Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO wants to ban the word bossy. To ban a word only creates room for another, but I honestly get her motive behind the intent.
Sandberg’s campaign to ban “bossy” stems from the perception that women leaders who are direct and aggressive are often labeled as hard to work with. Men with the same temperament are more likely labeled powerful, ambitious or courageous. As a woman ministry leader, I get it. Although my title and job puts me in a position of ministering to women, my day to day environment provides me with a unique opportunity of working primarily with men.
I will never forget my first lesson as a 22-year-old college graduate thrust into a marketing position of a growing financial institution. The female senior Vice President of the company took me aside and lectured, “If you want to get ahead in business, you need to learn how to be a b……” (she didn’t use the word bossy either) It was shocking news as a Christian that to be successful in business, I must learn to be aggressive, demanding and pushy.
Thirty years later, I have learned a few things about women in leadership, especially as a leader in ministry. For those of you young women navigating your early years of work or ministry, consider some of these lessons.
1. You will be misunderstood by men. I have to admit, this is frustrating and even irritating. There is no surprise that men may not “get” women. Even the most considerate men may treat you condescendingly, but try to remember we don’t always get them either. Instead, learn how to engage in meaningful conversation and speak with confidence when presenting an idea that can increase profits or kingdom results.
2. You will not have the same opportunities if you are a leader in ministry. Sadly, churches rely heavily on the volunteer work of women and there are few paid positions. While I’m not an advocate of female pastors, I believe the church as a whole should consider that more than half of their congregation consists of women. Why would we diminish their spiritual gifts and limit their opportunities to serve or teach? Why are we not creating or filling ministry positions with capable women? For instance, there are very few women religion professors at evangelical universities. At my alma mater, Dr. Rowena Strickland, was one of the most loved and respected religion professors. Students even joked that Jesus made a B in her Life of Christ class.
3. You will be considered “difficult” when at times you would be considered “courageous” by a male counterpart. My conclusion in these moments is that over time, good leadership and the results of your ability to lead will surface. And sometimes it may not. Rely on Galatians 1:10 and be reminded that we are not to focus on pleasing man, but the Lord Himself.
4. Don’t play “mean girl” games. Women need to support other women. Be a cheerleader for a woman leader. We can be our own worst enemy with back-biting and gossip. Take a lesson from the boys. Most of the time, they learn to not hold grudges. They can argue in one moment and shake hands the next. Women would do well to practice this.
5. Lead like Jesus. Whether your leadership strengths are in business or ministry, a servant and humble attitude will be attractive to others in leadership as well as those you are leading. One of my favorite women in the Bible is Lydia. As one of Paul’s converts in Philippi, she was a successful business woman who served this church plant by hosting believers in her home and by leading others to Christ. I doubt Lydia was called “bossy” but was considered a true and faithful woman of God.