I had just turned 30 years old when I started Doulos Discovery School, an international expeditionary learning Christian school in the mountains of the Dominican Republic. We had been living in the DR and serving students for seven years and I had a clear picture in my mind of the kind of school our community needed, but I was intimidated by the magnitude of the leadership needed to launch, support, and lead this effort.
Throughout our first year, I would hear the affirming word of the Lord that He was with me: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
Likewise, I would often hear my inner critic say: “What are you thinking? Who do you think you are starting a school?”
It was like the Native American parable of the battle between the two wolves. The one that wins is the one you feed. If it wasn’t for the belief and encouragement of my husband and parents, I would have quit before I even began.
In February 2020, ACSI published a report on Christian school leadership. It stated that 83% of teachers in Christian schools are female, but at the leadership level, this ratio changes. Of current heads of school, 56% are male, and 44% female. At the next layer of administration (e.g., principals, assistant heads, directors), this ratio is reversed; 57% of next-tier administrators are female, whereas 43% are male (at the 50% percentile).
While I am delighted that women are more represented in our leadership roles within Christian schools, I also realize we still have work to do! (Look at the alarmingly low percentage of women serving in leadership in our Christian school organizations!)
I’ve often wondered about this dichotomy within our Christian schools. If so many of our Christian school teachers are female, why don’t we see this same ratio at the leadership level?
What keeps women from pursuing and stepping into leadership?
I believe at the heart of the matter is what we believe about ourselves as women. More than any other voice around us, the voice inside our own head is often the loudest and most powerful. So, what is it that women commonly believe about our own leadership?
The following are some examples of negative self-talk that we listen to:
- I don’t have enough experience.
- I won’t be able to handle the added pressure/responsibility.
- I’m too young.
- I work in a male dominated environment—they wouldn’t pick me.
- Staff won’t respect me or view me as their leader.
- A woman has never served in this position before.
- There are other staff who would be a better fit (comparing myself with other leaders).
- I don’t have the strength/skills to lead.
- How can I do this and care for my family?
How do we combat this negativity? With a sober and humble view of ourselves. C.S. Lewis said that, “Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, it is thinking of ourselves less.”
Our best leaders are those who serve out of a sense of responsibility, not reward. (Read The Motive for a deeper explanation.)
Great leaders serve others.
So take a step back and observe yourself. In what ways are you already serving and leading? Do you already step in to support staff or new projects? How do you make your class/school/community better without being asked?
The first step in combating negative self-talk is believing that I am a leader. Not a female leader, or a young leader, or a (fill in the blank) leader. I am a leader. And because I am a leader, I lead.
Reflect: Who is God making you into? The more I become like Jesus, the more I will develop into the unique person I was designed to be. “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Ephesians 4:13).
Second, understand who you are as leader: your strengths, your communication style, and your management style. Harvard Business Review verifies that women score higher in leadership skills than men and that women steadily grow in their leadership confidence and effectiveness. Gallup’s StrengthsFinders is a practical first step in analyzing your strengths as a leader.
Third, listen to what you say about yourself. What is your first response when asked to lean in to leadership? And how is that affecting your leadership growth?
Let’s grow in awareness of which voice we are listening to today and which one we give more volume to: our inner critic or the Holy Spirit?
Let’s believe that leadership is offering ourselves as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is my spiritual worship” (Romans 12:2). When I can use my leadership as an act of worship, as living out the gifts God has given me, then I am transformed in the process and His Kingdom is expanded around me.