What I’ve Learned So Far

On my journey as a woman in leadership I have learned a few things that have helped me along. Some of them I’ve learned the hard way, some of them I’ve learned by observing others, and many of them purely by the grace of God.

1) Be yourself. Don’t try to be the woman that you admire. Don’t try to be what you think your employer wants you to be. Don’t try to be like the male leaders around you. You’ll waste so much time chasing the ideas of what you think you should be and neglecting to develop the unique gifts that God has given you. Confidently be you.

2) Don’t try to be ‘one of the boys’. There have been so many times where I have felt left out of the office chatter because the guys are talking fantasy football, the NBA finals or the round of golf they’ll be playing after work. There may be times that you have something to share, but don’t force it. Contribute only if you genuinely care. They know if you are trying too hard.

3) Accept that leadership may be lonely and find your network of support OUTSIDE of the office. You need people that will support you and encourage you, but don’t expect them to be your peers or superiors. In some rare occasions you may have a great support system in the office, but just don’t expect it. If it happens, it’s an extra blessing.

4) Understand that earning influence and respect as a leader takes time. You have to build trust and credibility. Sometimes this is especially challenging as a female because you may be leading men who are not used to female leadership. Don’t let this frustrate you. It may take longer than you would like it to, but I have found that if I am patient and consistent I eventually earn the influence I need to lead well.

What have you learned? What would you add to the list?

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  • Jan Owen July 2, 2008  

    I would echo the “Be yourself” – It took me a long time to accept that I just simply do not lead like my male co-workers It also took me a long while to see that I don’t necessarily lead like other worship leaders either. I’m 42 and now learning to be myself and lead from the gifts and strengths God gave ME. About time, huh?

    I think – along the same vein – that if you are in ministry you may simply have to (on some days) rest in the fact that God has called you and lead and serve. You can’t wait for others to approve of your being in leadership. I let this derail me for a long time. Do what God has called you to do and be obedient. Some people will never, ever approve but don’t let that deter you.

    Remember that you have special things to offer as a uniquely created and called individual!

    Oh, and I LOVE sports so I’m the one setting up the NCAA Brackets, etc. This year I almost one but we let spouses in on the fun too and my husband beat me in OT! 🙂

    I do refuse, however, to talk about intestinal issues. That’s where I draw the line.

  • Jan Owen July 2, 2008  

    excuse my spelling – obviously it should be that “this year I almost WON”

  • juliepersinger July 2, 2008  

    Thanks for sharing this, Jenni. I’m not “in leadership,” but I think they are valuable lessons for any woman.

  • natalie July 2, 2008  

    How refreshing! What a great post! These things have been on my mind lately as well.
    1) Be yourself. – So so true…

    2) Don’t try to be ‘one of the boys’. – Oh yes they can tell, it’s painfully obvious when I’m guilty of this.

    3) Accept that leadership may be lonely and find your network of support OUTSIDE of the office. – Not only healthy for us as leaders but also for those who work with us! You absolutely must have YOUR OWN life outside of work!

    4) Understand that earning influence and respect as a leader takes time.- This has been one of my biggest challenges. I’ve always wanted instant rapport with peers and leadership, instant trust and confidence in my abilities. It takes the greatest amount of patience on my part to continually prove myself. But it pays off in the end.

    Thanks again for the great post!

  • bahava July 3, 2008  

    I agree these are valuable lessons and something I’ve definitely been thinking about lately. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Pete Wilson July 3, 2008  

    It’s funny Jenni but you could almost take this exact list and do a post on men and leadership. Except of course, we would need to change #2 to “don’t try to be one of the girls”!

    Great post. You’re doing a fantastic job at encouraging women in leadership.

  • Awww….Jenni, number 3 made me sad…. it’s a “dog eat dog world” out there for us women… 🙂 I sure do like your perspective on it though…taking it ALL to heart!! I LOVE YOUR LEADERSHIP!!! You da woman!! Large and in charge!! Not really large like THAT… you know what I mean!!

  • Eve Annunziato July 3, 2008  

    Jenni, very well put – these words are wise and helpful. I appreciate your passion and heart to help us succeed in leadership. You’re doing such a great job encouraging us! THANKS!

    I have learned we need to embrace our differences. There was a time when I thought I had to lead “like a man!” The truth – some women do indeed lead differently than some men, and that’s great. Diversity is wonderfully healthy and bringing a different set of leadership skills to the board room is empowering for any team.

