By Jeanne Porter King, PH.D.
I had the great pleasure of speaking to a Women in Ministry and Leadership group on Monday evening. My session was part of a four-week teaching series sponsored by Pastor Sandra Riley, CEO of Just4U Ministries and New Life Covenant Church-Southeast in Chicago. As most of you know my passion is to develop and cultivate the leadership gifts and skills of women. I serve this mission both in the church and in the marketplace. What was particularly exciting for me was that Pastor Riley had asked me to speak from my book Leading Ladies: Transformative Biblical Images for Women’s Leadership.
I first published that book back in 2000–at the turn of this century. This millennium! The hope and dream of my then publisher, Marcia Broucek at Innisfree Press, was that this book would become a classic, providing models for women’s leadership both in and outside the church. Innisfree was an independent press that published books sensitive to women’s spirituality. A few years later Augsburg Press bought Innisfree and acquired my title and as well as the manuscript for my second book, Leading Lessons: Insights on Leadership from Women of the Bible.
Prior to coming to my Monday night session, I had asked each woman to complete the Leading Ladies Styles Inventory ™. This assessment was developed based on the leadership images provided in the book. On Monday night I shared insights on each style.
So, why are sessions like these so important?
First, as we near the third decade of the 21st century, we still need models and images that speak to the distinct ways in which women lead. Though we have moved past many of these barriers and have made great progress, too many stereotypes and barriers for women’s leadership still exist. We need language that defies the stereotypes and conjures up images that speak to women’s experiences of influencing, directing and making impact on people, organizations and communities. We need images that help everyday women see themselves as leaders, or potential leaders, even when the dominant culture doesn’t.
I by no means want to suggest that all women lead in a certain way or even the same way. But what I have found in doing 20+ years of research, training and teaching of women (and men), many of us do lead in ways that don’t always get labelled or rewarded as “leadership.” For instance, in providing a cultivating or nurturing style that is good for developing individuals and leading teams in the business world, a woman might be looked to as a mentor, even the “office mother.” Yet, in many instances, she will not be promoted or rewarded with advancement into more senior leadership roles because she is, according to the standard nomenclature of too many companies, “nice but not strategic enough.” In the church world, this translates into women more easily landing associate pastoral roles of care and community life but not senior pastor roles. Unfortunately too many congregants in some traditions easily embrace the roles of “Church Mother,” and “First Lady,” but still can’t see a woman as the (translate that, my) Pastor.
Second, what I have found is that for women who do demonstrate strategic leadership, they too are penalized. If a woman is more direct and “take charge,” in her leadership style, she is subject to a different “catch-22.” The culture just doesn’t seem to be able to adjust to a woman’s more direct style. She may be seen as disruptive or domineering. And in some corporate settings she gets labeled the “B” word (B is for Barracuda, of course). So even when a woman proves she has the strategic acumen to advance, many times she is held back because of the stereotype that expects her to be more warm and, well, “feminine.” In church and ministry, a direct woman is seen as offensive, harder to work with, and needing to learn to “stay in her place.”
What’s a woman to do?
In reality, holding women to an either-or stereotype — either she needs to be caring and relational as a leader or she needs to be strategic and task-oriented–is counterproductive. The best leaders are able to build relationships of trust with those they lead and serve, as well as provide direction for processes and people to accomplish strategies and tasks. In fact, holding any leader to just one dimension of leadership is counterproductive for the leader and the organizations and institutions being served.
Though I now do a great deal of the work in the marketplace, back in 1998-2000, I hosted church and community-based seminars for women and eventually started teaching as an associate professor at a Christian liberal arts university on the North Side of Chicago. While working on the Leading Ladies book, I was acutely aware of the many barriers to women’s leadership. At the time, a great deal of them were supposedly supported by Scripture. A wrong read of scriptural texts, in many instances. So, I sought to identify women in Scripture who were written about in legitimate leadership roles. I found four in the Hebrew Bible that grabbed my attention in totally new ways. From there I developed four archetypes that could serve as images or models for existing and/or emerging women leaders.
These four archetypes or models are:
The Leader as Midwife
The Leader as Choreographer
The Leader as Weaver
The Leader as Intercessor
What I now see with these images or models for women’s leadership, is that the women they were based upon both took charge of a situation and used relational wisdom to influence those around her. These images or archetypes serve to provide language for women who lead today that is liberating, transformative, and grounded in the narrative experiences of women of antiquity.
If you have the book, I encourage you to go back and re-read it. As I was preparing for this teaching session, I was drawn to the very words I had penned almost twenty years ago and was delighted to see their enduring relevance. If you haven’t read the book, then I invite you to get it and add it to your library of women’s leadership resources. And if you want get an overview of this perspective on women’s leadership, then click here to download this PDF: JeannePorterKing_Leading_Ladies_Workshop_062617
Women, wherever you are, wherever you serve, there is a leadership component to what you do. Perhaps you lead like Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives of old, and you help to birth dreams and the potential of others. Or perhaps you lead like Miriam–you bring disparate groups of people together through choreographing a vision. Or perhaps you lead like Deborah, your passion is to weave together strategies that galvanize and transform entire communities. Or perhaps you are like Esther interceding on behalf of those who have no voice and helping them to gain their voice to change conditions around them.
Wherever you lead, lead like the woman you are. Be you . . . your true authentic self. And let your leadership style reflect your God-given self!
This article was originally posted at jeanneporterking.com.
Jeanne Porter King, PH.D. is a faculty member of LEADERSHIP USA.