Saturday, July 17, 2010

What Women (and Men) Need as Leaders

I picked up a copy of the July/August issue of The Atlantic magazine at Laguardia Airport in New York on Thursday morning, before flying back to Columbus. It's the magazine's annual "Ideas Issue" and the featured idea was presented by Hanna Rosin in an interesting article called The End of Men: How Women Are Taking Control---of Everything.

Read it if you get the chance. There's a lot of good stuff, both in terms of summarizing ongoing trends and projecting what they all might mean for men and women in coming years. Here, I want to briefly mention one of Rosin's observations. She says:
A new kind of alpha female has appeared...the more women dominate, the more they the dominant sex...
Back in the 1970s, I excitedly looked forward to the day when women got the upper hand in society. I reasoned that with women as CEOs, mayors, governors, police chiefs, factory supervisors, college presidents, and such, the institutions they led, and the country at large, would experience seismic (and compelling) shifts. Female leaders, I thought, would bring more collaborative, even nurturing styles of leadership to their work, making institutions more humane and nurturing and because there would be less turf-battling, more productive.

In some cases, as Rosin points out between the lines in her article, those outcomes have evidenced themselves as more women lead more institutions.

But increasingly, as females have become socialized to gender equality and women have become leaders, supervisors, managers, and such, many women seem to have adopted the very harsh and dominating behaviors once associated with men.

In my twenty-six years as a pastor, a role which I have always felt called for collaboration, the harshest criticism I've received has come from women urging me to be more "assertive" as a leader, by which I've usually felt they meant I should not worry about giving people their say, but just do what I wanted to do. "Leaders," I've had to explain, "aren't dictators." There are always some women who, even more than men, seem disappointed to hear me say that.

In my college days, excited by the rise of the modern feminist movement, I would hardly have imagined such a scenario. But then I wasn't a Christian back then either. My atheism and faith in human nature militated against realism about human beings, be they women or men.

As a Christian, I came to see certain important realities, though.

First: There is no fundamental difference between men and women. The domination of one gender over another by whatever means, isn't God-given, but acculturated, something we're taught. Genesis says of the creation of humanity and of the genders:
Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness...So God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them...(Genesis 1:26-27)
Male and female both were created in God's image, neither one reflecting that image less than the other. Men and women are equal then.

Second: Both men and women are prone to the same faults. Exhibit one of this can be seen in a passage of Scripture I cited in my sermon last Sunday, the story of how Adam and Eve abandoned defending one other when they disobeyed God by eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The condition of sin means that, no matter our gender, we can engage in sin. We can be alpha males or alpha females. We each can be devastatingly hurtful to others, ourselves, and to God.

I'm glad to be living in an era in which women are making dramatic--and increasingly unquestioned--strides toward true equality. But Rosin's article suggests what the Bible, in many and various ways, taught long ago: It's foolish to trust that the domination of either women or men will bring enlightened human leadership.

That can only come from people--female or male--whose knees are bent and hearts are turned to God. "The fear of God is the beginning of knowledge," King Solomon wrote under God's guidance (Proverbs 1:7). Solomon forgot that truth and so, in spite of his acquisition of power, influence, wealth, and wives, left a house of cards for a kingdom on his death. May we all--male, female, leader, follower--not repeat his mistake, instead putting God first in our priorities. When we do that, we won't be alpha-, beta-, or anything- people. We'll simply be people leading useful lives, affirming the equal usefulness of others' lives.

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