5 Challenges Women Leaders Face

credit: British Library via Flickr

credit: British Library via Flickr

I recently discussed 5 reasons women make great leaders. Thank you for your kind words about that post. I felt like it inadequately expressed the true brilliance of the women around me, but apparently you get the drift. You are awesome — keep it up.

I think we all know it isn’t roses and sunshine leading in work and ministry. We are doing great, but there are real obstacles we face regularly. This list is not meant to be discouraging at all. I hope you’ll say, “OK! So it’s not just me! We all face this!” And maybe the men around us can take it as an opportunity to help out. Definitely we can all encourage one another as we face these stumbling blocks in our leadership.

5 Challenges Women Leaders Face

1. We are not taken seriously.

Hey, it is tough out there! Don’t I know it!

One of my first leadership opportunities was leading the instrumental music ministry in a mid-sized church. The ministry was not at all accustomed to female leadership in a mixed-gender adult setting. Before I had even figured out who was in my orchestra, several had left the church over me!

I’ve been publicly criticized for my clothing styles, working too long and not long enough, disciplining my children too strictly and not strictly enough, being too forceful and not forceful enough. Yes, all opposites. The opposites always happen back-to-back, too, and usually come from the same individual. Take away: There is no pleasing people!

I kid you not, my friends in leadership who are men do not face this same pressure. No one cares what they wear, how much time they spend on housework, or what their children are doing. Their success rises and falls on job performance alone.

We need to quit expecting that same consideration.

Instead, let’s use our multi-tasking super-powers to our advantage. Show up and show off. Why not bring a homemade breakfast casserole to that early meeting and before knocking off their socks with the presentation? Why not put on some mascara and give the children a science video to watch during the virtual meeting?

And why not keep the business meetings businesslike and show up prepared and creative?

We know we aren’t super mom. We are super at a lot of things, though!

So why not turn a deaf ear to the personal criticism and let the work speak for itself. The best defense is great results.

2. We are filled with fear and self-doubt.

When we picked up the mantle of leadership, ladies, we decided to become pioneers. We not only challenge the status quo, we became the first: first director,  first woman boss, first female business owner, or first expert in our field wearing lipstick around. And the more lonely the road, the more fearsome the journey.

The self-criticism, self-doubt, and self-condemnation we feel — I know it! I feel it, too! — is far worse than the most scathing criticism we face. There is nothing more paralyzing than the face in the mirror.

Rather than catalog our failures (yes, we make mistakes along with the best of them!), we need to begin celebrating our wins. Catalog those milestones. Share those success stories. Journal the journey.

We are accomplishing so much — let’s enjoy it!

3. Our mistakes seem magnified.

Sometimes the critics really do relish in our stumbles. I remember one church member who would clean the auditorium while I was practicing the piano and point out my mistakes to me. While I was practicing or sight-reading new music. It was completely unhelpful and often rattled me when the piece would come up for service later, even if I could play it in my sleep by that time.

It seems like the quick temper, budget error, tardiness, or sick day that is excused for our male associates becomes cause for an inquisition for us. Grace and mercy run rather thin at the top.

I agree: it isn’t fair.

It is not easy to sit quietly with a pleasant face while being publicly ridiculed. It is not fun to read the internet insults and not respond. It is not pleasant to sit alone at the church social or business mixer. And it is not easy to be gracious when our family members are brought into it.

But it is an opportunity. Weekly — daily even — we have a chance to demonstrate humility, meekness, forgiveness, and a teachable spirit. When we don’t excuse ourselves, answer in kind, or engage in the battle of words and wits, we make a lasting impression.

If talking is our super power, our inner, quiet spirit is our shield.

It takes faith to wait on the Lord for forgiveness and restitution.

4. Juggling care-giving responsibilities

This is my Achilles’s heel. While I’m listening to my young son read aloud to me, I am preoccupied with a problem from work. When it is work time, I’m fretting about my children’s academics. Then there’s the rush to cook a decent meal while texting a business associate, negotiating on the phone while running errands, and delegating household chores while answering emails.

Do you ever stop in the middle of it all and ask yourself, “Wait a minute! What am I supposed to be doing here?!”

It is easy to look at successful women in the business world and say, “I don’t want to do it that way” or “her choices are not for me.”

It is hard to find the balance that is right for me, my family, my employer, and my relationship with God.

So if you thought I was going to give you the answer to that conundrum, you are out of luck. Tell me when you find it.

I think it is important, though, that we — US! the ones who have taken this upon ourselves — that we women recognize the weight of responsibility we have taken on ourselves. All of it.

We asked for this job. We asked to be wives, mothers, business leaders, ministry leaders, and community influencers. By accepting the responsibility and owning our many hats, we take the first step toward doing what is right each moment.

5. Lack of role models

I feel this keenly, do you? I wish I could point to a dozen women who have successfully balanced marriage, child rearing, career, homeschool, and ministry. I’m on the lookout, though!
In the meantime, I do think it is helpful for us to network amongst ourselves, to encourage each other in the lessons and mistakes we are experiencing in real time.

And may we be the role models the next generation of women leaders need. Because the challenges facing women leaders are real, but the rewards are so worth it all.

Keep it up! I believe in you!

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2 Responses to 5 Challenges Women Leaders Face

  1. realifemom says:

    This is so good! Great encouragement.

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