i’ll blog more later, but this came out of our staff email–one women’s reflection on the tri-ennial InterVarsity Women’s Staff Conference. I had a really good conversation with Andy on the way back from CFW regarding an incident that happened that week, which then led to a broader discussion on power dynamics, gender dynamics, and ethnicity. I mentioned this article to him, and I thought I’d post it here so I don’t ever forget it. It makes me sad to think that I might not even have read this if my area director hadn’t specifically called it to my attention, and I’m sure many other people (men and women alike) didn’t even think to click on the link in our email…
I’d post the link, but it’s staff password protected.
by Erina Kim
This past weekend, I spent time in Denver, Colorado, for an InterVarsity Women’s Conference, where we talked about being authentic leaders. Our speaker, MaryKate Morse, focused on our own formation, rather than learning lots of content. Through our sessions, the practice of spiritual disciplines, and the space to be present in spiritual formation groups, God did a lot to reveal how I have been leading and what it looks like to be a truly authentic woman leader.
One thing that I realized was that in my experience on staff, I have felt a lot of pressure to be a certain type of leader. In my work context, I have seen a specific model of leadership that has been elevated and which has established dominant values about what is and what is not praised. And in many ways, this form of leadership has been "male."
The type of leadership I have seen valued is one that focuses on strategy, thinking, planning, and vision. It’s a leadership that emphasizes action and efficiency and outcomes. It’s about what you know and see as a leader and how those abilities shape what you do and accomplish. It’s about being critical and innovative. It’s about claiming and using your power to influence others. It’s very much a cerebral leadership.
While these things have their place (and aren’t exclusively "male") I do think the Lord has offered me a wider picture of leadership that goes beyond just these things. MaryKate talked about a leadership that is also physical, an embodied leadership, rather than just a cerebral one. This type of leadership is more about who you are than what you do. It’s about relationship and not just activity. It’s about changing, rather than maintaining. It’s about being in Christ, rather than knowing about Christ. It’s about sharing your power, rather than just asserting it.
Somehow, in the midst of being offered this different picture of leadership, I began to realize why I so often feel tension, as an Asian-American and a woman in ministry. I realized how much I have based my worth and value as a minister on how much I know and what I accomplish, rather than on who I am. I’m always striving to do more, to see more, to strategize more, to plan more. I need to be smart. I need a plan. I need a vision. I need innovation. Since these are the things that made me feel valued and affirmed, I’ve constantly tried to be smarter and more strategic.
The problem is that in the midst of this striving, I have felt a lot of anxiety and insecurity as a leader. I am continually anxious about disappointing people, not being smart enough or strategic enough, or not living up to people’s perceptions of me. And my way of coping with this anxiety is an emotional distancing.
I cope by disengaging emotionally from people, maintaining a shell around me so that people only know what I think or what I say, but they don’t really often know how I feel or who I am. Sadly, by cutting myself off from people relationally, I have actually given up my own power and influence as a leader and have diminished my capacity to truly impact others.
Ultimately, this is not what leadership is about. Maturity in leadership comes in the willingness to take responsibility for our own emotional being and destiny. True impact comes when we lead out of who we are and not just what we know. As MaryKate said, the people we lead will not always remember what we said or even specific things we did, but they will remember how we made them feel.
Articulate words and strategic ideas may quickly be forgotten, but the presence you had in somebody’s life will not.
I hope that as I continue growing and developing as a leader, that I will become more and more authentic in my leadership. I pray that my own transformation and experience of Jesus would always be the driving force in my leadership. I pray that my leadership would be one that is embodied, and that my life would constantly be a living parable of what I am teaching and passing on to others.
I pray that this would be true for other women leaders out there, who often feel that offering themselves is not enough.
Erina Kim is in her 5th year of staff work in California and currently serves as the team leader for the multiethnic chapter at UC Berkeley. She loves seeing college students discover and embrace their unique, God-given identity in college. She also strongly values holistic discipleship and has a passion for challenging students to integrate their personal passions and intellectual pursuits with their faith life. In her spare time, she enjoys playing sports, leading worship, and writing poetry. Despite living in the Bay Area for almost 10 years now, she will forever be a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and Dodgers.
The next Women’s Conference will be in January 13-15, 2012 in Baltimore,Maryland.