After a difficult morning filled with tantrums, a sass mouth, and general disobedience from my normally lovely preschool-aged daughter, I lost it. As we walked back to the car after dropping my son at kindergarten - or I should say as I walked and she stomped through every snow drift I told her to avoid - she yelled ahead to me, "Mom, STOP! I want to be the LEADER!"
At that, I turned around and nearly hissed, "Honey, to be the leader, you need to be the fastest and the best. You can't lead acting like that!" I know what you're thinking: That belongs in the annals of mothering wisdom right up there with "Eat your vegetables" and "Mind your manners." NOT!
Nearly as soon as I said these ridiculous words, shock and shame hit. Not only because I had said them in such an ugly way to my little girl, but because I think I believed what I said. And that exposes a huge hypocrisy in me.
For the past year at Gifted for Leadership, we've been trying to stimulate thoughtful conversation for all types of women leaders - who bring all sorts of gifts and abilities and personalities to the table in their leadership. Yet here I was spewing words that showed what I really believe about leaders - that we need to be fast-paced, hard-driving (albeit really nice) people. Like me.
Here I was telling my daughter, whom, of course, I love beyond measure, that how she is doesn't match up with who leaders are. That her slower pace, that her way of thinking and behaving (on good days, we call this "out of the box;" on bad days, it's full-on rebellion!) don't mesh with leadership. Essentially, I told her that how God made her isn't right for leadership. I just pray she wasn't listening (since this was a "bad day," she probably wasn't!).
Since then, I've been going overboard praising her gifts and complimenting her personality - so different from mine - and giving her plenty of opportunities to "be the leader" in her own way, as long as she's respectful, of course. Sassed-mouth leaders still won't fly with me.
But just as I've been trying to repair what I said to my daughter, I've been trying to repair the thoughts behind the words. Of course, all leaders share many qualities - a desire to see change, the willingness to take responsibility, and the courage to set up and take action - the manner in which we do this varies. As it should! Because women - whether as mothers, daughters, students, workers, volunteers, leaders, or followers - shouldn't continue to be subject to easy stereotypes. We should fight for the right to be ourselves, and to lead as we're gifted.