A key tenet of leadership studies at Gonzaga focuses on reflection and self-awareness around our experiences with leadership. Over the last couple of years, as I’ve dived deeper into my studies, three themes have emerged as being core to the way I lead.
My experience with leading teams has taught me that the Servant Leadership principle of “first among equals” results in a stronger, happier team. I believe empowering people and making them feel seen results in committed team members. Wambach (2019) modernizes the philosophy of “first among equals” by challenging people to “lead from the bench.” I believe anyone can lead from any position in an organization, family unit, structured or unstructured group. Servant Leadership asks us to check our egos, to stay humble, and be courageous.
Ferch, Spears, McFarland, and Carey (2015, pg. 147) discuss the model of servant-leader through the lens of the Bible in their interview with Ken Blanchard. He brings forth the idea of serving in three capacities: the servant, the steward, and the shepherd. Each of these roles brings a unique set of characteristics that align with the philosophy of servant-leadership. The servant role asks why we are leading, and if we are here to serve or be served. The steward demands that we be a good steward of the resources we’ve been given and is the philosophy that everything we have, including our skills, are on loan. Finally, the shepherd demands that we nurture and care for those in our charge. No one is left behind, and the role includes the duty to share the power of serving with our teams. Like Horsman (2019) writes, “Servant Leadership does not harbor tyranny, cruelty, coercion, oppression, lying, cheating, or swindling.” My goal is to let go of control and traditional ideas of authority to build truly transformational relationships and teams.
My leadership philosophy on inclusion can be summed up by this poem by Hafiz:
Discovering the Servant Leadership philosophy made my soul light up. It felt like watching my children smile for the first time, reading a book I did not want to end, or a snowy Christmas morning. Suddenly, I had a name for a style of leadership I had been lucky enough to experience without knowing its formal name. This discovery has guided me to seek out everything I can about Servant Leadership, to boldly explore the crossroads of the marketing profession and this philosophy, and to continue developing the self-awareness to model service to those I am fortunate enough to lead. Khahil Gibran wrote,
Over the last six years, there has been a true shift in how I see success. When I left the corporate world, I viewed success as the next promotion or pay bump, but when I came to higher education, I realized that all I wanted was to be in a position where I had the freedom to serve. That mindset shift has been a 180-degree change. I spent a lot of time aiming for the top of the ladder, thinking it would bring me peace or happiness. But, like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, I realize that joy was within me all along. I just needed to give it to away instead of hoarding it.
When I visited Gonzaga for the first time in the fall of 2019 a faculty member said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said that in some Native American tribes, they believe that there are at least eight solutions to every problem. I now use that approach in the way I look at “problems.” Where I used to believe that the one outcome that would lead to happiness was the next promotion, I now realize that there are at least seven additional scenarios that lead to the same outcome. The fun is discovering what those other paths can be.
In reflecting on my development, I realized that I had a significant mental model to break down regarding what a female leader should be. My nature is to nurture and build community. However, over time, I convinced myself that to do so would directly impact my ability to be a female leader. While I’ve always been a strong-willed, ambitious, take-no-prisoners kind of woman, I struggled with how to reconcile that side of my personality with the one that felt deep empathy. My entry into the work world reinforced my preconceived notions of what it meant to be a woman and lead. Over and over again, I worked for women and men who didn’t believe in bringing your whole self to work, who worked out their own issues on those who followed them, lacked vulnerability, and used toxic masculinity to attempt to motivate.
As I approached mid-career, I was lucky to work for two strong, smart, kind women who showed me what it means to be a Servant Leader. I finally understood that I could be both – compassionate and assertive. Getting to a place where I practiced that took a lot of time, a lot of reflection, help from a therapist or two, and many “assertive hangovers,” a term I use to describe what it feels like when I rub up against the mental model that women must be small, soft, quiet, and passive to be liked.
ou can read more about my journey to authentic feminism in the blog post, Bake the Damn Cookies.
I want to live in a world where I get to show up fully as the badass, strategic powerhouse that I am, but also the woman who is going to bring you soup, and hold your baby, and hug you as you deserve. I am no longer satisfied with a world where women must shift and contort themselves to manipulate the world to be comfortable with their strength.