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From No Experience Necessary to Your Experience Necessary

We can’t afford to make young women wait for their chance to lead

Every job I have applied for, or hired for, has required experience of one kind or another. Software experience. Task experience. Leadership experience. I can't think of one job description I have ever written that included the line "no experience necessary."

Because let's face it: we don't want to take a risk on someone cutting their leadership teeth on our projects and our teams. We know everyone has to get experience somewhere—we would just prefer it be somewhere else. And yet "no experience" may be exactly what is necessary in order to access what is perhaps the church's greatest untapped resource: young women leaders.

Go with me for a moment. Because of the intensity of our world's challenges and the pace at which they are changing, young leaders' voices, ideas, and perspectives are needed now. Their collaborative, connected, and complex approach to life is a different kind of "experience." And we simply don't have the luxury of waiting 10 to 15 years for them to get the experience we think they need.

When I was leading the ministry to women at our church, we hired a seminary student in her early 20's. Aubrey had zero ministry experience but was passionate about theology and eager to learn how that played out practically. She was a little rebellious and outspoken compared to her seminary peers. And yet Aubrey went silent when she joined our team.

I took her to lunch and asked her why she never spoke up in our team meetings. Her eyes filled with tears. She shared with me how her dad was a former pastor and had advised her to keep her head down, work hard, and keep quiet. He told her we were the experts and she was there to listen and learn; to be seen but not heard.

I quickly told Aubrey that success in this role depended on not taking her dad's advice. I assured her our team not only wanted, but needed her input on decisions and ideas for improvement.

Maybe some of our job descriptions need to say, "Your experience necessary."

So if we take the risk and engage young women leaders, how do we do so without all the "green" missteps that come with them? Simple answer: We don't.

When Aubrey began to speak into what we were doing, she was like a breath of fresh air for our ministry. But admittedly, there were times when she misjudged her timing or audience. She was a driven, hard worker who had to learn some new "soft skills" around communication, conflict, and change. And as she benefitted from our leadership experience, we benefitted from her life experience.

The bumpy processes, the bruised egos, the leadership mistakes are unavoidable—they are part of each leader's journey. But as the more seasoned leaders at the table, we can help bring out the best of the experience they do have. We can empower young leaders through our intentional investment in their growth.

Let me share what this looks like for me. Through one-on-one coaching, I help young leaders identify their strengths, gifts, and perspective—their unique leadership voice. And in a group context, I equip young leaders to accelerate through some of those leadership bumps by combining my experience with their potential.

Through it all, I share my leadership story filled with catastrophic mistakes and surprising successes. I share the lessons I have learned and am still learning. I encourage them that their leadership experience is drastically different from mine—and that is exactly what is needed for the Kingdom.

I believe in this generation of young women leaders. They are poised and ready to change the world. What young leaders are in your sphere of influence? Will you tell them to wait a decade, or empower them to lead now?

Julie Pierce empowers leaders to change the world through coaching, consulting teams, and communicating with groups. You can follow her on Twitter at julie_pierce or read her leadership blog at www.empoweredbypierce.com.

April15, 2013 at 8:00 AM

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