The Challenges of Leading as a Woman

Cookie Cawthon

Though I had completed a degree preparing me to become a high school administrator, I felt like a kid in a power suit and three-inch pumps. I was not a leader.

The last fifteen years as an educator, a mom, and a ministry leader have awarded their own education in leadership though, and many of those lessons have been specific to leading as a woman.

Whether you lead a corporate sales force, the PTA, your children, your own business, a fundraising committee, or a ministry team, you can lead with great effectiveness.

Opportunities for a Female Leader

Allow your emotion to translate into passion.

We are more emotional than men, and that’s often considered a liability. However, when we wisely harness our emotional energy and release it into the vision we cast, the way we love, and the passion with which we fight, we tap into the beautiful strength of leading as a woman. People follow passion.

Own what you—as a woman—bring to your role.

When I first sat around a leadership table, I brought an insecurity that demanded I “man up.” But I know now that what I brought to that table was an asset to the conversation. Not in a pink, cute polka dot way, but in a way that only my life experiences as a woman could contribute.

We cannot lead what we do not love.

We don’t have to divorce the traits that make us women. We don’t have to graft in the strengths that make men men. God has given us abilities and life experiences that are valuable to our people. We shouldn’t smother them to dress-up in more masculine characteristics. Verses like Jeremiah 1:5 and Acts 17:26 remind us of God’s intentionality in creating and equipping us to fulfill His unique purposes. But we should stay aware of inclinations that can work against us if unchecked.

Cautions for a Female Leader

Be decisive. We can become paralyzed by perfectionism and attention to details. Excellence is essential, but we can’t allow it to cripple progress. We have to protect a balance that keeps our people moving forward. Deborah, leader of Israel in Judges 4, judiciously displays decisiveness as a female commander going into battle.

Fail well. We have to know how to accept failure without getting stuck there. Leaders make mistakes; they get things wrong, and we have to be resilient in failure.

Keep the focus on people. We tend to be doers. If we don’t do it, who will? A leader must empower her people to make the magic happen. Leadership never looks like a one-woman show.

Know your limits. We have to make difficult choices about balancing our energy between work, family, friends, fun, and personal and spiritual health. We can think it’s heroic to run on fumes or that it’s necessary to sacrifice relationships, but that will always undercut our ability to lead well. We are wise to allow Mark 12:29-31 to measure our priorities and keep them in line.

Protect you. We can allow what we do to become who we are. Our identity and our value are not derived from our work; they are firmly secured in our Jesus. This should afford us a freedom that provides a healthy separation between who we are and what we do.

Love well. We cannot lead what we do not love. We must love our people. As John 13:35 indicates, it’s the hallmark of an effective leader and a sincere follower of Jesus, whether male or female.

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