No Need to Downplay Your Leadership

God calls us to both humility and confidence.
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As Michael Hyatt succinctly puts it, “To bury your talent in the yard is not good stewardship.”

We're conditioned to minimize our accomplishments.

This is what nice girls do. In a fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review, Deborah Tannen writes,

The research of sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists observing American children at play has shown that … girls learn to downplay ways in which one is better than the others and to emphasize ways in which they are all the same. Most girls learn that sounding too sure of themselves will make them unpopular with their peers. A group of girls will ostracize a girl who calls attention to her own superiority and criticize her. Women are less likely than men to have learned to blow their own horn. And they are more likely than men to believe that if they do so, they won’t be liked.

Christian women have an added reality in that so much of Christian culture tells them (and not their male peers) to be “good.” By which we mean be submissive, sweet, gentle, and modest. While it’s true that Peter said to women, “Clothe yourselves with the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,” (1 Peter 3:4), it’s equally true that Jesus told everyone that the gentle would be blessed (Matthew 5:5). Jesus calls himself gentle (Matthew 11:29), and Paul and Peter caution both men and women to be gentle always (1 Peter 3:5, Titus 3:2, Galatians 6:1). It appears to be a quality to aspire to regardless of gender, as it means having a spirit that relies on God alone for defense and accepts his decisions.

And yet many women accept the false idea that gentleness is a female quality. We also accept the notion that gentleness and ensuring we’re heard are mutually exclusive goals. As nice girls, we backpedal our own abilities, keeping quiet unless asked, and even then, push aside our qualifications with, “Well, it's not that big a deal.”

I do this myself. If someone asks about a current writing project, my most likely response is to mumble a few summary sentences in a voice that tells the listener he or she couldn't possibly be interested. Minimizing my excitement over a project, however, does no one any favors.

We're afraid of failure—and success.

These are both perfectionist tendencies. For many women, relationships are at the root of these fears. We're afraid we won't be liked if we act too confident and achieve our dreams. We fear we'll let others down if we can't sustain what we achieve—that if we fail, someone might be hurt. On the other hand, if we succeed, we might lose people who mean something to us. We even fear losing people who don't mean anything to us!

January04, 2016 at 8:00 AM

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