In one of my recent Lead with Love cohorts, I asked a small group of female ministry leaders to spend 90 seconds writing down as many of their strengths and talents as possible. Then I asked each woman to share five of her strengths with the group. After the exercise, each woman reflected on any hesitation they had when sharing, whether they censored or excluded certain strengths from the group, or if they were tempted to give a caveat or explanation along with the strengths they vocalized.
The interesting thing to note is that each and every woman felt some degree of awkwardness or discomfort expressing her strengths. Now, imagine if I had done that same exercise with a room full of men in leadership. I could be off here, but I doubt that they would have the same hesitations openly expressing their strengths.
If women have been created by God, redeemed by Jesus and called by grace, then what stops us from fully operating in our God-given gifting and strengths?
Today, I want to share 5 common obstacles that keep us from leveraging our unique strengths, and how we can push past them. (Certainly, men can and do face these challenges as well, but in today’s blog, I am focusing on these as they relate to women. So for the men reading, I pray this is helpful to you as well, or that you are able to forward this to a woman in your world that you love and believe in.)
1. You don’t want to come across a certain way.
As a leader it’s important to be aware of how you relate to others, and to grow in your communication skills. But there is a difference between reading a room and speaking someone’s language, and limiting your potential to please or accommodate others.
For example, perhaps, you are a great strategizer. You see problems and know how to solve them. You know how to put a good plan together. And then you sit in a conference room full of your colleagues and/or your bosses, and what happens? The loudest voice wins. Instead of speaking up to improve an idea or offer a different solution, you remain silent because you don’t want to come across as disagreeable or too assertive. Your strength stays hidden and unleveraged.
I’ve been there. It takes courage in some settings to show up and give your best– especially when that may be perceived as intimidating or aggressive or behaviors that might in some way rock the boat. But part of bringing your best is operating in your fullest. Don’t dumb down what you’ve got just to avoid some conflict or push back.
2. We compare our gifts and strengths to another.
Maybe, you’ve got a great pastor or pastor’s wife in your life that is such a godly example to you. You aren’t anything like her though when it comes to personality and gifting. She’s THE example you have for what a godly mama in the faith looks like, and so you try to conform your gifts to mimic hers. Or you struggle to see how you could emulate her faith without trying to imitate her gifting.
Or maybe your boss communicates and leads very directly and commander-like. Your style is more collaborative in nature. So even though you’ve been given authority and autonomy by your boss to lead, you feel like you can’t manage your team in a way uniquely you, that leverages your strengths.
One of the greatest realizations I had in my life is that I have my own race to run. Faithfulness for me will look different than it does on someone else. And I will always lead best when I choose to be me, and work with what God has given me.
3. We are waiting for the right role or the right time.
I often see young leaders wait for the right job or team or responsibilities to cater to their strengths, instead of finding ways to leverage them in the imperfect ‘now’.
In my first year of full time ministry, back in the day when I was only 19 years old, I worked as an assistant to an associate pastor at my local church. I had absolutely no admin skills when I took the job. I didn’t even know how to use outlook or excel at the time! But I was naturally gifted at recruiting people and building teams. So that’s what I did. I built a volunteer team of around 7 administratively gifted individuals who came into the church office throughout the week to handle admin for the department. They loved it, and it freed up my time to do the things I loved doing like developing curriculum and training. My boss realized and called out some of the leadership gifting he saw in me and over time I was promoted to other areas of leadership within the church.
If you are waiting for the right opportunity to leverage your talents before you develop them, you will be waiting a long time! Instead, think outside the box to get the job done using your strengths and your talent.
4. We get too comfortable.
Let’s face it. We are all prone to settle for what is comfortable. We stop strengthening our strengths because we know we can get by with good enough. I see this often when coaching communicators. They have enough natural gifting and just enough experience to go on auto-pilot. They stop learning new skills or getting feedback or putting in more prep time. They let good become the enemy to great.
We can’t give 100% to everything all the time. There are some things that we just need to maintain. But not everything. If we want to grow, then we need to push ourselves in the areas of our strengths. Figure out what you can do to best develop your strengths, and put in the extra time and effort.
5. We don’t want to fail.
Our past disappointments and our worries about the future keep us from raising our hand, dreaming new dreams, setting big goals.
There are so many talented godly people who end up playing the role of the servant entrusted with one talent who hides it. They have the business plan or the ministry idea or the church plant or the outreach in their hearts… and they do nothing with it.
But we don’t see that story in Jesus and His disciples. They were given a great commission and with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, they did something with it. They went. They planted churches. They shepherded people. They cared for the widows and the orphans and the poor. They sent missionaries and lived as sent ones. They struggled and they failed and they kept at it. They saw the full spectrum of highs and lows, from miracles and signs and wonders to church division, persecution and death. They didn’t stop though, and thank God they didn’t.
You will fail. A lot. But you will also be found faithful. You will win souls. You will meet needs. You will impact generations. You will play a beautiful role in God’s redemptive work.
Don’t let the fear of not hitting the goal or the business not working out or the church not growing as quickly as you’d like, keep you from saying ‘yes’ and putting your hands to the things God has called you to. Don’t let the ‘failures’ along the way tell you an untrue story about God’s ability to do the impossible in your life.