  • Heidi July 3, 2008  

    Great list and post.. Hmm what would I add is your question…

    1. Find God’s Glory in the little mundane things- sometimes we “feel” that we are not recognized for what we do.

    2. Don’t try to be the Saviour- you CAN’T heal, fix, or grasp onto everything.

    3. Stay fresh and REFRESHED

    4: Gender is not on God’s priority list – He tell us ALL to become and Make disciples, it’s not about gender.

  • Jenni Catron July 3, 2008  

    @Jan – great point about the approval thing… that is SO difficult to learn.

    @Julie – leadership is influence and you have more influence than you know

    @Natalie & @bahava – so glad you guys can relate and I’m not the only one

    @Pete – you’re right, so much of this applies to all leaders; I’m just glad to hear the men don’t have it all together either 🙂

    @OCD-ism – I’ll pay you later 🙂

    @Eve – I so agree… embrace and celebrate our differences

    @Heidi – great additions to the list; I especially love “gender is not on God’s priority list”… so, so true

  • loridknerr July 3, 2008  

    I love all of this!! Great reminders and there are definitely some things that I’m still learning.

    Here are a couple of traits that I’ve gained through having worked in a mostly male office. Admit when you have made a mistake or when you don’t know the answer. You will be respected for not trying to “fake it”. Also, be candid when you have a solution or an answer to a problem that no one else has. (I have been guilty of just sitting back and letting everyone else figure things out when I had a great solution)

    You are so blessed with one-of-a-kind leadership skills. We are all very blessed to be able to work with and learn from you!

  • Jenn July 3, 2008  

    This is a great reminder for me. I think Be Yourself is key in any leadership. Sometimes I think we strive to be perfect and never admit our weaknesses or failures. Yes, we want to operate in our strengths but we can not do it all. I think as women in leadership it is a little harder to admit those weaknesses because we already feel like it takes so much to get respect. Thanks for a great list!

  • Jan Owen July 3, 2008  

    this question has made me think all day long…..thanks for asking.

  • onemorecup July 3, 2008  

    Again a lovely and meaningful post; it is interesting how leadership is very much like WYSIWYG and I’d like to add, it should be.

    So many well-intentioned people running and running just about on a treadmill never really managing to get anything done—and, unfortunately they don’t.

    If I may, I’d like to contribute two notions that for me are by far the most meaningful:

    (1) Being an effective leader means consistency! We can’t be one way today and another way tomorrow; in rules, behavior, and especially quality be consistent.

    (2) The old expression: “Nobody likes a leader;” to a degree there is some merit insofar as most people do not like to be accountable for task management and completion. However, the leader must see to it that the tasks get done…which leads me to one more…

    (3) Delegate. Perhaps enough said, but if we don’t delegate to others we are essentially telling them “I don’t trust you…you’re not able…etc.”

    Always remember that there is a huge difference between leadership and management. CHEERS!


  • Tommy Sircy July 5, 2008  

    Great post, Jenni.

    It’s funny, I learned a lot of what you are sharing from thee side of the equation. I was the only guy in a department led by a very capable young lady. I remember thinking when she got the job, I going to be working for a girl. lol

    I learned more during that stint, than I’ve ever learned in the workplace. One, because I learned to look past my male ego. Secondly, I saw she was willing not only to share but listen, most men won’t do that. We have a tendency to “bull” ahead.

    I’d been in the industry we are in since she was in grade school but it never bothered her to come to me and glean information, she didn’t have. That is not weakness, it is leadership. Men normally don’t do that, I guess for the same reason we don’t ask directions.

    Even though we are in different departments now, we still feed off each others ideas and advice. That is not just a leader but a team member.

    I hope that gives a little glimpse from the other side.

  • kimmartinezstayingfocused July 16, 2008  

    I’ve also been learning about reinventing yourself. I’m not sure if this will come out right, but I was really confident and knew who I was, then went through a time of transition. (I think God calls this pruning.)

    I’ve found that the respect that I’d earned before has to be re-earned in the new situation (even though it was the rest of the staff who transitioned), and that was a surprise to me.

    I always thought that you grow up and become. But becoming is a continual process. So is leadership and being a person who is worth following. Earning your stripes isn’t something you do once. “Finding your voice” isn’t something you do once. I’m finding that God wants to bring out different sides to my personality at different times in my life. Ha! I’m only 42! Wonder what comes next?