Ed: As a leader who has served large churches and other organizations, what are the differences and similarities particular to women leaders at higher levels? Do you think there is a different kind of mindset that you take with you as a woman in high levels of leadership?
Jenni: One of the dynamics we as women have to navigate in those seats is that we are often the only one at the table. There’s a lot that could be racing through one’s mind being that isolated.
However, I’ve seen those instances as a privilege. I’ve always looked at those opportunities as an honor. Therefore, I’ve sought to seize those opportunities as a means by which I could create a great experience where men and women can work and serve together with the hopes of paving a healthier environment for more diversity in leadership.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It can be a lonely seat. Many time, I’ve asked men in leadership how it would make them feel if the script was reversed and they were the only male sitting at the table surrounded by women. Armed with that thought, I challenge them to be sensitive to women who might be in that position.
Nevertheless, women need to embrace the feeling of being an outlier. But in doing so, I’ve encouraged women leaders to find a circle of women who are in similar leadership positions who can be a safe community of support and encouragement.
To be honest, I believe that support mechanism is essential. Where I see women in leadership either pull back, step down, or burn out, is when they don’t have peers and mentors.
Ed: For men, how can we help more to empower and release women leaders?
Jenni: First, just that question alone is empowering and releasing! I’m really grateful that many men are addressing this issue and proactively seeking ways to empower and release women in leadership.
I think men can ask questions like, “How do we make this a place where women can bring their gifts and serve well?” And as men seek ways to create environments where women can bring their gifts to the table, they must keep in mind that one of the biggest challenges women—especially young women—leaders are facing (particularly in the church) is that we didn’t grow up with the same experiences as our male counterparts.
Thus, men would also need to think developmentally—not just giving women opportunities to lead now, but developing women for leadership. The more experiences that churches can create for young women to develop their leadership skills, the more these women will grow up and seize opportunities to lead rather than shrinking back into more supportive roles.
Ed: Talk a little about the issue of leadership burnout in general.
Jenni: My deepest passion is the health of leaders. If the leader isn’t healthy, the team isn’t healthy, and thus the organization isn’t healthy. Unhealthy organizations do not achieve their mission. So, unhealthy churches do not fulfill the mission that God has given them.
I think the tension for us as leaders is that we have to be intentional to make sure—especially in seasons of rapid growth—we are healthy.
In seasons of rapid growth, we can easily assume everything is healthy. Yet, weeds can grow just as rapidly in seasons of substantial growth. What leaders have to do as they seek to grow healthy organizations and churches is to maintain spiritual perspective.
In maintaining a spiritual perspective, leaders must look at their lives holistically. In reality, leaders lead with their whole being—heart, soul, mind, and strength. Sometimes, when we’re pursuing growth, we can diminish the spiritual side of leadership. We get busy focusing on what we are doing rather than focusing on who we are becoming.
My encouragement in leading organizations is to focus on the rhythms within your staff team: relationally connecting with the heart, spiritually investing in the soul, exercising the mind with strategy, and increasing the strength of the vision.
And it is important to develop, early on, the infrastructure where you’re able to gauge the spiritual temperature of your team.
Thanks to Jenni for being a guest lecture in my class!
For more information about Jenni, you can find her website here.
If you’d like more information about our degrees that include leadership training, email the School of Mission, Ministry, and Leadership at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, I have an online training course via Mission Group called Strategic Leadership for Mission and Ministry.