One of the greatest aids for leaders to develop in their craft of leadership is to have a mentor. Even though Moses was a pastor and Joshua was a warrior, the mentoring relationship between them bore great fruit; Joshua was more powerful as a leader because of the time he and Moses had spent together. Clearly there was an aspect of See/Do because Moses lifted his staff over the Red Sea and it parted, and then Joshua lifted his javelin over the battle and they won. Joshua had imbibed methods along with principles, as many of us do when we appreciate and admire those we look up to and who take the time to work with us.
But finding a mentor is not always so easy. For women it’s even harder. Previous generations of women were mostly denied access to the great portals of power, so female mentors to this rising generation are generally much fewer. The large percentage of leadership mentors are men, and in Christian climates, cross-gender mentoring is often frowned upon or outright denied. Thus, we have a generation of women who are missing out on the opportunity to learn up close and personal from strong and empowering leaders.
When potential for leadership is seen in a guy, surrounding leaders tend to take him under their wing from an early age in order to develop him. In contrast, women with leadership potential are sometimes told they’re bossy, out of order or unladylike and, instead of being helped to refine their gift and develop good leadership habits, they are told to shut up and sit down. As a consequence, many of the finer points of leading people are learned by trial and error, and sometimes the fallout along the way is enough to knock them from their call altogether.
We have to develop mentoring streams for women, both serving and emerging leaders, and some of those mentors will have to be men. We can’t just presume that if women are good enough they’ll make it, nor can we send them to Bible College and hope they’ll find their own way from there. To reverse the trend of the ages requires determination, not only from women but also from men in positions of influence.
A major problem contributing to the dearth of female mentors is that lots of women advocate leadership equality for women but when personally confronted about their own leadership call, they withdraw into denial. Many incredibly capable women suffer from a fear of being seen to be putting themselves forward, fear of failure, undervaluing their gifts and abilities, and suffering from imposter syndrome; the fear that they don’t really deserve the credit they’ve received.
All of these work together to neutralise effectiveness and prevent them from applying for positions that they are more than able to handle. According to statistics, the reason there are so few women on boards, even those that deal with children, is that women don’t apply because they feel they don’t have the qualifications and even when approached, most refuse for the same reason. Following on from this they then don’t mentor others because of low self-esteem, thus denying emerging leaders the opportunities to grow, and by this omission, reinforcing systemic inequality.
For the system to change, it’s vital that women intentionally seek other women and girls for the purpose of helping them develop as leaders. If you’re not sure who or how, try inviting a whole bunch of potential mentees to your home for a six week study or discussion. In the process you will find some with whom you have the right chemistry, and who are open for more. Don’t underestimate chemistry. You can’t make someone be your mentee; they have to want that relationship. Don’t take it personally if they don’t. Move on and find someone who does want to learn from you.
In regard to your own development, consider requesting some time with leaders you respect who are further along in their ministries or careers. When you meet, briefly and clearly explain your current situation, your hopes for your future, and ask them if they would consider entering into a mentoring relationship with you. Be aware your would-be mentor has their own issues such as time constraints that would prevent them; if it’s a cross-gender relationship they may feel awkward, or there may be other reasons why they can’t. Don’t take one NO as your final answer. Look for other possibilities. Ask God to provide the right mentor and see what He does.
If such a thing is not possible for you, consider paying a mentoring coach. We pay gym trainers to help us develop our physical fitness, and counselors to help us work through our emotional issues, and the same is true when we need coaching in the work we are called to, whether it be in technology, education, or leadership. Increasingly the need for leadership development mentoring is being fulfilled by people such as myself and others who see the excellent leadership of women as one of the vital necessities of 21st century Church.
It is vital that we don’t use our own fear of failure as a reason not to address this crucial issue. If you have any level of maturity as a Christian you have something of value to help develop others; if you are in a level of leadership, even more so. There are women out there who need you, and you need someone who has the excellence of your leadership on their heart too. Don’t hold back. Have a big picture mentality. The Church needs good leaders and some of those are in your sphere.
Next issue I will be addressing the value of peer mentoring as a genuine aid to growth and development as a leader.
Bev Murrill has been a Senior Pastor for over 35 years both in her native Australia and in the UK. She has a Master’s Degree in Global Leadership and her twin passions are leadership and women. When the two are combined, she is in a happy place. A wife of 45 years, a mum of 4 and grandmother of 10, she speaks internationally to conferences and churches. Her two books Speak Life and Shut the Hell Up, and Catalysts: You Can Be God’s Agent For Change are available from Amazon, Christian bookshops or from her website. www.bevmurrill.com