her wise leadership, David states clearly:
“Blessed is your advice and blessed are you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand. For indeed, as the Lord God of Israel lives, who has kept me back from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, surely by morning light no males would have been left to Nabal!” So David received from her hand what she had brought him, and said to her, “Go up in peace to your house. See, I have heeded your voice and respected your person” (I Samuel 25:33-35 NKJV).
What if Abigail had refused to act and lead?
To lead, we must be willing to speak up and speak out, even when it’s not popular. We must be willing to use the gifts God has given us in the places where he puts us. We may choose to step away from our gifts, but Romans 11:29 (NKJV) tells us, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” You can run, but you can’t hide.
If you struggle with the leadership skills God has entrusted you with, remember that he gave them to you. Ask him how and where he wants you to use them. For that place becomes your “seat of authority.” It is when we operate in our realm of influence that God’s gifts begin to flow from within us to help others and become world changers. That may be simply within your home or neighborhood. Or it could be in a larger sphere of your church or corporation. Wherever he has called you, the question is: Are you willing to step into that role and speak up?
The world is looking for godly leaders—those who know who they are and whose they are. Within us are gifts to help empower our children and families…and others. Ask God to show you your sphere of influence. As you begin to serve there, it is his gifts and call that will make room for you.