Have you ever thought, “Why am I in this room?” Feeling out of place in leadership can make you want to run out the door! I’ve been in those rooms, seated at those tables, awkwardly tallying up the reasons I shouldn’t be there and thinking, “There are people older, wiser, more educated, more experienced, and more… MALE, than me!”
In my corporate career, and then in more than 20 years of ministry experience, I have often been the only woman at the table. At times, wearing my leadership hat wasn’t just uncomfortable for me, but it was often even more uncomfortable for the people around me.
There’s a clever expression that goes something like, “If you aren’t invited to the table, go build your own table!” I read it the first time and cheered on the inside! Then I thought, “Nope, lead yourself until they pull up a chair for you!” As Proverbs 18 says, your gift will make room for you!
I could go across the room and build a table and invite all the people who celebrate me, cheer me on, and coddle me, or I can keep showing up and growing up until I outlast my critics and win the respect of my co-workers. I have grown more by being seated at awkward tables than I ever have by being seated at comfortable ones!
The biggest hurdle I’ve had to overcome in my leadership journey isn’t the hurdle of womanhood, it’s the hurdle of myself. In secular and in Christian workplaces, I’ve sometimes experienced the “glass ceiling” associated with my gender.
One example is when I showed up to a pastors’ roundtable with my husband, not knowing there would be no other females there, and a well-meaning pastor said, “I’m so sorry my wife didn’t come so you could’ve gone shopping together!” I politely said, “My husband is the shopper. I’m here to talk strategy!” So, I get it!
But before we cry “glass ceiling”, let’s rule out a few of the self-constructed ceilings that limit our leadership, like:
Women are complex and multi-faceted. One of the unique assets we bring to organizations is our ability to add warmth and sensitivity to environments, having insight and intuition that would be missing without our involvement. But diamond-like complexity is not to be confused with being “complicated”.
Women don’t have a complete monopoly on complicated behavior, but I have seen many sabotage their opportunities by causing others to have to “walk on eggshells,” or having meltdowns at the table. Even in women-empowering organizations where men value the female perspective, the discomfort of emotional breakdowns can keep anyone out of places where they are called to make a difference.
Insecurity manifests in different ways. For some who feel threatened, it causes them to become position-driven and selfishly ambitious. For others, it causes them to shrink back, thinking their voice isn’t needed.
They are like 10 of the 12 spies in Numbers 13 who reported that there were giants in the land and that, “We look like grasshoppers in their eyes and also in our own.” Two spies, Joshua and Caleb, explored the same land but had a different view. Their security was in their ability to take the land, because of their trust in the God who had promised the land. “We are well able to take the land!”
As Christian women, our security is ultimately based on realizing who we are in Christ Jesus. In the first four chapters of Ephesians starting with, “ For he chose us in him before the creation of the world…” Paul is building us up in our identity in Christ. Chapters 5-6 of Ephesians address our relationships – how to relate to those we live and work with. We must know who we are in Christ and walk confidently in our vertical relationship with Him so that our horizontal relationships can be the best they can be.
Anyone can lead when things are good, but “anti-gravity leaders” rise in spite of the gravity of circumstances. And they pull others up too!
Every great leader, whether she is leading at home or at work, has had to put aside her own doubts or fears and put her game face on to lead herself and others to the winning side. As leaders, we give up the right to completely fall apart (or vent on social media) when things aren’t going our way!
As women, we know how to stand for the greatness of others. We often do that in raising kids or in building organizations. God Himself put that attribute in us, because He stands for our greatness even when we fight for our limitations! Let’s shatter every ceiling and Woman Up to His calling!
Lori Champion is the author of Woman Up: Discovering Your God-Given Voice in Leadership, Relationships, and Calling. She and her husband, Joe, co-founded Celebration Church in Austin, TX in 2000. Their church has now expanded to three continents, and Lori actively co-leads and strategizes to see more people reached with the gospel. In 2012, she launched Radiant Conference to inspire and activate women to walk in wholeness and purpose. She is a mom of three amazing sons, and now a wonderful daughter-in-law.