You go home and flop on the couch, feeling the tension that has built in your body. Another day of frustration and indignity, fighting to be heard and recognized, all while wondering why you have to work so hard to be taken seriously.
Do you wish others would accept you and respect you in your leadership role? Do you frequently feel dismissed, ignored, or overlooked? How many times have you felt the people around you—fellow leaders and those you’re leading—don’t really take you seriously?
It’s possible you are trying to lead in a hostile environment, among people who will not respect a woman leader, or who simply won’t cooperate with your leadership style.
It’s also possible that you’re at least part of the problem. Maybe you’re the one who’s not really convinced you should be taken seriously. And maybe it shows.
Do you really believe you belong in leadership? Do you believe you have received gifts from the Holy Spirit, not for your own sake but for the sake of the body of Christ who needs what you have to offer? If you aren’t convinced you belong in your leadership position, you’ll make believers of few others.
When it comes to taking your leadership seriously, you are the most important person you need to convince. Leadership requires confidence, and sometimes it’s helpful to project a sense of confidence that you don’t feel. But it’s so much more effective to develop a genuine confidence, an internal assurance that fuels an outward expression of certainty that you don’t need to fake.
If you don’t have this kind of confidence in your leadership role, consider how your own thoughts and behaviors serve to undermine your own sense of calling. You also may find one of the following destructive patterns in your life.
Lying to Yourself
Also called negative self-talk, this is a big one. You will never believe you’re a legitimate leader if you constantly tell yourself you aren’t. Self-criticism can be based in truth—but it’s never the whole truth about you. Messages of self-condemnation are never true (Romans 8:1), so question the messages that echo in your own head. You would never say these thoughts to someone you love, and they are rarely, if ever, compatible with what you know to be true about God’s love for you and the way he sees and values you, his precious daughter. Work to reject these lies and replace them with truth.
You might do this in a few ways: you may behave in a way that makes you seem younger than you are or diminshes your physical presence in a room. You could also adopt a childlike speaking voice or feign ignorance on a topic. But these actions sit contrary to what we know to be true: Your presence is not an offense to humanity—it’s a gift meant to be shared. Your words are valuable, and so are your life experiences. Stand tall, speak up, and learn to love the way people respond when you walk into a room.
Asking for Permission
Of course there are times when it’s important to ask for permission, but do you ask when you don’t really need to? This can include making ministry decisions and implementing programs in a spirit of timidity and fear. As Paul told Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). This doesn’t mean you should run over other people or ignore the effects of your actions, but it does mean you can move forward in power, love, and self-discipline, pursuing your plans without waiting for approval or empowerment except when explicitly necessary. You already have been given power—use it well.
Apologizing for Speaking
Sometimes apologies are in order. When you hurt or offend someone, by all means apologize. But please don’t apologize for having a feeling, expressing a thought, or sharing your opinion. “I’m sorry, but…” could be a filler, or it could be an expression of the way you really feel: that your words should be dismissed before you’ve even said them. Your opinions matter as much as anyone else’s, and when they are humbly delivered and graciously held, they warrant no apology.
Confusing Thoughts and Feelings
Many of us use “I feel” language when we mean “I think.” This may seem like a small thing, but some people find it much easier to dismiss another person’s gut feeling—they may not be so quick to dismiss a well-formed thought. So if you have thoughts to share, speak of them as thoughts, and label your feelings as feelings. Be honest when you’re expressing an emotion or relying on intuition, and you will command more respect as a clear-headed person who knows the difference between thoughts and feelings and can take unashamed ownership of both.
If you are gifted and called to lead, it’s time to step into that role with confidence in the power and legitimacy of the King who sent you. It’s time to stop asking others to believe for you. When you stand in the strength of your own conviction, you may not win all hearts, but you just might find that self-respect attracts respect.
Amy Simpson is an inner strength coach, a popular speaker, and the award-winning author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission and Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry (both InterVarsity Press). You can find her at AmySimpsonOnline.com, on Facebook, on LinkedIn, and on Twitter @aresimpson.